June 22, 2017

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by Suhaile Md

CALL it a foot in the door of her career. Ms Allina Loke is chalking up work experience and building industry relationships while pursuing her education. While in the past it was taxing, and sometimes impossible to juggle a full-time job and study, balancing the demands of the workplace and the pursuit of formal qualifications has become a lot easier after SkillsFuture Singapore introduced the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme (ELP).

So it’s a good thing that SkillsFuture expanded its ELP offerings from 40 to 60 last month (Mar 29). It’s a work-learn programme for Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and polytechnic graduates that leads to both full-time employment and higher qualifications. Participants draw a salary – not a stipend – and undergo a “structured training programme” between 12 and 18 months. Basically, you acquire experience while studying.

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The aim is to give fresh graduates more post-graduation opportunities as well as to “support their transition to the workforce”, said Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say soon after its launch in early 2015. Which is why the programmes are designed in consultation with industry and education partners like the local polytechnics.

The ELPs support the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) announced by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in March last year. As the name suggests, the ITMs are all about making selected industries more competitive. The 23 industries chosen, make up 80 per cent of Singapore’s economy. Industries include precision engineering, retail, and hospitality, among many others.

In short, ELP participants will be getting a head start in industries earmarked for growth – better jobs and higher pay anyone?

But what is it like to earn and learn? “It’s intense,” said Ms Allina Loke.

She works four days a week at Grand Hyatt Singapore as a Management Trainee. Wednesdays are a fixed day-off for her to attend classes scheduled from 9am to 7pm at Republic Polytechnic. Fortunately for her, classes end at 5.30pm most of the time, and the remaining lessons are delivered through e-learning, which she completes in her own time.

“What we learn is exactly the same as the other poly students”, said the 20-year-old. What other students cover in a week’s worth of classes, she covers in a day. It “can be stressful” balancing work and study. So, interest is important. Otherwise, it’s hard to stay motivated. That was something a handful of her peers realised. They dropped out of the programme a few months in because it is “something they were not interested in”.

Ms Loke, though, is determined “to finish” the 18-month-long ELP in Hospitality Management because she recognises certain advantages. Her schoolmates, most of whom are not enrolled in ELP, will graduate with little to no work experience. “What they are only doing, is study.”

On the other hand, she is being groomed to be on “captain duty” in five months. This means she will be in-charge of smaller events at the hotel with staff to manage. She started in October last year. Basically, she’s picking up industry-relevant skills and work experience while studying – unlike her peers.

That said, at the end of 18 months, she will be awarded with modular certificates, not the full diploma. For that, she needs to study for another year, in her own time. In total, two and a half years. Which is shorter than the three year diploma, including a six month industrial attachment, her peers need to complete.

More importantly, she’s gaining valuable experience while her peers are not. For the hospitality industry, “a lot of it is hands-on experience and job skills,” said Ms Peh Ai Pheng, Learning Manager at Grand Hyatt Singapore.

Diploma graduates with no experience would make $1,500 a month. Someone with 18 months experience in the industry will command “competitive salaries” ranging from $1,800 to $2,500 depending on the role and depth of work experience.

When asked to choose between an ELP graduate from another hotel – but no diploma – and a fresh diploma graduate for the same entry level job, Ms Peh said she would go with the candidate who completed the ELP. That’s “assuming same attitude, same personality… ultimately, you need experience dealing with guests, and hotel systems”.

Which is why participants “go through a structured on-the-job-training programme” designed to develop “relevant work skills and provide an edge over those not on the ELP.”

This point was raised last year when the first batch of hospitality ELP participants signed up, reported ST. “They are very focused, enthusiastic and forthcoming in their suggestions and pick things up faster as they’ve done it before,” said Ms Isis Ong, director of learning at the Singapore Marriott Tang Plaza Hotel.

Financially, Ms Loke is better off too. Her course fees are covered, bond free, by the G and Grand Hyatt during the ELP. All participants also get a $5,000 sign-on bonus when they join the ELP.

Plus, she’s earning $1,800 a month now. This does not include overtime pay, incentives, and other staff perks like health and insurance benefits. “The company takes care of us,” she said. Both Human Resources and her manager also check up on her to ensure she’s learning and progressing well.

Grand Hyatt Singapore, said Ms Peh, decided to participate in ELP because it “helps in attracting Singaporeans to the industry”.  It’s also “to support the national movement in” developing and providing opportunities for Singaporeans.

Currently, the company has five ELP participants, with five more expected to join in May. All are management trainees.

Ms Loke was part of the first batch to join the ELP. She graduated with a Higher Nitec in events management last April. Her 3.0 grade point average (GPA) had easily surpassed the 2.0 GPA requirement to be part of the ELP.

