Upgrading Out of Unemployment – is it possible?
This article first appeared here in 2009 July
Written By: Gilbert Goh
I am guilty of not being ambitious enough in my life as my last educational certificate is at least 20 years ago. Many friends of mine have move on to getting their degrees and masters when they started to work. Many are adult learners and they never cease to earn my respect. It is never easy studying in the evening after a hard day at work. For those who are married, it is doubly tough as they have to juggle with their family demands.
The last time that I went abroad with my family in 1999 was to acquire a degree from Australia. Sad to say, we returned after a year there after failing to complete my study due to some adjustment issue. It was also a humbling experience for me and a personal setback. I stopped upgrading for the next fice years before I embarked on a diploma in psychology with Lee College – funded by my voluntary welfare organisation (VWO). I later took on a graduate diploma in social science (counselling) in 2008 with Executive Counselling & Training Academy. I ttook me close to two years to complete the graduate diploma course even though it was only for 6 months due to my overseas work in China and other personal reasons.
After a year I completed and acquired the diploma. I was over the moon as this was my first certified certificate after my GCE A level attained almost 25 years later! It was a useful certificate as it allowed me to gain access to many jobs in the social service sector. Naturally, my pay also rose due to the diploma. I remembered I switched job after acquiring the diploma and immediately got a $800 pay raise! So never looked down on any educational certificate especially if it is work related.
I tend to go for short courses of less than 2 years so that I can complete it faster. Long 3-5 year courses are not for me as I lack the patience and determination to finish it. I am now working on a graduate diploma in professional counseling with another local educator. I hope to attain it by early next year.
An old classmate of mine managed to finish his degree in logistics offered by the Curtin University but done locally here at the age of 40 years old. Now he is a department head in a big MNC handling sea and air freight. His last drawn salary is heading towards the $70,000 a year and still rising. The last I heard is that he is aspiring to complete his MBA soon. The most inspiring part about him is that 25 years ago he repeated his GCE A level and still failed at the second attempt. Talk about a person who never gave up trying…
Way to go man!
Our government-linked Community Community Councils (CDC) and NTUC are big advocate for retraining and offered almost free sponsorship of courses for those who are eligible. These courses may include industries in the healthcare, hospitality, F & B, tourism, etc. CDCs will partner such industries to provide almost-free upgrading courses for the jobless. Allowance is also given for the trainees that participated in such upgrading programmes. Suffice to say, as the individual starts from the ground up, it is almost certain that there will be a pay cut for many who do a job switch here. One needs to calculate whether it is feasible to take a pay cut here as there are still bills to pay for some bread winners. Nevertheless, in such down time when jobs do not come easy, the wise man will go for such re employment opportunities as firstly he is getting new skills and secondly his mind is not kept rusty by staying at home.
Many non-for-profit self help groups also provide substantial relief for eligible Singaporean citizens and permanent residents to attend courses. For example, there are 100 over courses on offer by CDAC – who provides close to 90% fee subsidy – to those who are needy. Courses on offer range from computer training, plumbing, construction, food preparation, office skills and one-day soft skill courses. For example, the computer beginning course costs around $215 for the whole module but after a huge fee subsidy and a achievement cash inventive if one successfully pass the course assessment, one only finally pays $10!
Nevertheless, there are strict criterion to such application. As it’s mission is to assist those who are poor and needy, the generous subsidy is only available to those who are educated up to GCO “O” level and their monthly gross personal pay must not be more than $1500.
I am also glad to know that there are many companies that promote lifelong learning programmes and many will not hesitate to grant funds for part time upgrading courses if they are relevant to the companies. My diploma course in counseling was sponsored fully by my previous company and to this day I am grateful for their funding. The cost of the course amounted to around $2,500 and the Skills Development Fund (SDF) claim was about $1,000. The only setback for such funding is that the candidate needs to have a company sponsoring him. If he takes it on his own, he is not entitled to any funding except for the tax rebate deduction at the end of the year when he file his income tax paper.
