How two individuals from the service and beauty industries discovered fulfilling careers in the maritime industry

A growing number of mid-career professionals are making the switch to this dynamic sector

Mr Damian Ong and Ms Claire See had no background in the maritime industry, but both relished the challenges of stepping into new roles and have since gone on to enjoy rewarding careers in their respective roles. PHOTOS: PSA SINGAPORE, CLAIRE SEE

One spent over 10 years in the laundry services and semiconductor industry, overseeing large-scale operations and managing human resources, while the other hailed from the beauty industry as an accredited makeup artist with an international beauty brand. Mr Damian Ong and Ms Claire See, respectively, went on to navigate uncharted waters with a career move to the maritime industry.

Despite having no maritime background and initial feelings of apprehension, they were able to make a smooth transition to a new sector. They were able to transfer their soft skills and build upon years of experience gleaned from their previous roles.

A relative newcomer to the maritime industry, Mr Ong, a senior manager (Terminal Resource) at PSA Singapore, brings to his new job a wealth of experience in people and operations management. He manages the operational deployment and professional development of around 800 staff, including crane operators and junior officers, at Pasir Panjang Terminal.

Despite the uncertainties during the circuit breaker period, Mr Ong, 46, took a leap of faith and made the career switch. Until April this year, he held a senior management position in a laundry services company.

"Although I did not have industry experience, I felt that this is a bigger role in a fast-growing sector and that there is more room for me to grow and develop my career," he says.

Mr Ong was also excited by the rapid digitalisation and automation within the industry, as evidenced by the upcoming Tuas Port - set to be the world's largest fully automated terminal when it is fully completed by the 2040s.

Despite being new to the maritime industry, Mr Damian Ong was able to bring his skill sets in people and operations management to his current role as a senior manager (Terminal Resource) at PSA. PHOTO: PSA SINGAPORE

This resonated with him as he had spearheaded digital transformation projects and software and hardware infrastructure in his previous job.

From cosmetics to maritime sales

Ms See, an account manager at Wilhelmsen Ships Service (WSS), a global maritime company focusing on marine products, marine chemicals, maritime logistics and ships agency, made the switch to the maritime industry nine years ago.

Coming from the beauty industry, the former counter manager, 38, opted for a slightly different approach to her new role by developing lasting relationships with her clients.

"In my previous line of work, the sales cycle was quite short. But I was looking for an avenue where I could handle sales that required building relationships with customers over a longer sales cycle, to better understand their needs and serve them better," she shares.

She recalls a job interview with her first employer in the maritime industry, where she was questioned on her suitability for the job due to the disparity in environments. "The industry switch was extreme, but I decided to challenge myself to see how adaptable I can be, and I have never regretted this decision," she says.

Formerly from the beauty industry, Ms Claire See decided to challenge herself by stepping into a new environment nine years ago - and has never looked back since. PHOTO: CLAIRE SEE

Ms See, who has been with WSS for five years, drives B2B sales growth in the company's marine products division.

Braving uncharted waters and making the switch

Mr Ong and Ms See are part of a growing number of mid-career professionals entering the maritime industry.

To help ease the transition, the Maritime Singapore Connect (MSC) Office, a unit under SMF, provides relevant resources through the MSC website for mid-careerists to kickstart their maritime journey. The website also provides students and fresh graduates with information on all things maritime, as well as a resume depository for job seekers to submit their resumes and connect with maritime employers.

More than 6,500 resumes have been deposited on the website since it started in 2016. Besides providing information on maritime internship and career opportunities, the MSC Office also organises outreach events and publicity campaigns to attract talent to the maritime industry, which is an integral contributor to Singapore's economy.

One of the main challenges newcomers might encounter is the lack of technical knowledge. Despite coming from a sales background, Ms See says: "I faced some challenges in the early years as customers' behaviour and the transaction environment were very different from my previous job."

However, she points out that she did manage to capitalise on her interpersonal and listening skills to communicate more sincerely.

For Mr Ong, being able to be part of a fast-growing sector with more room for him to grow and develop his career was a big factor in his decision to switch to the maritime industry. PHOTO: PSA SINGAPORE

Coupled with their resilient and can-do attitudes, the two credit their companies' open and nurturing culture for helping them make a seamless switch to the maritime industry. With proper training, they were able to pick up essential knowledge to succeed in their roles and continued to deepen their skills and knowledge on the job.

Hitting career milestones in a new industry

Over the past few months, Mr Ong's tenacity has paid off. Recently, he is working on an asset utilisation project, which leverages data collection to achieve optimal productivity and efficiency in resource management.

Tapping on his digital experience, he says: "I am thinking of innovative methods and using technology to track and measure the utilisation rate of our port equipment. I am glad that I can contribute a fresh pair of eyes to this project and provide new perspectives to initiate and lead this project."

For Ms See, one of her career highlights is clinching WSS's 2017 Best Sales Representative Award. The award was open to more than 200 account managers in Wilhelmsen globally.

"With an extended sales cycle in B2B maritime sales, it allows me to nurture the seeds that I have planted with my customers and harvest success together," she says.

Ms See helps drives B2B sales growth in her company's marine products division, and one of her career highlights is bagging the award for Best Sales Representative in 2017. PHOTO: CLAIRE SEE

Be part of a future-ready global maritime hub

One of the biggest draws of joining the maritime industry is the sea of possibilities that lie ahead as the trend of digital transformation gathers momentum amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms See explains: "The industry is embracing many technological advancements and digital initiatives. If you are passionate and like to drive changes for a better tomorrow, this is definitely the industry for you."

Echoing her sentiment, Mr Ong urges those who are thinking of transiting to the maritime industry to "come prepared and steel yourself for a steep learning curve".

He says: "Be humble and team up with colleagues to achieve common goals together. It's very important to stay open-minded and learn as if you are a student back in school to stay relevant in today's fast-changing landscape."

The MSC website, he adds, is a good starting point to stay informed on pathways to the industry and opportunities for reskilling. "Lastly, you must be passionate about contributing to Singapore's vision as a future-ready global maritime hub."

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