Along with her, 47 other participants joined the hospitality ELP. Over 50 hotels participated last year, including Intercontinental Singapore, Marina Bay Sands and Shangri-La Hotel Singapore amongst others.

There are ELPs in other sectors too, like the infocomm technology and logistics industries. Last year, over 500 graduates joined the ELP, said Parliamentary Secretary for Education Faishal Ibrahim in Parliament earlier this year (Feb 28).

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Daniel Yap

I CAN feel the massive ship turning ever so slightly. A raft of changes to the education system signals a shift in the balance, and even a cynic cannot help but wonder how far it will go.

The Polytechnics’ Early Admissions Exercise (EAE), which weighs student interest and aptitude in addition to grades, will now admit up to 15 per cent of the cohort, up from 12.5 per cent last year and 2.5 per cent the year before. The Institutes of Technical Education will also be admitting 15 per cent of the next cohort on these terms.

And then NUS, NTU and SMU will increase the proportion of discretionary admissions from 10 to 15 per cent. It’s the G’s realisation that the best lawyers and engineers aren’t only the ones with straight As. It’s an awakening to the fact that some have been “gaming” the system with academic hothousing, and that students with a headful of knowledge may be pursuing courses of study and careers that fail to light a fire in their hearts.

And then there’s the Skillsfuture Earn and Learn programme, which is as close a programme to an apprenticeship that Singapore has right now. It covers 23 sectors, and the number of takers this year is expected to double to 1,000 which is still only a fraction of the student cohort. But its key takeaway is that the best way to learn a job is by doing it – something that the tertiary education system in Singapore has previously tried to do too much of from within the classroom.

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The civil service has done away with the division system that puts a false ceiling on those without academic qualifications. Teachers and those in the uniformed services now have unified career paths for polytechnic and university graduates.

What more is to come? The Straits Times recently published an op-ed calling for 100 per cent aptitude-based admissions to universities – will Singapore go the distance? Will we be able to push deeper “apprenticeships”, whatever form they may take? Can we break down the walls between work and training into one seamless system of organic but structured self-improvement?

Can we do away with the current “scholarship” system that all but guarantees career paths (and sometimes goes out of the way to ensure the paths are followed) and find another way to develop and attract top talent?

But even in the midst of change, there are fears that the tide is against us. The greatest risk is that parents, employers, students and even workers themselves have ingrained mindsets that will not change. But a ship is made to cut through the waves and push against the forces of nature whereas our port of call will not come to us by itself.

There is hope for this skills-and-aptitude-favouring trend to accelerate if Singaporeans get on board. For one, there has been very little public pushback against these changes. Criticisms about this trend are often a product of a lack of faith in the ability to change rather than unhappiness with the proposed changes.

The majority of Singaporeans seem to, jadedly, acknowledge that all these are good changes, but they think like passengers rather than sailors – unsure of what their role is in helping to move the ship towards their too-distant destination.

When we shrug and keep our heads down, we miss out on the changing view. Parents miss out on their key role in helping their children navigate their education and career options based on their strengths and interests so that their children will be able to make informed choices. If you’ve already decided from the day of his or her birth that your child shall be a doctor/lawyer/banker, then you will be neglecting the most precious parts of your child’s personality.

Pushing your child to get the best grades they can is important, but so is helping them to discover their strengths, make a positive impact in society and find heartfelt satisfaction in life.

Students must be going to school with the long-term view that one day, all these studying will end and the transition to working life is going to be a question of skills and applied knowledge – rather than a test of grades. They need to learn to chart their own career path and understand how to continuously work on walking down that path.

Parents, as today’s workers, need to show their children that they too are constantly learning on the job and outside of it, and that learning is fulfilling and is part of a deliberate plan to better oneself.

The ship of education, of work, of learning, is turning, and everyone on board will inevitably turn too. But how fast we turn and how quickly we move depends on how many of us are sailors, and how many of us are merely passengers.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Abraham Lee

WHILE the old saying goes, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life”, it’s almost unrealistic to assume that you’ll continue to love your job like the first time you were exposed to it. The lucky ones among us might, but certainly not every worker.

Moreover, although we often glorify the career paths of those who followed their dreams to do what they want like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, life doesn’t always go according to plan. No wonder the old saying has since been ‘updated’ to read, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life… Because that field isn’t hiring”.

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Nevertheless, having a plan for what you want to do is a good place to start when deciding which university or higher learning course to pursue. At the same time, it’s also good to be realistic – to understand the need to also love what you eventually do and keep an open mind about your career prospects as you plan for the future.

 

Doing what you love

If you don’t yet know what you actually love doing, a good place to begin is to think about your own strengths and interests. This will help to narrow down the industry or field you want to enter. For example, if you’re especially good at analysing and handling numbers, and interested in insurance, finance and risk management, you may want to consider a career in actuarial science.

