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Finding a new job - in a new industry

Mr Steven Tay (left), took the initiative to e-mail Environmental Solutions (Asia) co-founder Quek Leng Chuang after their interview to express his interest in the job. Mr Tay now works for Mr Quek as a business development manager. 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 them to employers. Training, wage and placement support aims to minimise job mismatches, while a slew of on-site and virtual career fairs organised by Workforce Singapore help connect workers to employers quickly.

It's no secret that mid-career switching can be challenging but with much tenacity, these executives have done it.

After several roadbumps in his job search since 2014, Mr Steven Tay, 58, joined the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) for careers in international trade last October under what is called the Place-and-Train route, where professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are hired by a participating employer.

He finally found a job early this year with electricity retailer Environmental Solutions (Asia) as a business development manager.

Mr Tay says: "It was very difficult and I don't think I'm alone. When I left my job in 2014 and took a break, the economy was bad and the unemployment rate for PMETs 40 and above was growing.

"Most people apply for hundreds of jobs and don't get shortlisted. Even when you do, the first thing they look at, like it or not, is your age."

While the PCP gave him a lifeline, Mr Tay, who has a master's in business development, noted difficulties during his initial PCP applications.

"There's a disconnect when I was asked about prior experience in an industry. It throws a lot of people off and perhaps recruiters can rethink such criteria," he adds.

  • What are Professional Conversion Programmes?

  • Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) cater to PMETs, including mid-career switchers.

    PCPs usually last between three and 24 months, depending on factors like job requirements.

    They help PMETs move to new occupations or sectors with prospects and 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 some 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.

However, he never gave up and after a few interviews while he was studying at the International Trading Institute at Singapore Management University (SMU), he met Mr Quek Leng Chuang, Environmental Solutions (Asia) co-founder.

Excited about what the firm had to offer, Mr Tay, who has three children, made sure he took the initiative to e-mail Mr Quek after the interview.

"Sometimes you just have to help yourself, and I'd like to believe my initiative in personally writing to him helped. SMU also did a good job of helping us."

Mr Quek notes how everything fell into place when it came to hiring Mr Tay and two other PCP participants.

"Their values aligned with mine and the company's. They may not have direct job experience but they've worked long enough and experienced other facets of doing or organising business. They have the softer skills only an older person would have," says Mr Quek.

Degree holder and former banking executive Charlton Kwan, 37, is another PMET who took the leap into a completely new sector - logistics.

Mr Kwan, who has a one-year-old son, considered other industries during his search in 2014, such as construction and medical supplies, but was left uninspired.

"Having worked for 12 years, I had some useful contacts. One thing led to another and a hiring manager of Toll Group, who's now my immediate boss, got in touch."

He joined the logistics giant last September as an operations manager overseeing more than 30 people, and joined the PCP for the industry soon after.

Mr Kwan says: "It 'levels up' people like me from a non-logistics industry and has been very useful. I've learnt how complicated port operations can be, for example.

"I've seen a lot of new factories and logistics warehouses being built, and new space means new business. I'd give myself two years to settle down. The career growth prospects are good."

Toll Group says the PCP offers new talent from a wider pool of jobseekers and such "transitioning professionals will also rejuvenate the logistics industry".

Mr Tay, who looks forward to work each day, adds: "There's too much stigmatising of people who are out of work. We've an intelligent workforce and it's just unfortunate people were laid off.

"At my age, we're still not too old. Having a job and something to do - every day is a new day and new challenge."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'Finding a new job - in a new industry'. Print Edition | Subscribe