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Career derailed, but back on track now

Mr Ismail Amin was once a semiconductor engineer. But his career got derailed when he was retrenched from Renesas Semiconductor Singapore, the local arm of a Japanese semiconductor corporation, in December 2015.

The company moved its manufacturing operations overseas.

Months of full-time job-hunting followed, during which Mr Ismail applied for at least 50 positions.

In the end, he got his work life back on track by switching to a new area of expertise - he joined the Land Transport Authority (LTA) last September at the age of 39 as a rail transport engineer despite having had zero experience in that field.

Mr Ismail is one of the 285 mid-career professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) around the age of 40 or older hired by the LTA in the last two years. This was a fifth of its new hires.

As the economy restructures and old sectors wind down, the Government is encouraging companies to hire displaced workers, particularly older PMETs. But these workers find it hard to get a job in a totally new sector, as companies may not be keen to invest time and effort in training them.


Mr Ismail Amin joined the Land Transport Authority last September as a rail transport engineer despite having had zero experience in that field. He had lost his previous job as a semiconductor engineer with Renesas Semiconductor Singapore when it closed. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Said Mr Ismail: "Employers will look at your age first. I was 39."

What employers wanted was fresh hires who could hit the ground running, said Mr Ismail.

They also told him that time which went into training was time taken away from working and achieving their operational goals.

The job search itself was not easy, said Mr Ismail, who began his hunt early, when Renesas announced a year in advance that it would close.

He visited the Workforce Development Agency's (WDA) career centre in Jurong East and went to job fairs.

The WDA also visited the company and encouraged workers to go for courses to upgrade their skills.

But he did not want to join another manufacturing company, as the sector did not seem to be stable.

When the LTA called him back for a second interview, the married father-of-one was "shocked, because transport is a different sector altogether".

PREPARED FOR PAY CUT

"You have to take a pay cut. It's a reality, because you're joining a different industry that asks for different skills.

MR ISMAIL AMIN, on his decision to take the LTA job offer despite getting less pay.

He said: "I told them, 'Looking at the job scope, 60 per cent I can do, but I'm lacking 40 per cent'.

"They said, 'Go for the second interview. Who knows?'"

He scored the gig and decided to take it up despite getting less pay, though he declined to say how much less.

"You have to take a pay cut. It's a reality, because you're joining a different industry that asks for different skills," he said.

Mr Ismail found the career switch an uphill challenge, saying that the learning curve was very steep.

In his previous company, he investigated and fixed semiconductor machines when they broke down.

Now, he works on LTA's electronic signboards on expressways that give motorists real-time updates on traffic conditions.

He was trained on the job by a mentor in LTA, but also brushed up on computer operating systems and software algorithms in his own time.

Mr Ismail, who passed his probation period last month, said he sometimes feels shy because his colleagues are younger. But this spurs him on. "Whatever they know, I tell myself I must learn at least 50 per cent of that, to start with."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 07, 2017, with the headline 'Career derailed, but back on track now'. Print Edition | Subscribe