People

He is 70 and a serial skills upgrader

Mr Rama Kerisna, who has worked as a security officer and dog handler, now works at dnata Singapore, training employees in areas such as safety on airport runways.
Mr Rama Kerisna, who has worked as a security officer and dog handler, now works at dnata Singapore, training employees in areas such as safety on airport runways.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

From Mandarin to computer skills, he has completed over 30 courses

During his schooldays, Mr Rama Kerisna was not keen on studying.

After getting off his chauffeur's car at the now-defunct Telok Paku Primary School in Changi, he would wait for the chauffeur to drive off before going to the seaside nearby to play.

Yet, Mr Rama, now 70, has attended more courses than most people have.

The list includes more than 30 Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) courses, mostly related to security matters and conducting training programmes. He has also attended courses in computer and presentation skills, courses to get a taxi driver's licence and a bus driver's licence.

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The reason? "So I can take on other jobs to support my family if necessary," said Mr Rama, whose highest qualification is a diploma in business English.

He is also picking up conversational Mandarin to better relate to his colleagues and is doing a specialist diploma in dangerous goods regulations at the International Air Transport Association.

Quite an achievement for someone who completed his N levels only when he was 38 years old.

He said his wife even remarked many years ago: "Last time, your father asked you to study, you didn't study. Now that you're old and have children, then you study."

However, he was lauded by Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng in a speech at the annual Aviation Community Reception last month for his efforts in continually upgrading his skills.

Mr Rama joined Changi International Airport Services in 1979 and was a security officer for six months before rising through the ranks - from technical operator to duty manager.

He spent about 30 years in different roles in ground handling operations, such as aircraft marshalling and towing of aircraft. In his more senior roles, he was involved in planning and allocating manpower resources.

Since 2010, he has worked in the training department at ground-handling firm dnata Singapore, which acquired Changi International Airport Services in 2004. He trains employees in areas such as handling of dangerous goods, safety on airport runways and areas where aircraft are loaded, and reducing human errors and managing fatigue.

His drive to upgrade his skills came about during his first job as a dog handler in the British Armed Forces in the 1960s.

He told The Straits Times: "I saw other colleagues who could speak and write English very well, but I could barely write a sentence. I knew I had to do something about it. If others could do it, why couldn't I?"

So he went for one course, and then another, till he felt uncomfortable whenever he was not picking up a new skill.

He spent about 12 years working as a dog handler and dog trainer in the British Armed Forces and at a security company. But after several dog bites and an ultimatum from his wife to choose between his love for dogs and his love for her, he joined the aviation industry as he felt he could "learn something new" there.

He said: "I always like to learn something new, and I want to learn as much as I can. I don't have the fear of facing unfamiliar situations. I'm willing to take up the challenge."

He said working as a trainer has been an enjoyable challenge.

"I learn from the trainees' body language, whether they understand me or are likely to ask questions. I also learn about their reasons for leaving their previous jobs and how to make my subordinates happy."

He has since learnt to tweak his teaching methods, such as using more visuals and being more approachable so trainees would be more willing to ask questions.

His supervisor Huang Junjia, 36, an assistant manager in the training and development department, said Mr Rama has been a role model.

Said Mr Huang: "He's still hungry to learn. He has motivated new employees and colleagues as he shares his experiences of how he overcame obstacles in language and computer literacy."

Meanwhile, Mr Rama's children have encouraged him to stop working and enjoy retirement.

His wife, 64, is a library assistant and he has three children, aged 33 to 40, two of whom are married.

Mr Rama said: "I told my children, 'If you want me to stay at home, give me grandchildren, then I'll take care of them and I can pass time. Otherwise, if I sit at home and watch TV, it's a waste of time and I'll fall sick easily.'"

So, until he becomes a grandfather, he "will continue working for as long as I can".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'He is 70 and wants to keep on learning'. Print Edition | Subscribe