A day in the life of a PCP trainee

Jul 28, 2016 06.12PM |
 

by Suhaile Md

BARELY 10 minutes into the 9am class and I was already daunted by the terms: HTML5, CSS and Javascript. To a non-technical person like me, it seemed nothing more than a confused heap of letters, plus that odd number, five. To the others though – from the 24-year-old graphic designer to the 63-year-old retiree – it clearly made sense.

It was a Friday, July 8, and I was at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Trade Union House at Bras Basah to observe what it’s like to be a software developer trainee under the Workforce Development Agency’s (WDA) Professional Conversion Programme (PCP).

The aim of the PCP is simple: Help professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) “switch careers, and take on new job occupations through skills conversion” said a WDA spokesperson.

Conversion programmes have been around since at least 2007, allowing experienced professionals to move from a shrinking industry to another with more job opportunities. Mr Chong Kim Sem, 49, for example, found a job in the biologics industry through the PCP even though his experience was in plastic manufacturing as reported by TODAY two weeks back (July 15). There are PCPs for diverse industries from food services to healthcare to manufacturing and retail. The full list can be found here.

The Software Developer role was one of eight new Infocomm Technology (ICT) PCP roles launched on May 4 this year. This brought the total number of ICT roles to 10.

Successfully enrolling for these PCPs guarantees you a job: You’re hired by a participating company before training starts, and so draw a salary while attending class. Some of the roles however, like PCP for Data Scientists, will only be available in the coming months, said the WDA spokesperson.

You’re hired by a participating company even before training starts.

In the classroom

“Ma’am, any problems? Can see?”, the trainer’s voice boomed across the classroom. Wah jialat, better not doze off, I thought to myself. The trainer was observant. And patient enough to refresh even the basics, guiding us on how to search for a previously saved file and how to open the programme to be used for the lesson. No wonder, the 40-year-old said he had 15 years of experience teaching coding.

The first 40 minutes of class were spent revising the previous day’s work. So latecomers did not miss much, not that there were many. Of the 12 students, nine were on time.

Turns out HTML5, CSS and Javascript are computer coding languages used to make websites. And we would be learning how to make a simple web application, like a personal particulars form. The class was attentive, so much so that by the time tea break arrived at 10.15am, no one interrupted the class.

The trainer stopped 10 minutes later and dismissed everyone for tea. This is a little embarrassing, but I was the first one to rush out. Actually, for a few minutes, I was the only one out of the class. It was a short 15-minute break but most of the students seemed unwilling to leave, piling the trainer with questions. This, in spite of the carrot cake, coffee and tea catered for the trainees!

To be clear, nearly all of my classmates were not PCP trainees. Some, like the 63-year-old retiree took up the HTML5 course to learn something new while others, like an IT sales consultant in his 50s, were there to upgrade themselves. Most of them were only attending the three-day course. They were not there to become software developers, which requires the completion of additional modules. Basically, PCP trainees attend lessons that are being conducted by participating institutions for the public anyway. Trainees join existing classes at the start, said the WDA spokesperson.

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Class is in session. Image by Suhaile Md.

Course Details

The PCP for software developers is three months long – classroom training for 19 days and the rest consists of on-the-job training. The three day HTML5 application development fundamentals course is just one of five modules to be cleared. The remaining consists of a course in web development fundamentals, two courses on Java programming and a course in project management. Details can be found on the NTUC LearningHub website.

So how do you become a PCP trainee? WDA appointed some organisations to act as programme managers (PM) to coordinate between the participating companies that offer jobs, training providers and interested applicants. Those interested in becoming a logistician for instance, approach the programme manager Supply Chain and Logistics Academy. As for software developer hopefuls, they can apply anytime to NTUC LearningHub – it’s on a rolling admissions basis said the WDA spokesperson.

Upon application, said the spokesperson, the PM screens candidates and will turn to a pool of companies that are already on board the PCP. The PM then facilitates employer-applicant matching. After which, candidates will be put through the employer’s recruitment process, bearing in mind that their lack of experience in the sector will not count against them – it is a conversion programme after all.

Once selected, training commences with the newly employed candidate drawing a monthly salary. Which means, PCP trainees, who tend to be in the middle of their careers, don’t have to deal with financial stress and can focus on learning.

Speaking of finances, the three-month programme costs about $10,680 excluding GST. However, applicants don’t have to worry about the sum, as it’s covered by the employers.

But employers don’t foot the whole bill: Course fee grants from WDA cover between 70 and 90 per cent of the cost. Employers will also get monthly salary support for the duration of the training, said WDA.

For trainees above 40 and who have been unemployed for six months, WDA supports employers with up to 90 per cent of the trainee’s pay, capped at $4,000 per month. Otherwise, support is limited to 70 per cent, capped at $2,000 per month. So if you were earning more than that, chances are you can expect a pay cut. Unless of course, the company pays beyond the WDA subsidy.

You will draw a monthly salary while attending class so you don’t have to deal with financial stress and can focus on learning.

Certification

Lunch was not provided. The hour-long lunch break ended at 1pm with class resuming on time. I was expecting everyone to be in a post-lunch daze but that was not case. The trainer was no less alert than before and the class was as rapt as ever. And that continued to the end of the class, slightly past 5pm.

Apparently, this is typical for all his classes, said the trainer. He teaches other courses in the software developer suite of modules as well. Most of his students, he added, tend to be from their mid-30s to 60s with a minority of students in their 20s.

PCP software developer trainees will have to pass various assessments throughout the three-month programme. Successful trainees will be “awarded the National Infocomm Competency Framework (NICF) Statement of Attainments (SOAs),” said the WDA spokesperson.

The NICF, developed by the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and WDA in consultation with industry experts, outlines key skills and competencies required of ICT professionals. In short, the SOAs signify that the G considers you qualified to be a software developer. By year end, there will be 250 spots for job-seekers across the 10 ICT PCP roles, WDA said.

Salary? Check. Course fees? Covered. Job? Check. Looks like PCP is a relatively stable way to transition into another industry – if that’s something you’re thinking of doing.

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Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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