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Right skills key to successful job switch

Mr Francis Leo (far right) with his bosses at Pinnacle One Consultancy - CEO Jack Ser (centre) and chief operating officer Kenneth Tan - who are impressed at how much he has learnt through the PCP.
Mr Francis Leo (far right) with his bosses at Pinnacle One Consultancy - CEO Jack Ser (centre) and chief operating officer Kenneth Tan - who are impressed at how much he has learnt through the PCP.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

This new series brought to you by the Ministry of Manpower showcases employment support programmes for workers affected by restructuring. These programmes consider the needs and aspirations of the workforce when matching staff to employers. Training, wage and placement support aims to minimise job mismatches, while both on-site and virtual career fairs organised by Workforce Singapore help connect workers to employers quickly.

In the fast-paced information and communications technology (ICT) sector, where things move at a blistering pace, you risk falling behind if you stay still.

Pre-sales consultant Francis Leo, however, is one man who is determined to catch up.

Mr Leo, 49, ran operations at a firm in the fast-moving consumer goods sector for several years until it closed in 2012. He took a break and did part-time work before looking for a full-time role in 2015.

"I soon realised it was a bit tough to find a job, and the market had changed. I didn't get responses for many openings. I'd say my age was a factor, but there are other reasons too, like your previous position," said Mr Leo, who has a degree in mechanical engineering.

Armed with sales and marketing skills, he decided to move into a different sector, and discovered the ICT Professional Conversion Programme (PCP), which offers a Place-and-Train route.

Around the same time - in March last year - he was hired by Pinnacle One Consultancy, which specialises in IT and has 16 staff.

He also jumped at the chance to sign up for the PCP, which would allow him to learn about software applications.

He noted: "The industry has grown in the past 5-7 years. I see it as a possible growth sector, but I don't have any background in it.

"I felt I needed a bit of technical knowledge. Sales skills are transferable to any industry, but you must know your product."

  • What are Professional Conversion Programmes?

    Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) cater to PMETs, including those who switch in mid-career.

    The programmes usually last between three months and 24 months, depending on factors like job requirements, and help people move to new occupations or sectors with opportunities for progression. PMETs can also take on new roles in the same sector.

    The Place-and-Train route is one example of a PCP, where the PMET is hired by participating employers who get funding support from Workforce Singapore.

    There are more than 50 PCPs across about 20 sectors, including information and communications technology, and healthcare.

    Interested applicants can visit www.wsg.gov.sg/pcps and contact the respective programme partners to apply.

Mr Leo, who started on the programme in April last year and has one more module to complete, said it was truly tough at the start.

"I had three-hour classes twice a week; we have our laptops in front of us, and we do practicals. There are also theory tests on things such as the history and background of various software modules."

Pinnacle One chief Jack Ser, 32, saw how Mr Leo steadily gained new skills over the months.

"Previously, when he returned from a sales meeting, Francis would give just the quotation to our chief operating officer Kenneth Tan, while another staff member would provide the project requirements. Now, Francis can tell Kenneth what the customers are looking for."

Mr Tan, 31, said this had saved the company time and effort all around, allowing it to offer clients more precise solutions.

Mr Ser praised Mr Leo's initiative in signing up for the PCP, something he feels other bosses should be more aware of.

"I knew about the programme only because of Francis. Raising awareness would be great, as I don't believe there are many workers like Francis around. At that age, many are reluctant to take on new skill sets, especially ones outside their comfort zone.

"For Francis to be so proactive, to want to learn something beyond his comfort zone... I respect that a lot. He has to do it on top of his full-time work as well, and my only concern was his family commitments."

Mr Leo agrees that more firms need to know about the programme. He said: "I do see many people in my age group at the PCPs, and they face a lot of issues getting employed."

When it comes to hiring, Mr Ser wants people with a good attitude regardless of age or experience, as he prefers to let his employees take charge and run the show.

"There's no point holding their hands the whole time; you must let them do it themselves. And as an employer, you need to be prepared to lose business," he pointed out.

He noted that, for the PCPs to work, it must be about more than flexible working hours. Firms need to accept that those in the scheme are still learning, and that they are not going to be IT experts immediately after the course ends.

"They are bound to say something wrong, like giving the wrong directions to clients or making a promise that could see the firm losing money," said Mr Ser.

"It takes two hands to clap. I don't think many employers are prepared, and that could be one obstacle. If there's no way for these workers to apply the skills they've learnt, it's pointless."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline 'Right skills key to successful job switch'. Print Edition | Subscribe