Or if you love kids, have a passion for a certain subject and teaching that subject, you may prefer becoming a teacher. To help you find the job you’re most suited for, you can apply for internships or temporary jobs in the field of your interest, gain the opportunity to meet new people you may not otherwise have met, and valuable experience towards crafting a career that you’re actually passionate about.

With the emphasis on embracing the challenges of the digital age on innovation, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is organising networking sessions to bring together people from different industries to share and receive insights. The future of the economy lies in this cross-pollination of ideas, and companies are increasingly looking for problem-solvers with skills spanning across different fields. It’s relevant for students planning for their futures to look forward and keep an open mind about how their various strengths and interests can fit into these trends.

For example, through design thinking, an increasingly popular problem-solving methodology, designers can combine their technical expertise with their deep knowledge of their product or company to tweak processes and improve user experiences. While traditional problem-solving processes start by defining the business goal first and working to deliver the user experience that matches these goals, design innovation involves defining the desired user experience and designing the delivery system for the experience after that.

Ms Agnes Kwek, Executive Director of DesignSingapore Council, said that the industry needs “people who are ambidextrous”. That is, “designers who can code-switch between the creative sense and the pragmatic sense and know what can be reasonably implemented, as well as how to navigate the stakeholder environment”. To get started in design thinking, you can consider a design diploma and degree programme, and building a portfolio of projects that implement what you learn.

 

Loving what you do

A 2014 study found that 46 per cent of Singaporeans didn’t like their jobs. We placed second in the Asia Pacific region – only behind Japanese workers, 56 per cent of whom didn’t like their jobs. But as important as it is to know what you want to do, so is learning to love what you do.

While we have ideal career paths in fields we are passionate about, our lives don’t always pan out the way we plan them to in reality. Even if we end up in our dream jobs, we may not always do what we like within that role. A large part of succeeding at what you do lies in putting more time and dedication than other people, and this requires love for the job, especially for jobs you aren’t naturally attracted to. Thus, it’s imperative to be able to learn to love what you do.

We can learn a thing or two from those dedicated to their crafts like Mr Jiro Ono, the 91-year-old sushi chef and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Tokyo sushi restaurant that has won three Michelin stars. In the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, he said that he entered the F&B business when his parents kicked him out at the age of seven. Yet, he also highlighted the importance of honing deep skills in becoming successful. He said, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honourably.” He calls this work ethic as the shokunin spirit – loosely translated to mean ‘craftsman spirit’.

 

Remain flexible and open-minded

It’s also important to adjust your goals as you become exposed to other opportunities and ideas. Mr Lawrence Koh, founder of indoor skydiving company iFly Singapore, had always been interested in flying and skydiving since his secondary school days and “was looking at becoming a pilot or a Commando”. He enlisted with the Commandos and became an officer. Upon the completion of his Platoon Commander tour, he went on to get a degree in Avionics Systems Engineering at the University of Bristol to continue pursuing his love of flying.

It was during his time in the Commandos that he “developed the concept of skydiving simulation for freefall training… to bring the dream of flying to everyone”. At the end of his bond with the SAF, Mr Koh decided against staying on in what would’ve been a “comfortable and secure career”, and instead “stepped out of [his] comfort zone to do something that can change and influence [his] life and others greatly”.

There will always be thoughts of failure but if you don’t try it, you will never know the outcome. Of course, we cannot just make the decision recklessly. We have to plan and prepare for it so that even if we fail, we learn from it and aim to do it better next time.

He left the force in 2008 and became the first to bring a wind tunnel to Singapore when he set up iFly Singapore in 2011. During this time, he drew from his training in skydiving and the Commandos the keen understanding that there was only one chance and failure brought with it “devastating consequences”. Mr Koh said, “I also planned in advance for what I want to do and also contingency plans. This is to eliminate most uncertainties and likelihood of things failing. On execution, I will be pro-active in it so that we can react to the situation if anything unplanned happens.”

He is now planning to expand his business in Asia.

Mr Koh said, “[You] should pursue what [your] dreams are and set [your] minds to it. There will always be thoughts of failure but if you don’t try it, you will never know the outcome. Of course, we cannot just make the decision recklessly. We have to plan and prepare for it so that even if we fail, we learn from it and aim to do it better next time.”

So, to love what you do or do what you love? Why not both?

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

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Photo by Shawn Danker. Shared Copyright.
A corridor at the campus of NUS Yale.

by Ong Lip Hua

UNIVERSITY admissions season looms again, and as a university admissions professional with over a decade of work experience (in NUS and SIT), I get plied with questions from would-be students and their parents.

