The stage of life called adolescence holds so much bearing on how an individual grows into an adult.
How much of a success story that individual eventually turns out to be is all dependent on a good number of things—academic performance, career guidance, and social aptitude among others—most of which are especially crucial during that transition period from teenager to grown-up.
For 28-year-old Penangite John Ooi, this resonated so strongly that it led him to found a particularly interesting education platform called Pathfinder. Aiming to help youngsters between the ages of 14 and 20, Pathfinder essentially lets youngsters in this age group grab invaluable industry experience even before they enter college or university.
John told us of his own personal experiences that led him to create the Pathfinder platform: coming from a family with humble means, John had become a scholarship student at St. Joseph’s Institution International in Singapore, moved on to do an Economics degree at the University of Queensland in Australia, and ended up finishing it at the prestigious UCLA with an impressive CGPA of 4.0. But at the end of it all, John still found himself in a conundrum—he didn’t know what he wanted to do for work.
“A degree like Economics is one which opens many doors, but only halfway since it isn’t a specialised degree,” John said. “I knew I wanted to be in education since I left St. Joseph’s in Singapore because there was a strong need to give back.”
Realising the need for more real-life experience, John instead joined Intel in Penang out of a love for technology and the chance to get some much needed real-world experience in a big-name company. Unfortunately, this only lasted for just over a year before John departed the company due to a mismatch in expectations.
John then moved on to dabbling in entrepreneurship, running an escape-room style game from Singapore to Penang and opening up successful hobby cafe, all the while picking up valuable lessons on business and entrepreneurship.
Eventually, John reignited his desire to go into education. But now armed with more real-world experience, John felt more confident in his prospects to start an education enterprise.
“I’ve had this idea for over two years, and I knew it was something I wanted to pursue so I searched for an investor and also used my previous startup experiences to design a workable model,” he explained. “I also worked multiple jobs to fund this myself so it took some time for me to get my team on board as I knew we needed sufficient capital to finance the company for at least a year.”
Experience That Money Can Still Buy
Pathfinder’s courses revolve around the idea of giving real-world industry experiences to youngsters in their crucial formative years.
“The problem today is that too many people are taking degrees just for the sake of getting one—they graduate to look for good jobs and realise that the working world is not what they had imagined it to be,” John said. “Big companies are even moving away from the need of having a degree because it no longer carries the same value it used to.”
Consequently, John doesn’t suggest doing away with degrees altogether, but instead encourages students to take the time and really examine what they’d like to become in order to make the most out of their education.
“Even if you already know what you want to pursue, learning more about the industry from experts in the field gives you a better idea of what to expect and definitely helps in your university applications because you’ll gain life experiences that others won’t possess.”
For a price of between RM1,000 to RM1,700, learners are enrolled into seven week courses filled with workshops and tutorials fielded by accomplished industry professionals that reveal important and valuable bits of knowledge about the respective fields they come from.
These educators range from doctors, chartered accountants, all the way to dieticians and are all vetted thoroughly by the Pathfinder team to ensure that the content and insight they bring will significantly benefit learners within the programmes.
For example, one educator for the medical pathway is a doctor with 10 years of experience while the educator for the accountancy pathway is a financial controller in a company with an RM1 billion turnover.
“I always tell my team that our greatest asset is our educators,” John said. “If you browse through their profiles, it’s simply amazing to have such a strong team and I believe they chose to join us because they see our vision.”
“I can confidently say that what we’re paying them is nothing compared to what they can make outside of this course,” he added.
“Anyone in their positions crazy enough to join a team of youngsters and spend three hours a week teaching students about their profession is doing so because of a passion to help others—it’s nothing to do with money.”
Providing Equal Opportunities
Building on this ethos, Pathfinder also offers support to students that aren’t as fortunate to have the financial means to take on courses like theirs. For those who can prove their inability to afford a Pathfinder course, fees are docked completely as long as they display a sincere learner’s attitude.
“We’ve agreed with our educators that three students from each class will be allocated such slots,” John explained. “We’re also committed to mentoring them and giving them guidance beyond the seven-week classes they attend.”
“Additionally, 95% of the profits we make will be used to help those who need financial assistance, while the remaining 5% goes back to the investor.”
Following this revelation was the question of sustainability—how does Pathfinder monetise?
“Firstly, there are people on the team that do not wish to draw a salary from the company,” John said. “They’re doing this because they want to help others and because they see the importance of the programme.”
“For me personally, I’m not drawing any salary or profit from the company because the rewards of helping others find their path is more than enough,” he added. “Making money is not our main objective—it’s definitely more important to establish something impactful for others.”
The Path Ahead
At the time of writing, Pathfinder is just about pushing four months as a company, but have so far had 50 students enrolled into their 5 courses and have already gotten on board Sunway University, Berjaya University College, SEGi University Group, and others as partners.
“I’d say the most significant accomplishment to me was being able to get our first batch of courses up and ready within three months,” John said. “Looking back, I’d never have imagined us getting so many university partnerships as well as dedicated educators within such a short period.”
Looking ahead, John explained that Pathfinder’s immediate objective is to grow their platform to hit 1,000 students by the end of 2019, with a few scholarships funded along the way. On how they plan to hit that target, John revealed that the first task was to increase the number of courses on offer and expand their partnerships with education institutions around Malaysia.
“We want to make sure students are getting the most out of their education,” he said. “We’ll also be partnering with SMEs and MNCs to run a different type of internship programme that’ll hopefully be launched in 2019.”
“To me, education is a long-term investment and I’m in it for the long run,” he added. “We may pivot our plans a few times before we get it right, but to have started on a very positive note is already a great achievement.”
Feature Image Credit: Pathfinder