The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Jobs of the Future: Superstar Tutors

While American teenagers and “tweens” swoon over Justin Bieber and One Direction, in Hong Kong a different sort of teen idol is on the rise: superstar tutors. In Hong Kong’s rigorous examination system, grades are extremely important and tutoring commonplace: more than 70 percent of students are believed to take part in some form of tutoring outside of school. Some enterprising young tutors have found a way to stand out in this crowded marketplace: Good looks, fancy clothes, and celebrity culture. BBC News has more:

“If you want to be a top tutor, it definitely helps if you are young and attractive. Students look at your appearance,” said Kelly Mok, 26, a “tutor queen” at King’s Glory, one of Hong Kong’s largest tutorial establishments.

Her designer clothes and accessories are not just for the billboards; it’s how she likes to dress outside classes. But she is also careful to add that she wouldn’t be in such high demand if she could not deliver top grades in her subject, English. . . .

Richard Eng from Beacon College is often credited with being the first of Hong Kong’s “star tutors”. A former secondary school teacher, he says he got the idea after he featured in photographs advertising his sister, a performance artist.

His own image appears on special ring-binders and folders containing study tips, or pens which harbour a pull-out scroll with his picture and other gifts. Such items became so sought after that they propelled him to near-rock star status among young people.

Many of the specifics of these programs are geared towards the particular culture of Hong Kong, but the basic concept could easily be transported to the West, which is no stranger to celebrity culture.

Tutoring is already a big business in the United States, and it will only get bigger as educational competition increases. For recent college grads looking to make some money tutoring students or assisting with college counseling, building a brand counts. While it’s true that adolescents understand that they need to work on their math skills or their reading comprehension, what often drives them is a burning desire to learn the social skills and fashion sense that will also help them move toward what they see as an adult identity. A teacher who looks like he or she knows something beyond classroom smarts will have an extra appeal to these students.

We’re not suggesting an Abercrombie & Fitch approach to branding yourself, but figuring out how to make yourself stand out in a crowd is an increasingly important part of making a living. We are moving into an age of entrepreneurial service providers. Building a brand and developing a reputation for competence, friendliness, responsiveness, and integrity is going to matter—a lot.

Our advice to ambitious young people: Take a lesson from Hong Kong’s superstar tutors.

Published on November 26, 2012 12:00 pm