What I’ve come to realise is that the questions that potential students ask are usually off the mark. Perhaps it has to do with the media’s fascination with rankings (which reflect research, not teaching quality), graduate pay, and employment numbers.

While these may form a part of the answer to the question “why should I choose this university”, most of us go to the university to pave the way for a future career and the career prospects of a graduate are not sufficiently represented by these metrics.

A successful career is sustained more through a university’s “after sales” service, which most applicants are not aware of. This “after sales” service is performed by several offices in the university that often go overlooked.

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Here’s what else you might want to ask about at the next admissions talk:

The Placement Office: This is the department that organises career fairs, gives you job advice, and teaches you how to write your resume. They are known by many other names. How strong is the University’s Placement Office? Which sector do they have hiring partners in? What type and amount of assistance does the Placement Office provide?

Internship programmes: The Faculty Office or Placement Office typically handles internship placements. There is only so much you can learn about the working world and an industry from the safe confines of a lecture hall or tutorial room. Before we graduate, we need to be “inserted” into the industry network. An early foray into the environment where you’ll be spending the next 40 years of your life can pay off more than an impressive Grade Point Average.

Internships get you into the network and industry lingo so you can better know what and why is that thing on page 1905 of the reference source number AI76. Great internships put you in the same office as industry leaders and key personalities: distinguish yourself there and you’ll have the makings of a priceless industry network.

The Alumni Office: Getting our first job is only the first step in what we hope will be a long career. Good pay prospects and employment ratios are good to have, but the more important question is: where do I go from there?

Strong Alumni Offices are also good after-sales service centers. They provide you with the network to get into higher level positions, make business connections for you to start or expand your businesses, and can give you access to ideas, funds and links for your project or research break-through.

How active or strong are the university’s Alumni Offices? What events or activities are held? How committed is the alumni community? What are this office’s beliefs and objectives?

One more question: What is your student profile? This is a question especially for universities abroad, or for locally-awarded degrees from overseas institutions. This tells you who you get to network with while you are in school. If you can’t get a straight answer, spend some time roaming the campus talking to, or observing current students.

At some point in life, co-operation becomes much more valuable than competition. The friends and frenemies you have made during your school years can translate into doors that are open or shut to you later in life.

These “after sales” functions of universities will become increasingly important as the world churns out even more graduates, as work/jobs become more transnational, as technology, mergers and acquisitions reduce number of jobs and increase competition.

So at your next university admissions talk or open house, don’t just ask about cut-off points, or why this course is better than another. Ask questions that span 40 years into your future, because that’s probably what you are getting an education for.

Ong Lip Hua was in University Admissions for a decade and being passionate about the career of students he admits, decided to pursue a career in HR Recruitment. He was a minor partner in a recruitment firm before going in-house. He is still crazy about providing education and career advice.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

Featured image by Shawn Danker.

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U.S. President elect Donald Trump speaks at election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

by Daniel Yap 

THE race to retrain is playing out in the USA as it is in Singapore. US President Donald Trump was just told last week (Feb 24) that even if he brings the jobs back to “make America great again”, there aren’t enough qualified American workers to fill them.

Currently, some 324,000 factory vacancies are available in the USA and the two dozen business leaders, including Jeff Immelt of General Electric, Doug Oberhelman of Caterpillar, and Inge Thulin of 3M, warned that a skills mismatch meant that many would remain unfilled.

Jobs have not only left the USA for other markets; it seems that some jobs are simply gone for good. Part of the problem that got Mr Trump elected into office, anger over lost blue-collar jobs, has been one that was left un-addressed by the previous administration, and the issue of the job-skills mismatch seemed to be relatively new to Trump himself.

Simply demanding that companies move production back to the USA will not solve the problem. Times have changed, and the USA needs a new solution.

White House staffers were challenged by the President to come up with a program to make sure the American worker is trained for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.

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What sort of program would that be, I wonder? Would it involve subsidised training for workers to study skills more relevant to where job openings are? Would it include a fund to allow Americans to pursue interest areas that may or may not be related to their work? Will it include education reform to prepare tertiary students for work by focusing on the latest and most relevant industry skills, and get workers matched to small businesses looking for people with the right skills?

Oh wait, you mean something like SkillsFuture?

Singapore is a little ahead of the curve on this. Even as Mr Trump, as the Government, is just learning about what businesses need and want, and scrambles to formulate policy that will address the gap.

But both Singapore and America have yet to prove that their workers, especially the oft-ignored rank-and-file workers, are up to the task of reinventing themselves for the jobs of the future, with or without help from the G.

That’s not to say that Singapore’s programme will solve America’s ills. This island nation is still at the start of its struggle to revolutionise its traditional focus on paper qualifications and America is still many steps ahead of Singapore in parts of the SkillsFuture journey. It has always valued skills at the workplace, even though it has not thought to train people for it.

