Ten years ago, Bui Thanh Thuy drew three question marks to describe herself.
They symbolised the Hanoian’s three biggest questions in life, “who will I be?,” “who will I want to be?” and “can I do it?”
At the age of six, Thuy lost her father and as her mother had to move away to avoid debts, she lived with her grandmother. The onerous financial burden forced Thuy to find jobs immediately after graduating from high school.
With no skills, no money and no connections, finding work was tough. Feeling helpless, Thuy was introduced by her local Women’s Union to a training course on sales and marketing.
It was a turning point in her life, and today, she’s a sales manager for Nike Viet Nam.
Ngo Van Quyet from Dong Anh District, Hanoi, also found a way to support himself and his family.
A sufferer of osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes bones break easily, Quyet failed to get into university and then wasted two years at home playing video games.
“I’m weak, I cannot carry anything. I can only work if it’s not a physical job,” he said.
An opportunity arose, in the form of a training course on graphic design.
Since 2016, three months after graduating from the course, Quyet has worked as a photo editor for German company Pixelz.
Thuy and Quyet are just two of 15,000 students received assistances from REACH, a Vietnamese NGO providing free vocational training and career consultancy services for disadvantaged youths over the past decade.
Flashing back to 10 years ago, in a tiny office on Tam Trinh Street, where these all stories began, Pham Thi Thanh Tam, founder of REACH, could not imagine how their initiative, named LABS at the time, would bring hope, inspiration and open a brighter future to lives of so many people.
A lot of employers wonder how a disadvantaged person can be equipped with enough skills to compete in the labour market in just three month?
REACH’s model focuses on market-oriented training, soft skills, positive attitude, at least six months of monitoring and supporting graduates in the labour market and links with enterprises. More than 80 per cent of their graduates find a job within six months of finishing the course.
At present, REACH offers training courses on graphic design, 3D modeling, coding, sales and marketing, cooking, hairdressing, housekeeping, skincare and make-up, food and beverage services, and five-star hospitality at six facilities in Hanoi, Hai Duong Province, Hue City, Da Nang City, Hoi An Town and HCM City.
“We do not need to pay tuition fees,” said Vi Thanh Thuy, a REACH graphic design trainee from the northern mountainous province of Yen Bai, “some of us are even supported with VND20,000 (US 86 cents) of food stipend per day and VND300,000 ($13) for monthly accommodation.”
Since 2004, REACH has broadened its network with more than 1,000 domestic and international partners including Br24, Cennos, Esoftflow and Hilton.
“We have an opportunity to visit companies. The insights help us a lot in understanding what employers want from their candidates,” she added.
Despite training for only three months, over a decade, REACH’s graduates have proven their abilities.
“At the start, their skills are just enough and there is no one outstanding. However, in the long run, REACH’s graduates can quickly improve themselves as they are all hard working and dare to try new things,” said Nguyen Thanh Thuy, human resources manager of Pixelz.
Some special qualities of REACH trainees even make them more competitive, especially in hospitality.
“Working on a boat is not exactly the same as working on land. Since a lot of them come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they are more resilient to work in difficult conditions,” said Andrej Stein, general manager of the cruise company Bhaya.
Since establishing links with REACH in 2007, the company has recruited some 100 workers from REACH. Some of them have been promoted to higher positions or had chances to work on private ships, he said.
Changes from within
Changing the lives of others is hard but to become a better self is a real challenge. For the past decade, there have been huge changes in Vietnam’s labour market. To satisfy new rising demands, REACH hopes to catch a new wave.
Transforming themselves from an NGO to a social enterprise is crucial.
EM Hair Salon, Koi Bento Restaurant in Hanoi and Tre Restaurant in Hue City are their answers. There, trainees can learn on-the-job while the profit is used to sustain the organisation.
It is still a fresh start for REACH and it’s early days yet. However, as Thuý said, facing challenges, some people give up while others seek solutions.
“What they need is an opportunity to unleash their potential. And when they are wondering whether it is possible, someone will hold their hands and say: ‘Yes, you can!’”