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Republic Polytechnic’s Academy for Continuing Education helps adult learners upskill and enhance their careers

In preparation for an evolving workforce, it is important for workers to upgrade themselves to stay relevant and build career resilience

Discovering a passion for working with seniors, Ms Syairah undertook a Specialist Diploma programme with Republic Polytechnic to shore up her skills and knowledge in community care and healthy ageing. PHOTO: SYAIRAH SELAMAT

Before the pandemic, Singapore's workforce largely embraced the idea of lifelong learning to cope with technological disruption, and thrive in an increasingly advanced world.

But now more than ever, it is crucial that we start expanding our skill sets to future-proof ourselves - even if that means having to go back to school as an adult learner, and pulling double duty as an employee and a student.

There will be times when you might question your decision to do so. But according to those who have gone the distance, like Ms Syairah Selamat, the result is often worth it.

The 28-year-old signed up for Republic Polytechnic's (RP) Work-Study Post-Diploma (Specialist Diploma in Healthy Ageing & Community Care for Seniors) in 2018. As part of the programme, she was employed by Pacific Activity Centre as a programme coordinator while studying for the course.

The Work-Study Post-Diploma is part of the suite of SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes - formerly known as SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme - offered under RP's Academy for Continuing Education (RP ACE), which aims to help its graduates get a head start in careers related to their discipline. This would enable them to build on the skills and knowledge they acquired in school, and ease their transition into the workforce.

RP ACE offers a variety of courses and lifelong learning programmes that meet every individual's development needs - including specialist diplomas, work-study programmes, professional conversion programmes and short courses - that span a wide range of disciplines. RP ACE programmes cater to the diverse learning needs of graduates, mid-career adult workers and those seeking opportunities for lifelong learning.

Part of Ms Syairah's job as a programme coordinator at Pacific Activity Centre, prior to its temporary closure amid the Covid-19 outbreak, was to help plan and execute activities for seniors. PHOTO (TAKEN EARLIER): SYAIRAH SELAMAT

Perfect match

Ms Syairah, who first graduated from RP with a Diploma in Health Management & Promotion (DHMP) in 2017, was motivated to return to undertake further studies because the additional diploma would bring opportunities for career advancement and meet her professional development needs.

Since she had a particular interest in helping seniors integrate and age gracefully in the community, Syairah recalls that a module called Active Ageing in the DHMP piqued her interest, and she wanted to learn more about it. She was delighted to discover that RP offers a specialist diploma programme that catered to her interests, along with the option of being on the Work-Study Programme.

Ms Syairah finds the programme's on-the-job assignments complementary to her studies; they also help her contextualise hands-on learning.

Besides useful practical lessons on the prevention and management of falls in seniors, what Ms Syairah found most fruitful about her course is that it offers important insights into the mindset of seniors.

"It helps me understand their social situation as they age. Given their shrinking social circle, they need motivation to leave their home," she explains. "I love that the role I play in creating programmes and activities contributes to their mental, emotional and physical wellness. The Specialist Diploma has equipped me with skills and knowledge to value-add much more to my company," she adds.​

Ms Syairah interacting with a group of seniors. PHOTO (TAKEN EARLIER): SYAIRAH SELAMAT

Ms Syairah completed her Specialist Diploma programme in 2019 and has just graduated. She is still part of the team at Pacific Activity Centre - which is temporarily closed amid the outbreak.

Her current duties include monitoring the Alert Alarm System in the seniors' studio apartments to ensure their safety, and making calls to check in on those who are living alone and may be especially vulnerable.

Occasionally, she also liaises with other organisations to aid seniors in need, and offers assistance to those who pop by the centre looking for help to read their bills or to find out why their digital devices are not working - all while adhering to measures of social distancing and safety checks.

Ms Clarissa Lim, assistant centre manager and Ms Syairah's supervisor, says, "Syairah has injected a new life into the centre with her bubbly personality, care, concern and respect for our senior friends. Her positive learning attitude is laudable. The Work-Study Programme has helped her gain insight into the Eldercare sector and has prepared her mentally and technically for her role at the centre."

Strong support network

Initially, Ms Syairah was apprehensive about embarking on her Specialist Diploma because she was the only Work-Study Programme participant in her class. But a supportive community - comprising her alma mater, family, friends and employers - helped her overcome the challenges.

She recalls, "Whenever I was stressed or had questions, I was able to reach out to my professors, tutors, study groups and campus support groups at RP. My employers, who had encouraged me to take the course, even took time to discuss my goals with me."

Ms Syairah also shared that one of the "trials" of juggling work and school was commuting from her workplace in Sengkang to the RP ACE campus in Paya Lebar or the RP Woodlands campus at night.

The total journey took over two hours, both ways. However, this only made her more determined to study harder and complete the course, and strengthened her resolve to persevere and fulfil her dream.

Ms Syairah feels that her new skills and knowledge have given her confidence at work a boost - and that is "something that can never be bought".

She adds, "I learnt more about my own strengths and weaknesses. I was also able to enhance my soft skills such as critical thinking, communication and teamwork, which are crucial to help me achieve my goals.

"The upside of working and studying at the same time is the satisfaction of being able to apply what you learn on the job. It makes going back to school more 'real' and meaningful for me as a mature student."

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