The ability to get the job done and done well has fuelled many a mailroom-to-corner-office story, because employer culture is generally one that values skills and results above educational qualifications. And Americans are entrepreneurial enough to know not to expect handouts in their highly competitive economy.

Both America and Singapore know the score – as disparate as the two nations are, they are fighting for a bigger slice of the global economic pie, and whichever economy doesn’t transform fast enough is going to get left behind.

In the big picture, this is about national prosperity. The country that is able to provide citizens with the best quality of life and hope for the future is the one that can develop the skills of its people most effectively, but that takes buy-in and commitment from all parties – the government, businesses and the workers themselves.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

Featured image from TMG file.

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Black strap watch with gold face showing 8.30.

WHENEVER there’s money to be given out, you can bet somebody will find a way to get hold of it via dubious means. Remember how companies took advantage of Productivity and Innovation Credit schemes to get cash? Now, that $500 SkillsFuture credit dangling in front of each adult Singaporeans is too tempting for some.

Some people – about 4,400 people – decided to pluck such tempting fruit by submitting false claims for a SkillsFuture course they didn’t attend. It’s intriguing because they all went to the same course by the same service provider – which remains un-named. MSM reported how the scam was uncovered because of data analytics which flagged a sudden spike in claims. The total amount claimed: $2.2 million.

Now the question is whether the system worked before – or after – the claims have been processed and money given out. Well, some 4,400 people are richer by $500 each, more than a GST voucher for most. The G has sent the people letters to return the money in 30 days, but it didn’t say what will happen to those who don’t.

SkillsFuture Singapore said its course directory and claims process were designed to be simple, inclusive and user-friendly, to encourage usage. “It is regrettable that some individuals have abused the system and submitted false claims,” the agency said.

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Investigations are still going on but it’s a wonder how 4,400 people can somehow be making claims for the same course. Was there a mastermind or did they somehow get wind of money to be made this way? If so, how did they get the supporting documents, like receipts for the course fees, to make the claims?

The other theory of course is that they have been unwitting accomplices who had their names used without their consent. If so, no one came forward to say so. Cash in hand is not to be sniffed at?

According to TODAY, SkillsFuture Singapore was asked if there is a risk of the claims system. Its reply: “The SkillsFuture Credit System has never been compromised … SSG’s enforcement system involves data analytics to detect anomalies, regular audits of training providers, and manual audits of individual claims. These measures have allowed SSG to uncover false SkillsFuture Credit claims. We will continue to strengthen the sensitivity of our data analytics system in flagging out anomalies.”

What a thing to say! If giving out $2.2m is not a compromise of the claims system, then what is it?

Still on training – but something that doesn’t look like it can be abused: two universities here are offering work-study degree programmes for its students. The Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University have 65 such places which integrate work and training.

Did your eyes glaze over because you’ve heard about such programmes before? The difference is that the students will be spending a lot more time in a hands-on job, like up to four days a week, than in class. Free labour for companies? Nope. They will be contract staff and it will be for employers to decide if they should be given permanent positions after their graduation.

Minister for Higher Education Ong Ye Kung who announced this yesterday noted that with more people getting into universities, “employers need to ensure a good match between talents and skills of the graduates they hire and organisational needs.”

In other words, when the Singapore graduate cohort hits 40 per cent, employers need to be able to tell one grad from another and this scheme will give some students a cutting edge. The universities are beginning to look like polytechnics, aren’t they? It will be more so when the other universities add this scheme to their current internship and exchange programmes.

What sorts of courses are being offered? They include information security, software engineering, hospitality business, electrical power engineering, civil engineering and finance and business analytics.

Now why would anyone want an arts and social science degree?

 

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by Suhaile Md

DIGITAL jobs like software, web, and multimedia developers are the third most in-demand jobs according to a report released by the Manpower Ministry on Tuesday (Feb 7). Clearly, technical skills like coding and data analysis will put candidates in a good position for these jobs.

But it would be a mistake to think coding is all that matters. Soft skills play an integral role in career progression as well.

The idea of the “lone wolf” who does not get along well with others, but writes brilliant code, is a thing of the past, said Mr Sheng Yunzhou, a software engineer.

“Like any other job, domain skills alone are not enough,” he said. Other skills like resilience, ability to learn, teamwork, and communication, are important, added Mr Sheng. The 29-year-old develops apps for private banking clients at a major international bank.

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Teamwork

In the past, coding used to be “product or project centric”. So when a project came along, various people were pulled together to work on it, only to be disbanded once completed. But now, it’s about “nurturing a strong team, keeping them together”, to work on successive projects said Mr Sheng.

A team “has to become an entity itself… so that it can move quickly” to solve problems.

