SINGAPORE - The Singapore Girl may not be aloft in the skies these days. But she - and her male colleagues - are flying high in this distressed job market.
Many cabin crew under the Singapore Airlines Group are landing good secondment gigs and second careers with their impeccable grooming, well-honed customer care skills and knack for handling tricky situations.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic grounded airplanes and closed borders, many of them have been redeployed to a variety of roles, especially in the service industry.
Since April 2020, the group has deployed around 850 care ambassadors in hospitals, 500 transport ambassadors at transport hubs, such as bus interchanges and 170 contact tracing ambassadors.
There are others who are working as safe distancing ambassadors.
Mr Hanif Affandi, 31, a cabin crew complex leader with low-cost carrier Scoot, has worked in both a hospital and a government ministry this year.
From mid-June to end-August, he was a care ambassador at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), where his responsibilities included assisting nurses with ambulating patients, daily housekeeping and serving patients their food.
During that time, the Singaporean was praised for being helpful, cheerful and professional. He addressed patients by name and ensured that everyone was promptly attended to.
"His attention to detail was very much appreciated and I hope he can inspire his fellow Scootees to be a world-class cabin crew like him," wrote Mr Leslie Ong, a senior staff nurse at SGH, in a citation letter about him.
Recalling his experience working in a hospital, Mr Hanif says his favourite part was chatting with patients, just like he used to chat with passengers on flights.
"Service excellence was a core part of our crew training, and it helped me ease into these public-facing roles which require professionalism and good service skills."
Since September, Mr Hanif has been working at the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) as a customer service officer, answering queries from the public on the Covid-19 Support Grant, which helps Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who are unemployed, put on no-pay leave, or suffered significant income loss as a result of the economic impact of Covid-19, as well as other avenues of support.
Another cabin crew working at MSF is Singapore Airlines (SIA) leading steward Adrian Ang, 39, who is helping to administer the grant.
He, too, uses active listening and people management skills, which he honed from his training at SIA.
For example, when faced with an angry applicant who was rejected twice and was threatening to lobby his Member of Parliament, Mr Ang calmly heard him out.
He found out that the applicant had simply forgotten to submit his latest payslip and shed clarity on what was needed to process the application. At the end of the call, the applicant thanked Mr Ang profusely.
His colleague, Ms Lee Yin Hui, 42, an SIA leading stewardess, is on a five-month secondment with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) as a customer relations executive. She answers calls on the BCA hotline and replies to e-mails from employers, contractors and foreign workers, among other tasks.
One of the skills that has proved transferable from her flying days is customer care, which has enabled her to provide a sympathetic listening ear.
She recently answered a phone call from a woman who wanted to leave verbal feedback about her condominium management, instead of writing in, as is protocol.
But Ms Lee's experience at SIA taught her to recognise that the caller mainly wanted someone to listen and empathise with her.
Ms Lee says: "So I kept quiet and listened, and showed her that I understood what she was going through and how her situation was affecting her."
A few days later, the woman called back to say the matter had been duly resolved with help from BCA, and thanked Ms Lee for taking the time to listen to her.
Ms Lee says: "It felt very gratifying to know that I had helped to make someone's day better. "
EARLY CHILDHOOD: STAYING CALM WHEN THINGS GET STRESSFUL
Some present and former cabin crew with a nurturing temperament have found work in the early childhood sector.
One of them is Ms Tay Ru Xin, 24, a current cabin crew member with low-cost carrier Scoot, who has been a full-time English teacher at Superland Montessori Pre-school in Ganges Avenue since September.
Nowadays, she prepares lesson plans, teaches and manages her class of 15 nursery two students, who are aged four, as well as communicates regularly with their parents. The international pre-school has students from countries such as Singapore, South Korea, Japan, India and Israel.
Ms Tay, who graduated from Ngee Ann Polytechnic with a diploma in early childhood education in 2017, says: "When faced with potentially sticky situations with parents at the pre-school, I find myself relying on my experience with passengers during my flying days."
Being mindful of her tone and choice of words, and showing respect to the parent or child she is speaking to help smooth over tense situations.
