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Investing in new skills at all ages to stay current

Young or old, it is more important than ever to upgrade skills to move up – or move elsewhere

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Joanna Seow on 13 Dec 2020

The Straits Times

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Rapid technological disruption in recent years has caused disruption and decimation of jobs across industries, but it has also created new ones. The Covid-19 crisis has hastened the changes.

 

Reskilling has greater exigency than ever - and this is true for workers of all ages.

 

Job seekers who were displaced now will likely have to move into other roles within the same sector or into other sectors, which will require picking up new skills, said Mr Jason Tay, director of enterprise programmes division at Workforce Singapore.

 

Global megatrends such as automation and new ways of working are eroding traditional skills and leading to job losses, said National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general Desmond Choo.

 

For example, workers are no longer needed to man assembly lines as production operations are automated. But they can learn to operate machines that oversee the automation process instead.

 

"It is critical that our workers acquire new skills - that is, reskill - or enhance their existing skill sets - which means upskilling - in order to adapt to these rapidly changing conditions," said Mr Choo, who also chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower.

 

Mr Tay said reskilling can mean changing career paths to a new sector, but it could also entail a less radical move to a new job in the same sector, or a redeployment within the same organisation.

 

This can bring different challenges, depending on an employee's age. Younger workers may be able to easily adapt to a new industry and may not have major financial commitments such as a mortgage or children's education to consider when making decisions about switching careers.

 

However, Workforce Singapore (WSG) senior career coach Evelyn Tay noted that with less work experience, they may find it hard to identify skills gaps that need plugging.

 

Some seniors, on the other hand, may not be familiar with available training courses or face a language barrier when attending training, said Mr Choo.

 

Perhaps the ones most in need of reskilling, but who may find it the most difficult to do so, are middle-aged workers in their 40s and 50s.

 

Mr Choo said middle-aged workers, especially professionals, managers and executives, tend to be more vulnerable in the labour market because of their higher financial burdens, a plateauing career and job growth, and competition from younger or foreign workers.

 

At the same time, they risk having their skills become redundant as it has been years since they left formal education. But though it is important for them to reskill, some may find it daunting to learn new skills or switch industries, or may be hard-pressed to find the time to go for training.

 

One solution is for busy professionals to make use of online material to learn on the go, Mr Choo suggested.

 

When thinking about reskilling, people should take stock of their financial situation and know how much they can invest in it, whether it is for paid courses or in terms of going without a salary, or getting only a training allowance.

 

Knowing how long the savings will last will also help with planning if it may mean resigning from a job to go for training.

 

Ms Tay recommends that mature workers have a frank conversation with family members to better plan their finances and make any required adjustments before embarking on reskilling.

 

There are a myriad of options for those keen to invest in learning new skills, with different cost and time commitments needed. These include further studies in institutes of higher learning, full-time or part-time courses by private companies and industry associations, and free online courses.

 

There are also government schemes aimed at easing the transition for workers switching roles or industries. Several are targeted specifically at mature workers or mid-career switchers, such as professional conversion programmes and the TechSkills Accelerator Mid-Career Advance programme which was launched this year.

 

The SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package rolled out amid the pandemic has company attachment and training opportunities targeted at mid-career workers. A training allowance is provided.

 

It may be possible to use SkillsFuture Credit or, if the worker is a union member, the Union Training Assistance Programme funding, to offset fees for eligible courses.

 

Tap the career coaches at WSG and NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute for advice and help with identifying the most appropriate grants and schemes to help defray training costs.

 

Reskillers may worry about whether their efforts will pay off in the job hunt.

 

The good news is, nearly nine in 10 employers surveyed by NTUC LearningHub recently are open or somewhat open to hiring people with no relevant work experience as long as they have undergone industry-relevant skills training.

 

A spokesman for the Institute for Human Resource Professionals said most employers or HR practitioners are willing to hire someone with no prior experience in the industry but with some working experience, possibly in an adjacent field, to be reskilled.

 

Employers tend to prefer hiring candidates who can hit the ground running, but this is changing due to shortages of local workers and funding for individuals and organisations to support reskilling, said Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem. "Companies are more open to considering reskilled candidates and giving them the relevant opportunities and exposure to contribute and grow in the new role," she said.

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

 

 

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