Multiple career changes the new norm

Mr Teoh Ah Kian, a baker at the bakery in Giant Hypermart in IMM. After working as an engineer for 30 years, Mr Teoh Ah Kian decided to finally do what he has always wanted: bake for a living. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA
Mr Teoh Ah Kian, a baker at the bakery in Giant Hypermart in IMM. After working as an engineer for 30 years, Mr Teoh Ah Kian decided to finally do what he has always wanted: bake for a living. -- ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Changes to business cycles and technology, lifelong learning push fuel trend

After working as an engineer for 30 years, Mr Teoh Ah Kian decided to finally do what he has always wanted: bake for a living.

So five years ago, at the age of 57, he mustered up enough courage to retire from his well-paying job as an engineer to take courses in baking.

"This job suits me because I keep on learning baking and new recipes," said Mr Teoh, 62, who is working as a baker in Giant supermarket.

"I hope to keep working in this line as long as I can."

Mr Teoh's generation of workers had a simple mantra: Study, work, retire.

But these days, it is not unheard of for workers to take on multiple careers in their lifetime, said experts who have been studying trends in the job market.

Shorter business cycles, disruptive technological changes and the push for lifelong learning are helping the multiple career trend find acceptance here.

"The new economy is not going to be just one cycle of 'learn, work and retire' but 'learn, work, learn, work, learn, work and retire'," said labour MP Patrick Tay, who heads the National Trades Union Congress' Professional, Managers and Executives Alignment Unit.

People have more career choices as they are better-educated and more well-informed about opportunities, said Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) president Erman Tan.

Economic restructuring and the growth of new industries, such as biotechnology, sustainable energy and gaming, have also led to new types of jobs and careers, even as other jobs lose their lustre.

Recognising the growing pace of change in manpower needs, the Government announced last month improvements to the adult education system here.

These include enhanced frameworks that set out sector-specific benchmarks for workers' career progression, which are a key part of the Singapore Workforce Development Agency's latest masterplan for adult education.

The plans will be driven by the SkillsFuture Council, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, which aims to ensure that workers here have the skills wanted by employers.

But while the Government moves ahead to smoothen the bumpy career road, experts said that workers too should be prepared to upgrade themselves and take on a wider variety of skills.

SIM University economist Randolph Tan said this can help people weather the cyclical nature of industries.

"Your skills should also have some currency outside the industry should adjustments need to be made," he said.

For Mrs Esther Koh, 58, who left the workforce for 12 years to care for her children full time, returning to her former career as a secretary would have been difficult as she felt she had "lost touch with information technology".

Instead, she became a teaching assistant at a kindergarten.

She earned a part-time diploma in early childhood education while working.

"It was hard work but it paid off," said Mrs Koh. "Having a love for children... I know this is what I want to do."

joseow@sph.com.sg