Mr Sheng recalled the time his team had a developer whose coding was good but his inability to work with others created problems. For example, the team would have two weeks of the project planned out but the developer’s tendency to do things his own way would throw the plans off. Time, and hence money, was lost due to a lack of cooperation from the developer.

Learning how to work well with people is a skill that can be picked up.

For example, understanding what motivates others, or why they act a certain way, goes far in making one an effective team player. The Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) course “Winning with difficult people” is a course you can take. Singaporeans can use their SkillsFuture credit to pay for the course. 

 

Communication

The “biggest problem” with many developers, Mr Sheng found, is their inability to “communicate ideas clearly” even to their fellow coders.

Bad communication can hamper the quality of work. After all, developers basically “teach computers to do things that people can use”. If developers do not learn how to listen, to talk to people to find out what problems users are facing, or to hold a conversation exploring different ideas, how can they create a product that people find useful?

Courses that teach skills like how to structure a conversation such that you draw out the relevant information, understand the various communication styles people have, and craft clear messages, are available. For example, the “interpersonal communication skills” course by the British Council.

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Resilience

Coding is hard, even for developers, said Mr Sheng. The field changes so fast, “it’s a must to keep on learning new things, all the time”. New jargon crop up every time there’s a development.

So anyone who wishes to progress in this field needs to “instil the habit of deliberate practise”.

It’s the “most valuable asset”.

Coders need to practise harder codes and different programming languages in their downtime, over the weekends and so on. Or other developers will take their place.

The challenge of continual learning and deliberate practise is that failing is part of the process, which can be “really daunting,” he added. Without resilience, effective learning in this field is difficult.

It’s a sentiment shared by Mr Tan Choon Ngee, CEO of aZaaS, a Singapore-based Information Technology firm with subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

“Positive nature and grit” is what Mr Tan looks out for in his new hires. Otherwise they would not be able to keep up with the industry as it “experiences high rates of change”, said the 42-year-old.

At the end of the day, as Mr Sheng said, while coding is a must-have primary skill in his field, without communication skills, team work, and resilience, your career would be stunted.

His advice, regardless of which industry you’re in: “Keep learning, don’t stop.”

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

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by Suhaile Md

WHAT’S the secret to career success? That’s a perennial question and these days, skills mastery has come to be accepted as a key component of a successful climb up the career ladder.

But what exactly is “skills mastery”?

To put it simply, it is a mindset – of continually striving towards greater excellence through knowledge, application and experience. Skills mastery is more than having the right paper qualifications and being good at what you do now.

We discuss three important areas of mastery:

 

Mastery of learning 

The mastery of learning is not just about intellectual humility and the willingness to learn, but also about building on existing knowledge bases and not throwing them away.

Yes, there are jobs today that did not exist yesterday – social media marketing for example. But that does not mean that you have to jump to an entirely different field to be relevant.

For example, a brick-and-mortar shoe salesman’s job may be at risk due to e-commerce. But he may want to capitalise on his knowledge of various shoe products to learn more about purchasing for the e-commerce company and not necessarily try to pick up coding skills to run the website.

Not everybody is able to pick up entirely different skill sets. And age is also a factor here. The young are better able to learn something completely new. But adults have an edge over younger employees – existing knowledge.

“If learning can be assimilated into an existing knowledge case, advantage tilts to the old,” said Dr Timothy Salthouse, Director of The Cognitive Aging Laboratory at the University of Virginia, in The Economist earlier this month (Jan 14).

So the idea of skills mastery here, is to pick up a new but related skill that extends from your existing knowledge base and not from scratch. 

Skills mastery is about striving to be the best in what you can do, so as to innovate better and progress. It’s hard to innovate when you have to build up your knowledge base again.

Which is why SkillsFuture has its fellowship programme for Singaporeans with at least 10 years of experience in the same industry or similar job function, possess deep expertise, and wish to upgrade further. Fellows will get $10,000 to spend on courses relevant to their work. This year, 30 such fellowships will be given out and the number is set to increase up to 100 annually at a later date.

While not everyone can be a fellow, there are many affordable skills-based modular courses at post-secondary institutions here for the rest of us. From customer relationship management to manpower resource management, these part-time courses courses are designed for working adults.

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Mastery of industry

How do you know what to learn if you don’t know what skills are going to be relevant in the future?

The e-commerce scene in Singapore for instance, is expected to grow to US$5.4 billion (S$7.46 billion) by 2025, up from US$1 billion in 2015, according to a report by Temasek and Google last year. The up-to-date brick-and-mortar retail worker should then work towards acquiring skills relevant to e-commerce, whether it’s purchasing or online marketing.

The shipbuilding industry has also been taking a hit. Just last year, Keppel Shipyard, one of Singapore’s largest, cut 35 per cent of its workforce, which is over 10,000 workers. Such changes do not happen overnight. Workers alert to such changes can prepare beforehand to absorb the shock better.

