How this 35-year-old successfully made a mid-career switch from retail to IT

Local IT SME hires talent and upskills its employees with support and guidance from tech giant Microsoft

He made a mid-career switch from retail to IT by embracing upskilling
Mr Edi Djau, 35, worked in retail for close to seven years before switching to IT. He is now a certified Microsoft Azure solutions architect, helping his company implement cloud infrastructure for customers. PHOTO: THARM SOOK WAI

Mr Edi Djau watched with alarm as sales plunged at the retail company where he worked.

Singapore had imposed circuit breaker measures to contain the spread of the Covid-19 outbreak. Businesses that were considered non-essential – including Mr Djau’s company, which relied heavily on the tourism sector – had to be closed from April to June in 2020.

Retail sales in 2020 plunged to its lowest levels since 1986, according to data from the Singapore Department of Statistics.

The 35-year-old Singaporean, who declined to say whether he is married, had been working in retail for close to seven years. He decided that it was time to reinvent his career.

Mr Djau took a diploma conversion course in computer networking at Singapore Polytechnic (SP) and found work afterwards as an IT helpdesk support staff in systems integration company VGC Technology.

Since August 2021, Mr Djau has completed a Microsoft-certified training course with education institution Lithan Academy. The course was 90 per cent funded by SkillsFuture Singapore. Following his training with Lithan Academy, Mr Djau completed further self-paced learning by Microsoft and passed four skills-based exams in Azure, the tech company's cloud computing platform.

Today, Mr Djau is a certified Azure solutions architect. He now helps VGC Technology in implementing cloud infrastructure for customers across sectors like retail, finance and more.

Seizing opportunities

Finding a motivated employee like Mr Djau has been a blessing for VGC, where hiring skilled talent is an ongoing challenge, says the company's director, Mr Vinc Tan.

“It did not matter that Edi did not have prior experience in IT. A good attitude and willingness to learn is what we want,” says Mr Tan who declined to disclose his age.

As the boss of a small company of 12 employees, he recognises the importance of upskilling employees so they can stay relevant in a fast-changing industry and provide greater value to customers. The pandemic underscored the urgency to invest in people, adds Mr Tan.

But VGC was struggling to find skilled staff and upskill its workforce through training in a structured and consistent manner. Technical skills in cloud computing and security were lacking, along with soft skills like sales training, communications and negotiation.

The solution? Microsoft Singapore’s Let’s Skill Up programme. Let’s Skill Up is a customised programme developed by Microsoft as part of its involvement in the SkillsFuture Queen Bee initiative, where industry leaders such as Microsoft guide and mentor small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in identifying and acquiring the skills needed to grow their business.

The Microsoft team conducted a skills analysis session, interviewing key leaders from VGC Technology to understand the company’s business goals and the skills needed to meet these goals, says Mr Kevin Chan, chief partner officer, Microsoft Singapore.

Microsoft chief partner officer Kevin Chan works with companies on skilling programmes
Microsoft is partnering SMEs to build a resilient, digitally inclusive Singapore, says Mr Kevin Chan, chief partner officer, Microsoft Singapore. PHOTO: MICROSOFT

VGC’s business priorities include providing services like cloud solutions, architecting and deployments. Based on these business needs, Microsoft developed a customised training plan for VGC. It then linked VGC with relevant training providers.

VGC employees, including Mr Djau, have undergone technical training in Microsoft Azure. Another three employees also received training in soft skills such as mentoring and coaching.

Growing together

To meet the talent needs of SMEs, Microsoft also facilitates workforce placements through programmes like its national skills initiative #GetReadySG, the Professional Conversion Programme and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathway, which was how VGC discovered Mr Djau. With Microsoft’s help, the company has also hired another employee for a sales role.

“SMEs are the lifeblood of our economy and they must be set up for success to support our future,” says Microsoft’s Mr Chan. “While SMEs understand the need to transform, they do not always have the skilled resources or capabilities to do so."

“Through our Microsoft Let’s Skill Up journey – where we engaged directly with over 278 SMEs – we have learned that it not only benefits SMEs in finding the right talent to drive their innovation through upskilling, but it also helps us in closing the gap between skilling and employability, as we partner to build a resilient, digitally inclusive Singapore.”

Mr Hlaing Pyae Phyo, who is VGC’s chief technology officer and has been working in the company for over 10 years, agrees. He says the first 10 years for VGC was focused on business survival. 

Such support from the government and industry leaders like Microsoft go a long way in helping SMEs, he adds. 

“Upskilling is essential for companies to stay competitive and SME bosses need to be committed to their employees’ development,” says Mr Tan.

Mr Hlaing Pyae Phyo, chief technology officer, VGC Technology, works with the Microsoft team to help train VGC's employees, including Mr Edi Djau, in cloud computing. PHOTO: THARM SOOK WAI

He hopes that employees will also be motivated and have the drive to upskill and improve themselves.

“Once they have the motivation, they can learn more quickly. This is crucial as the pandemic and advances in technology have forced companies to evolve,” says Mr Tan.

“VGC is keen to train candidates who are eager to learn new skills, willing to challenge themselves and share their knowledge with the team.” He cites Mr Djau as an example.

“It was not easy for Edi to make a career switch to a fast-paced industry like IT. He told me that he needed to put in three times the effort to learn compared to younger graduates as he is 10 years their senior.”

As for Mr Djau, his quest for self-development does not end with his new career. He hopes to further hone his skills by learning on the job and developing his expertise in cloud security through more training initiatives.

What is the SkillsFuture Queen Bee initiative?

It is an initiative that aims to create a skills support network, where industry leaders support companies – particularly SMEs – in identifying and acquiring the skills needed for their growth. 

Companies that have joined the programme as “queen bees” include Microsoft, Bosch Rexroth Regional Training Centre, Boustead Projects, Commune Lifestyle, Fidelium Group, Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital, Prudential Singapore, Sheng Siong and Shopee Singapore. 

How does the SkillsFuture Queen Bee initiative work?

A skills manager will work with the company to identify their skill gaps and introduce relevant training programmes to address these needs. They will also provide guidance on relevant jobs, resources and government schemes that companies can leverage.

There is no cost to join the SkillsFuture Queen Bee network.

This is the second in a four-part series titled "Skill up to scale up" in partnership with SkillsFuture Singapore

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.