Conversations with Kenneth Chan

By Cheng Minjing and Xu Pengtai

Kenneth is a Senior Marketing Executive from James Cook University (JCU) Singapore. Besides coordinating JCU’s marketing initiatives, he also plays a pivotal role in orientating and guiding students during their time in school. Here, he shares with us about his daily work and some competencies he considers essential to one in a marketing role.

JCU has the advantage of being more flexible. By adopting an innovative trimester system, students are able to complete a three year programme within two years. Of course, this means students have to forgo long holiday breaks in exchange for a faster path towards graduation!

However, at the same time, we also allow students to take up to 7 years to complete their undergraduate studies. We understand that sometimes – “life happens” – so we give the flexibility for students to come back and continue where they left off.

At work, I’m either coordinating with external parties for advertisements on various platforms or coming up with concepts for upcoming marketing campaigns.

During the lull periods, I’ll be reaching out to students or alumni with interesting stories to be featured in our campaigns. If it’s during the peak recruitment period, I’ll also be coordinating with various departments to ensure the smooth run of our admissions events. 

Besides coordinating marketing campaigns and events, I’ll also have appointments with parents and students who would like a face-to-face consultation or a campus tour. Since choosing an undergraduate programme is a significant decision for most people, I’ve had consultations that  lasted almost 2 hours!

It’s a collaborative work culture because you often have to refer to the expertise of the academics, the registrar and colleagues in student services. While we each have insights into what each department does, we do come across cases which require the assistance of colleagues who are specialists in that area.

Ironically, I had poor academic results as a student. I was more interested in participating in outdoor activities such as kayaking, cycling, hiking and camping. I did so badly in Secondary 3 that I had to repeat that year.

When I finally matured after National Service, I enrolled into a private Diploma course and subsequently completed a Bachelor’s degree. I was thinking about joining a private education institute and taking on a role as a career coach, and eventually decided to join PSB Academy as an admissions officer. I liked the fact that I was responsible for helping others like me–be it late bloomers or those who have fallen between the cracks–to get a shot at achieving academic success.

Active listening skills are very important. Often, people think that all I have to do is recite a list of unique and special features of the courses offered by James Cook University to convince a prospective student to sign up.

That is far from the truth. People have various concerns and it’s important to listen attentively and identify their key concerns. I know I’m doing my job right when the prospective student or parent has a clearer idea on what they are looking for regardless of whether it is a course offered by JCU.

There are also some personal qualities that I would consider essential as a marketing executive. 

One would be critical thinking – a lot of my work is analysing situations and helping either the university or the students to make informed decisions. It could be through analysing data to identify the most effective recruitment platforms or listening to student’s concerns during consultations and pointing them in the right direction, even if it means coming to the realisation that JCU is not the right place for them.

Finally, it is the desire to learn. With the pace of change increasing exponentially, we need to always be in “beta mode”. There is a need to be constantly learning and improving ourselves to stay relevant. This could either be learning about the latest technologies and thinking of ways to leverage them or attending workshops to develop new skillsets to do the job better.

Employability seems to be the biggest concern and it is definitely a valid concern. However, even after working in the education sector for seven years, it’s not uncommon to have students and parents who perceive a degree certificate to be enough in gaining employment.

In such cases, we do our best to educate both students and parents on the skills and attitudes that employers look out for, such as critical thinking and communication skills, and the ability to work collaboratively in teams.

Often, this means going beyond the classroom and being involved in personal development activities – either through the clubs and societies on campus, taking on internships or regular involvement in activities outside of the university.

Most of my spare time is spent on skills-based volunteering. I work as a pro bono marketing consultant for the Waterways Watch Society, an environmental non-profit organisation. I manage their social media accounts, helping them recruit volunteers and raise funds.

In addition, I’m a volunteer barber with the Backalley Barbers. We travel around Singapore most weekends to give free haircuts to those who might need them. This might be for the elderly in nursing homes or rental flats or to migrant workers in the back alleys of Geylang.

I convinced the management to have my entire team be trained in career coaching. Personally, I feel that it’s essential knowledge – considering how we are usually the students’ first point of contact with the university. It allows the Career Services team to build on our efforts should the student approach them after enrolment.