SINGAPORE - Mr Max Wong was selling solar film to people who wanted more shade on their windows even as he looked out for a higher recurring income and a sector with room to grow.
In January this year, the 33-year-old took the plunge to become a trader at family firm Kims, where he now sells lubricant to international shipping companies.
Kims is among 23 companies who have committed to hiring new recruits under the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) for careers in international trade, which was launched on Thursday (July 28) by International Enterprise (IE) Singapore. The one-year scheme is for Singaporeans and permanent residents.
Such conversion programmes which train mid-career professionals to switch industries have been launched previously for other sectors and the latest is the 34th such programme.
Coming amid news of rising unemployment and layoffs, it could potentially train and place 300 people in three years' time.
It targets professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), a group particularly vulnerable to long-term unemployment.
National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary general Patrick Tay welcomed the new programme in a Facebook post, saying: "With the backdrop of layoffs announced this morning and PMEs being affected, (I) hope this PCP can help PMEs take on a second career in trading.
"Those who have left the financial sector can seriously consider this programme."
IE Singapore chief executive Lee Ark Boon called international trade, which moves commodities as diverse as oil, rice, and rubber between countries, a growing sector with good career prospects.
International trade is the second largest services sector in Singapore, and is expected to create 15,000 new jobs by 2020, he said. About 63 per cent of those employed in the sector are PMETs.
Said IE Singapore's Mr Lee: "The jobs in our sector are good paying PMET jobs. The national median wage is close to $4,000, and the international trading sector's median is about 10 per cent higher."
Acting Minister for Education Mr Ong Ye Kung, the guest of honour at the launch, advised PMETs to be flexible about career switches, but to approach whatever job they are in with dedication.
He said: "We sometimes need a few careers in our lifetimes. After you graduate and you're mid-career, you may find the sector you're in is no longer growing. It may even be declining, and you find yourself having to switch sectors.
"In order to switch careers from one sector another, you must be deep in one sector. Without that depth, you cannot switch to another sector. Who would want you? You would just be a jack-of-all-trades, jumping from place to place.
"You have to enter one sector, be passionate about it, dive deep into it, really learn the craft. Then if that sector is no more, another employer will say (about you), this is a person with determination and resilience. He has done it before in one sector, he will do it again."
The International Trade PCP will train participants for roles such as traders and in skills not just in traditional supply chain management and trade finance, but also in more cutting-edge technology such as trade analytics and e-payment systems.
The programme is developed together with the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), Singapore Management University's International Trading Institute, and the International Chamber of Commerce Academy. This is the first PCP where two institutions are delivering a joint curriculum.
WDA will fund 70 per cent of the course for local PMETs, as well as up to 90 per cent of their salaries, capped at $4,000 a month. This adds up to about $61,000 in funding for each trainee.
Mr Tan Kah Chye, chief executive of trade financing platform Tin Hill Capital, expressed interest in being part of the programme. "We are scaling up to be more technology-intensive and I am hiring people with a tech background."
"They could be from other sectors, but their customers will still be in trade and they need that domain knowledge which the programme could provide," said Mr Tan, who is himself formerly from the banking sector.
As for Mr Wong, he is looking forward to picking up skills such as contract drafting or risk management.
It took him some time to adjust to the high pressure and the constant uncertainty of the trading life. While he could previously close a deal in a matter of days, it now takes him four to six months just to get the client on board.
He said: "I only started to feel I had made the right decision four months into the job."
But for him, nothing matches the satisfaction of closing a deal. "It's very rewarding, the sense of accomplishment when you get them to change their minds."