AGE is no barrier to getting accredited. Just ask Mr Foo Chit Yong, 76, who received a Workforce Skills Qualification certification in spa services last year.
The grandfather of five, who wears hearing aids in both ears, is the oldest student who has passed out of the Singapore Spa Institute.
He graduated in October last year from a four-month full-time course on full body massage, back massage and foot reflexology. The course cost him about $370.
Mr Foo, no stranger to the industry, worked as a foot reflexologist for six years after he was asked to retire as a sailing instructor at the age of 70.
"They (the sailing group) told me to let the young people take over," he said. "So I decided to find other things to do rather than stay at home to eat and sleep."
He lives with his wife and has three grown-up children.
"He is a serious learner," said CEO Nancy Lim of the spa school at TripleOne Somerset Mall. "Because of his hearing problems, Uncle Foo was afraid he'd miss out on the theory lessons so he'd stay back after every session to ask the trainers questions."
About 5 per cent of her 1,800 students are 60 years old and above. Ms Lim said elderly spa therapists like Mr Foo are important to the spa sector because of the manpower crunch.
Spa owners, moreover, are allowed to hire only one foreign worker for every nine locals.
Despite his hearing problems caused by a diving accident in his teens, Mr Foo is attentive to detail.
He decided to pick up massaging skills as he wanted to learn something new. His friends and family were surprised because he had never had a massage himself.
"When we went on sailing trips to neighbouring countries like Thailand, my friends would disappear for massages the minute we reached the shore," he said. "I was the only one who did not go for any massages."
Even now, working six days a week at a spa in Roxy Square, he says he does not feel the need for a massage.
Work is not hectic. He gets an average of two customers a day, on some days none at all.
Recently, he got his employer to raise his basic pay from $30 to $40 a day. With 50 per cent commission for every customer, he earns about $1,700 a month.
He said he used to earn more working in Orchard Road spas where tips were more generous but left due to "office politics".
He is usually the only male masseur at his workplace, and is sad that customers are not willing to let him do body massages, which pay more.
"Customers only want women masseurs," he said. "Even when they are busy with other customers, they would rather wait for them.
Sometimes, they take a look at me and walk off."
He knows most customers are uncomfortable with a male masseur but hopes they will be more open-minded.
Mr Foo, who still has a thirst for knowledge, is attending a nutrition course and reads widely about health issues. "I like to learn new things. I want to learn as much as I can," he said.
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