"It sounds simple, but not many can do it under pressure, let alone find a solution to perform a 'service recovery'."
Travelling around the world and being exposed to many different cultures have also helped her to be open-minded and conversant in different languages.
It has helped her communicate with her South Korean students in their native language, such as counting from one to 10, and using phrases such as "hello", "good job" and "please", which she picked up to better interact with Korean passengers when flying.
"I think I am better with children than before and this will help when interacting with young passengers," she says, hopeful of donning her stewardess uniform again when travel restrictions are lifted.
For Ms Fleur Ong, 31, a former Singapore Airlines (SIA) cabin crew who completed her 10-year contract with the airline last month, flying trained her in customer service and professionalism, which she hopes will stand her in good stead in her new career.
She started work last week as a senior parent liaison executive at EtonHouse International Education Group.
She hopes her experience interacting with people from different cultures will be useful when forging relationships with EtonHouse's global community of parents, students and colleagues.
Her new role has a strong customer focus and requires her to think on her feet, stay calm and be respectful at all times.
"When I was flying, we were always kept on our toes, especially during an emergency situation or in a space where resources are limited.
"No matter how difficult and stressful the situations got, we could always stay calm," she says.
EtonHouse recently launched a nationwide recruitment drive, offering former SIA staff more than 100 positions in EtonHouse schools and its E-Bridge Pre-Schools.
So far, it has offered positions to seven candidates in both the teaching and administration roles, and is currently interviewing for other positions.
Mr Ng Yi Xian, 35, EtonHouse's executive director, says: "Schools can be a very dynamic environment too. Thus the experience that former SIA staff have will help them to handle all types of situations with equanimity."
FOOD & BEVERAGE: TRAINED TO ADAPT TO CUSTOMERS' WHIMS
Instead of going down aisles serving food, some current and former cabin crew are now working behind the stove, making it.
Former Singapore Girl Celine Ho, 27, for example, resigned in April 2020 and is now a co-founder of Celine's Gelato, a cafe which sells Italian-style ice cream in flavours such as black sesame, yuzu sorbet and durian.
It is located at the mixed development Novena Regency.
She says: "I run my cafe just as if I am serving passengers onboard a flight. I think my training at Singapore Airlines (SIA) has really helped me in my current business.
"I still use the communication and service skills, as well as the ability to multitask, solve problems and work under pressure every day."
Nowadays, when a customer asks for a flavour that has run out, she swiftly offers an alternative. When all her cafe's 13 seats are occupied, she asks new customers if they would like to browse through the menu while waiting, or order to go.
And when guests appear to be looking for the toilet or carpark, she proactively approaches them to help.
Indeed, it was flying that helped build her vast knowledge of the ice-cold treat. It gave her the opportunity to taste some of the best gelato in Milan, Italy, which she has visited about 10 times.
Tasting different types of sweet treats around the world - from patbingsu in South Korea to mochi ice cream in Japan to salted caramel soft-serve ice cream in London - helped to refine her palate and hone a winning recipe to start a business with.
For Mr Tan Wei Chang, 27, a current flight steward at SilkAir, his passion for baking cakes since young led him to start his own home-based baking business, 31choc, which sells products such as durian ondeh ondeh cake, sea salt Nutella tarts and sea salt chocolate cookies.
A few days after selling each cake, he contacts the customer to ask for feedback on the cake, and uses this feedback to fine-tune his recipes. In this way, he hopes to improve on his business' offerings.
"Being in SilkAir has taught us to be adaptable in different situations. So no matter how challenging the situation is, we will handle it calmly and with empathy, grace and dignity," he says.
His colleague, Ms Nor Azizah Ibrahim, 42, a senior flight stewardess at SilkAir, has also started a home-based Malay food business, Z.kookt, which sells dishes such as kueh makmur, pineapple tarts and ayam masak merah.
She says she maintains the same attention to detail and standards of hygiene when cooking food for her customers as when she was flying.
And just as she did when she was in the air, she has also performed "service recoveries" in business.
For example, an irate customer once contacted her about a missing order of chicken rendang. Ms Azizah quickly apologised and gave a full refund.