Government employment assistance agencies rightfully are constantly asking the jobless to upgrade and go for retraining in industries that have a lot of vacancies. During retraining, one is challenged to try for another sector which can be stressful for those who are unprepared and matured in age. For one who has performed clerical work all along, asking the person to go into a entirely different industry can be very challenging. It is easier if the candidate who is going for retraining has shown interest in a particular industry and is not forced to re train for survival sake though I fear that some may have not much choice here. The person who enters a new industry with interest tends to fare better and last longer than one who doesn’t. When one is laid off, it is timely to sit down and reflect on what kind of job one desires. Is the job suitable for me? I know some will not want to take up shift work for personal reasons whereas others prefer an office environment. There is nothing wrong with that.
However, some also found that the courses promoted by both e2i and WDA are too long and expensive. For example, a degree in social work takes three years and a course payment of at least $6,000 with a bond attached to it. Though the selected candidate could apply for $1000 monthly training aid, the long absence from the work force, especially for those with family, means that not many people will want to take up such courses.
Suffice to say, there are many other courses that are popular such as the trainer course which sees a few thousand people applying for such courses. It is cheap and trainees pay less than $200 for such courses after subsidy and it lasts less than 3 months. After graduation, trainees can apply to take up the trainer position with NTUC Training Dept or other training agences.
So what should we do if we are unsure which sector to go for retraining?
In his book “What colour is your parachute?” Dick Bolles asked the reader to make an inventory of one’s talents. He also advocated that one should go on a life-changing job hunt instead of an income-changing job hunt. We often look for work to earn an income rather than to achieve one’s life goal. Dick also suggested asking what individual skills a person needs to have before taking on the dream job. If we like what we do then it is not work anymore but merely pursuing one’s life interest.
Many matured workers get to do what they really like when they enter into their sunset years as they are not hampered by the salary factor. Some end up doing social work which pays little but yet provide huge dose of job satisfaction which money cannot buy. Others take up voluntary work which pays them only an allowance but they are willing as they feel they are contributing to he underpriviledged.
There are several personality tests which one can take to find out who they actually are, what motivates them and more importantly whether their personality is suited for certain industries. There are the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, Ennagram Institute and RHETTI Test personality tests. They can be found and taken from the website www.jobshunterbible.com – a job resource website founded by author Dick Bolles.
For example, if one is more detached in nature but wants to take up a career in counseling, he may struggle abit more than others in similar trade who exhibit more compassion and have a natural interest in people. There are various free test sites for one to find out one’s personality. Nevertheless, I am skeptical about personality testsas they merely provide you only a snapshot of who you are but will not indicate whether you are keen on particular industry.
To illustrate the importance of matching one’s interest to a job, I have known a friend who was laid off from his managerial’s position at the ripe age of 58 years old few years back. His last drawn pay was close to $5,000. Being a very optimistic person, he went to CDC and was selected for an apprenticeship programme with a Hong-Kong based café here. He was very adamnant that he wanted to try out pastry industry as he said that all along he has interest in this area. Of course, he could also cook very well at home often dishing out appetizing food for his family.
He cleared the 2-month intensive training smoothly and was happy making pastries for the café. He also got some allowance while undergoing training. Nevertheless, he lamented over the $1,200 pay on offer after his training but still appeared cheerful that at least he could find a job that he loves! His never-say-die spirit always inspired me whenever I spoke with him. Such people will never stay jobless for too long.
The message I am trying to get across here is that one should never rest on his laurels even if he is having a stable job as upgrading always benefits the person. We may not need it when we are gainfully employed but when the times are bad, acguiring extra skills are an asset to have. Employers will continue to look at the right candidates with the relevant skills and qualification when they pick the right candidate from the many hundreds that apply for the advertised position. By staying motivated and adequately qualified, we are in a better position for rehiring even when the economy heads south. The best time to upgrade oneself is when we are jobless as we have so much free time on our hand. Attending courses will also keep our mind sharp and alert so that we will have no time to think negatively.
So continue to upgrade and stay ahead of the market. We can never go wrong especially when the job market is so volatile these days.
A talent can be cultivated in tranquility; character, only in the rushing stream of life. Goethe