While there’s no need to know details like stock price movements and so on, a general awareness of industry trends is important in developing skills mastery.

Students about to enter the workforce may have the largest gap in industry related knowledge. Fresh polytechnic and ITE graduates may want to enrol in the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme. The work-study programme enables them to learn skills that are relevant to their industry, while drawing a regular paycheck. The certification they acquire along the way would also be recognised by other companies in the industry.

 

Mastery of social skills

Many jobs today are lost not just to lower wage workers overseas, but also to machines and automation.

By 2035, over a third of jobs held in Singapore are at risk of automation, according to a 2015 report by the Centre for Strategic Futures, Prime Minister’s Office.

The solution to securing future job prospects would be to develop social skills like negotiation and social perceptiveness. The labour market rewards workers with social skills according to a study last August (2016) by Professor David Deming of Harvard University. Between 1980 and 2012, the proportion of jobs that required high social skills increased by nearly 10 percentage points while math-intensive roles that did not require much use of social skills fell by about 3 percentage points in the same period.

The reason is that machines cannot read emotions, build consensus and basically, be human. So even though the study was conducted in the United States, the lessons for Singapore in the face of automation, is still relevant.

Again, new graduates are at a disadvantage when it comes to acquiring social skills at the workplace. Which is why they should take up internships, to start to acquire social skills at the workplace before they formally enter their careers. By 2020 all polytechnics and ITEs will have enhanced internships integrated into their core curriculum. Enhanced because there will be clearer learning outcomes and closer interactions between industry partners and educational institutes in developing the internships.

In a nutshell, acquiring skills alone does not lead to mastery. There’s a need to know what skills are relevant in the future through understanding industry trends, building on – and not discarding – existing knowledge to be able to innovate and having the social skills to get work done well.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

 

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by Suhaile Md

MOST of the 6 per cent of Singaporeans who used their SkillsFuture Credits for Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were below 40, reported SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) on Sunday (Jan 8). Busy with work and with little time to spare, it’s no wonder that MOOCs, which allow users to learn at a time and place of their choosing, appeal to the busy working Singaporean. Given its flexibility and eligibility for credit use, you might want to consider it too.

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SkillsFuture Credits cannot be used for just any MOOC though. It has to be one that has been approved by SSG. Still, there is a wide variety of over 2,000 courses that SSG has identified on its website. The three most popular courses were on business administration, Python programming language, and web development.

Currently (Jan 09), there are 2,212 MOOCs on the list. The courses range from general topics in problem solving to specialised ones like how to code and develop apps.

Here’s a breakdown according to course categories, costs, and duration:

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All 2,212 courses are categorised into 36 areas. The top 10 subject areas, shown in the graph above, make up nearly 92 per cent (2032) of all courses. Most courses are provided by either Coursera or Udemy.

Information and Communications by far has the most number of courses at 829 offerings (37 per cent). It includes courses on web development, programming languages like Python, Javascript, and C++, among others.

Business Management stands at second place with 325 courses (14.7 per cent). These include project management, foundations of business strategies, and conflict resolution, among others. There are some topics, like learning how to use Excel spreadsheets, or making a PowerPoint presentation, that some would consider under Business Management. But on the SSG site, these fall under “Administration”, which is a separate category on its own.

Likewise, subjects that can fall under advertising, sales and marketing, or accounting and finance, have separate categories of their own. They do not fall under the generic Business Management grouping. If these areas are considered business-related topics on the whole, then a total of 586 (26.5 per cent) of courses are available.

Beyond the top 10 categories, the remaining 26 make up only 8 per cent (180) of all courses. Some areas like fashion, sports, real estate, and marine and port services, have only one course each.

 

 

The most expensive course ($795, before GST) on the site is a 100-hour business and financial modelling course. It’s a five-module course, created by the Wharton Business School of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, offered on the Coursera platform.

The cheapest costs $20 for about four to 12 hours of courses, on varied topics from learning how to use Excel, to launching social media marketing campaigns.

You can search for courses according to price range, but the values are preset on the site. The ranges are: Between $0 and $10, $10 and $50, $50 and $100, $100 and $500, $500 and $1,000. It goes higher, to $5,000, but there are no courses that reach that price range.

Note though, that the G gave $500 worth of credits to those 25 years old and above. Exceed the credit in your account, and you pay for the balance out of your own pocket. Also, there are plenty of free courses on Coursera and Udemy that are not reflected on the SSG site.

 

 

How much time do I need?

You can also search for courses according to the time commitment required to complete it. Like the price range search function, the time values are preset to specific ranges: Less than a day to one day, one day to one week, one week to a month, a month to six months, six months to a year, and over a year.