She then followed up by cooking the chicken rendang and delivering it as soon as possible as a goodwill gesture.
"The customer was impressed by the prompt service," Ms Azizah adds proudly.
FINANCIAL SERVICES: LOOKING OUT FOR WHAT CLIENTS NEED
They used to be cabin crew with national carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA). Now they are wealth planning managers with DBS Bank.
Wanting to take their careers in a different direction, Mr Gilbert Tay, 36, and Ms Brinda Cheng, 30, joined the bank in April and September respectively, drawn to the dynamism of the financial services sector and the ability to help others meet their financial goals.
Mr Tay, a former leading steward with SIA for 13 years, says the acute situational awareness he developed while flying has come in handy when building rapport with customers at the DBS branch in Bishan.
It allows him to observe customers walking into the branch, anticipate their needs and approach them to offer assistance even before they ask.
"It is the same skill I used when managing flights. In any industry built on relationships, first impressions count. And at DBS, just like on a flight, we are not given a second chance to make a good first impression."
His interest in the finance sector developed in the middle of last year after he took some financial examinations.
He says of his current role: "I think it is meaningful to be able to share the importance of wealth planning with customers, and help them meet their financial planning goals, regardless of their background.
"I feel especially fulfilled when they refer me to their friends, because it shows I have developed a relationship of trust with these customers."
For Ms Cheng, who has had two stints as a SIA cabin crew - from 2012 to 2014, and 2018 to August this year - the personalised service and communication skills she picked up during her time with the carrier allowed her to make the transition to banking.
One lesson from her flying days which she never forgets is to always be attentive to others' needs as well as serve from the heart.
She learnt this on board a 14-hour red-eye flight from Singapore to London, when an elderly passenger in her aisle refused food and drinks during the meal service.
The crew were super busy on the full flight, she recalls, and nobody paid particular attention to the woman at first.
But once the lights were turned off, Ms Cheng checked in on her to see if she was all right. The woman then revealed she was hungry and thirsty, but did not have any money to pay for food; her ticket was purchased by her son.
Ms Cheng says: "The passenger was completely unaware that the food and drinks were included in her ticket price."
The crew immediately served her a hot meal and ensured she was well taken care of throughout the flight. Upon disembarkation, the woman gave Ms Cheng a hug and thanked her for her care.
"I will always remember how a simple action of checking in on someone can lead to such a positive outcome," she adds.
CONNECTING CABIN CREW TO NON-AVIATION JOBS
Recruitment and executive search company Talentvis runs a 1,800-member-strong Telegram group, linking cabin crew past and present to job opportunities.
It all started when Talentvis managing director Ben Chew was looking to hire an executive assistant last year. He eventually hired Ms Michelle Tay, a leading stewardess with Singapore Airlines (SIA).
Mr Chew, 45, had interviewed several cabin crew for the position and realised that while many were talented, smart and driven, they were unsure about how to plan for a second career and had unrealistic salary expectations.
So in September last year, he started a Telegram group to share career advice with cabin crew who were looking for alternative careers. From an initial 200 subscribers, this figure ballooned ninefold after the Singapore Airlines Group announced layoffs in September this year.
Mr Chew says: "Many cabin crew felt lost. Those who were not let go were unsure if there would be another round of layoffs and wanted to know what options they had outside of flying. Some wanted to start searching for another role immediately."
The initiative is now run as a special project by Talentvis, titled Jobs For Cabin Crew. Ms Tay, 35, the project owner who is also the company's corporate services and relations manager, flags job opportunities, such as those in retail, customer relations and sales, to group members, and posts available job advertisements on social media. Interested candidates then call or message Talentvis, or arrange for consultations and career planning.
The company's recruiters then match the cabin crew to available roles among its clients, which include firms in the logistics, retail, information technology, banking and finance sector.
This year alone, Talentvis has helped about 15 cabin crew find full-time jobs in non-aviation industries. Its Singapore office has hired six cabin crew in positions such as recruitment consultants and product managers. The company has offices in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.
Mr Chew says: "We are happy to be a channel for distressed cabin crew to identify new career options."