MS JUNAINAH Jumani, 22, was forced to quit school after her O levels five years ago.
Her mother had suffered a stroke and had to stop working; her father was not making enough as a supermarket cleaner. So she became a sales assistant at snack chain Old Chang Kee.
"But my parents and even friends at my workplace said the job had no prospects," she said.
"I wanted to work in something that could help my future."
A family service centre counsellor referred her to the Youth Employment and Advancement Hub, which is run by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF). It turned out to be a lifeline.
Career coaches at the hub, which was set up in 2013, help those aged between 16 and 21 who are not in school to find meaningful employment. These young people, who are called the hub's "clients", have their interests profiled through a series of multiple-choice questions and chats with the career coaches.
They are then sent for training, which covers areas such as relationship management and personal effectiveness, as well as vocational skills.
The hub now has 260 employers offering jobs in various sectors, including those in retail and early childhood development.
Said Ms Diane Wee, the hub's assistant director: "We want to enhance these youngsters' employability for the long term."
This means moving them away from temporary, contract-based jobs to ones with a clear progression route.
The hub sent Ms Junainah to a Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) training course on food and beverage services.
She is now a captain of the service crew at Vietnamese restaurant So Pho. Her responsibilities include taking orders, making drinks, and handling customer requests and complaints. And she could at some stage be promoted to supervisor or restaurant manager.
"Before I went for training, I didn't know that the food and beverage industry was so wide. I only knew about fast food," said Ms Junainah. "I really enjoy what I'm doing now. It's more challenging than my previous job, but I feel that I'm also learning."
Ms Winnie Yuen, the operations manager of Katrina Holdings, which runs So Pho, said: "Junainah is very bright. She joined as a waitress last November, but was promoted to captain after her three-month probation period."
More than 60 young people have found jobs through the hub. About 100 are either waiting for courses to start or undergoing training.
To encourage them to stick with the training, they are given a monthly allowance of $500 for up to six months, to help defray transportation and meal costs.
Many of the hub's referrals come from MSF, schools, family service centres and voluntary welfare organisations.
It is strict about helping only those aged between 16 and 21 who are out-of-school.
To date, more than 470 people have been referred to the hub, but those who are too young or still listed on their schools' registers, have been turned away. Some have been counselled to go back to school.
Ms Nuraidah Thani, 38, the career coach who worked on Ms Junainah's case, is close to her clients. "I make myself available when they need me," she said.
Going the extra mile is critical, as it helps prevent people from dropping out before they get a job, Ms Wee explained.
This means career coaches have to answer telephone calls and text messages even at odd hours, and work around their charges' schedules.
"Those who come to us can be easily distracted by their life issues," Ms Wee added. "Career coaches need to be patient with them."
This article was first published on May 11, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.