However, there is no clear definition of what “a day” actually means. Courses listed “a day” long range from 8.70 hours to 11.70 hours, the last of which is in effect longer than a full work day. However, you don’t have to complete the required hours in one shot, so you can spread it over a week, for instance. The shortest courses are three and a half hours long, and are considered “less than a day”.

The longest courses take 280 hours – there are only two of those. These fall under the one month to six month range. Search for courses longer than six months, and nothing turns up. So, assuming 280 hours over six months amounts to about 11.5 hours a week, or about one and a half hour per day, every day.

Yet there are also 90-hour courses that are categorised between the one week to one month range. Even if a full month is taken, it amounts to 22.5 hours a week – no small commitment if you’re working!

Basically, course duration is a very rough guide. Read the details of each course to find out more.

 

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by Suhaile Md

INTELLECTUAL humility is a buzzword these days when it comes to hiring. Grades matter, of course, but they’re not everything – your willingness to learn is another measure of how valuable you are to a company in the long run.

Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs announced that it would be looking beyond the usual on-campus interviews at elite universities like Yale and Harvard. Instead, candidates from any school can apply, and they will be screened via a video interview, reported Human Resource Magazine in June. The bank wanted to hire candidates with a wider variety of background, not just elite schools.

“Smart people tend to think they know it all and that prevent [sic] them from learning. People who are not from elite background [sic] tend to be more adaptive to learning that is important for the company to grow,” said Mr Darren Tay, director at executive search firm BTI Consultant, in the HRM article.

In other words, intellectual humility.

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Being curious

The idea is not new. Two years back, the person in charge of Google’s hiring processes, Mr Laszlo Bock, spoke about the need for intellectual humility at an interview with the New York Times.

Said Mr Bock: “Without [intellectual] humility, you are unable to learn.” Humility is also required to be able to explore ideas different to your own. The point is to come up with the best solutions to problems.

Furthermore, successful candidates who are too used to winning don’t know how to deal with failure. They “commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius”. If something bad happens, they tend to blame others and not reflect on their own mistakes.

It’s a sentiment echoed by 42-year-old Mr Tan Choon Ngee, CEO of aZaaS, a Singapore-based Information Technology firm with subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

When TMG asked for the most important quality he looked for in candidates, he said it was the “willingness and ability to learn”. A candidate, no matter how qualified, “would become obsolete very fast” if there’s no intellectual humility. Having the humility to continuously learn throughout the career is important.

While Mr Tan requires candidates to have at least a diploma due to the “technical nature” of the work, he said there is no “huge preference between diploma or degree… we have diploma holders outperforming degree holders”. Learning does not stop when school ends.

“Our industry experiences high rates of change. Learning, admitting to mistakes, and re-learning is critical to success,” he added.

It’s not just the IT industry that has such demands. Mr Wesley Gunter and Mr Marc Bakker, who head a public relations and marketing firm, wrote in a commentary for TMG last month: “It would be useless for us to hire someone who thinks he/she knows everything based on their degree, compared to someone who is less qualified yet willing to learn.” It’s the “humility to accept guidance that sets [candidates] apart and allows them to grow”.

Again, these views echo that of Google’s. The most important quality Google looks for is “learning ability”, said Mr Bock.

Real-life successes

This principle of lifelong learning was underscored by former Minister for Education Heng Swee Keat at the Committee of Supply debate last year. He said that we need to “shift our mindsets about education”.  There’s a need to go “beyond learning in school, to learning throughout life”.

So it’s a good thing many Singaporeans have not stood still. Over 80,000 people have signed up for the SkillsFuture initiatives in the first eight months of this year, reported The Straits Times on Tuesday (Dec 27). Of these, 62 per cent are above 40 years old. SkillsFuture, a skills development framework that supports lifelong learning from school days to working life, was introduced by the G last year.

But SkillsFuture is not the only avenue for continual learning. There are other opportunities to learn, at the workplace for example, or online, and even the library.

Ms Amanda Ong, for example, picked up copywriting and marketing skills from books she borrowed from the library, and a year-long online course which she paid US$100 (S$144) for. She had graduated with a Political Science degree from the National University of Singapore and worked at the Ministry of Defence for over a year before leaving, as she wanted more flexible working hours.

She was giving tuition to earn her keep at first, and picked up copywriting skills on the side. It paid off, the 27-year-old is now fully employed as a copywriter at Wordplay, a copywriting and marketing firm.

Even though she has secured a full-time job, she’s still continuing with her self-education. She has just spent $400 on a self-study sales course. She wants to understand what motivates buying decisions and so on.

Her efforts are already paying off. Ms Ong said she can now “close sales with clients independently”. Previously, she needed help from her boss to do so.

 

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

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