One was a fresh university graduate. The other was a veteran network security engineer. Both are Singaporeans who were looking for work last year in an employment market battered by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Their search led them to tech giant Google.
There they discovered an opportunity to develop in-demand skills for exciting new careers through Google's Skills Ignition SG programme.
When Ms Jeanette Tan, 26, graduated from Singapore Management University (SMU) last May with a business management degree, her job prospects seemed bleak.
"I wanted to start working quickly to help support my parents," says the third of four children. "I applied for 50 positions and only advanced to the next round for a few."
After two months, a friend alerted her to Skills Ignition SG - a programme by Google which aims to train 3,600 Singapore residents in the rapidly growing fields of digital marketing, cloud technology and data engineering with machine learning.
Down but not out: Watch the video below to see how this 47-year-old Singaporean is bouncing back from retrenchment by upskilling for the digital future.
This includes six-month vocational online courses for 3,000 residents and a nine-month programme that mixes online training and on-the-job experience for 600 others.
The programme was launched in July last year in partnership with the Economic Development Board, Infocomm Media Development Authority and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG).
Ms Tan, who applied for the nine-month programme last year, says: "I knew it would build on my studies, and it came with a monthly stipend, so I talked it over with my parents and they supported my decision."
She enrolled in the programme in October last year, initially learning about the fundamentals of digital marketing and Singapore's digital landscape.
Later, she concentrated on Google's products, including learning how to use them to analyse data to develop better business strategies.
She later joined YouTube's Partner Development team as part of her on-the-job training, where she specialised in community engagement with content creators.
Even as a trainee, she was given the chance to work on the launch of YouTube Shorts in India, a tool for people to make short-form videos with their mobile phones.
From Singapore, she reached out to content creators and organised weekly workshops to teach them how to use the tool, among other responsibilities.
Even before completing her traineeship, her manager encouraged her to apply for an open position with YouTube.
In May, she landed the job of strategic partner manager, where she works with content creators in Singapore and Malaysia to help them achieve their goals, such as increasing their viewership, subscribers or revenue.
"I will never forget how I felt when I heard that I got the job," she says. "I was paralysed with happiness and lost for words."
Looking back, she says that her move to apply for the programme to upskill was the "best" decision she could have made.
"It led to so many opportunities and put my life on a course that I never could have expected."
Back to class, looking to the cloud
Mr Noraschid Ghani also found new employment horizons through the Skills Ignition SG programme.
The father of four children was laid off in December last year after 15 years as a network security engineer due to the company downsizing.
Says the 47-year-old: "At my age, you do feel apprehensive about looking for a new job, but I told myself that this is my time to learn new skills and move into new tech areas."
He found out about the programme when searching for job openings in Google, enrolled in its six-month course in cloud technology, and started online classes in January.
"I had been hearing more and more about cloud technology in the last few years, but didn't have the time to explore and be involved in it."
He had taken certification courses to keep current in his previous job, but the Skills Ignition SG programme was his first time back in school full-time since he graduated with a diploma in electrical engineering from Singapore Polytechnic in 1994.
His nervousness was compounded by fears of being lost in the large class size of 75.
But he found the online course, conducted by experts from training firm Agilitics, "smooth" sailing.
"The classes had practical, hands-on exercises for us to learn, and we could always ask our lecturers via email or messages if we didn't understand something and needed further explanation.
"I can now confidently deploy cloud solutions and work with companies to get them on the cloud," says Mr Noraschid, who completed the course in July.
In April, midway through the Skills Ignition SG programme, he was inspired to attain Google's associate cloud engineer certification on his own. He plans to take the exam for the higher-level qualification in the near future.
He says the Skills Ignition SG programme has given him new knowledge and more confidence in his outlook for the future.
"Once I pass the exam, I'm going to start knocking on doors and hopefully begin my new career in cloud engineering soon."
Mr Ben King, 38, Google Singapore country director, says the company is committed to upskilling Singaporeans through the programme and other initiatives.
"We're investing in Singapore because it's our home in Asia, with a vantage point into South-east Asia, one of the fastest growing and most dynamic digital markets in the world," he explains.
Beyond the Skills Ignition SG programme, Google and SMU offer the SMU-Google Squared Data and Analytics Programme to SMU students interested in joining the data and analytics sector. This includes a six-month internship at a Google partner company.
In 2019, Google also established the Google Developer Space at its Pasir Panjang office, which houses its Asia Pacific headquarters, to bring together people, networks and technologies to empower Singapore developers.
Last year, over 16,000 developers benefited from insights, hands-on mentoring, and networking opportunities with Google teams at its office, a 33 per cent increase from 2019.
About Google's plans for the Republic, Mr King says: "With our investments, we can help shape the trajectory of Singapore's digital economy by expanding access to information, creating jobs, empowering Singaporeans with skills and opportunities, and improving the workforce's capabilities."
He conducts virtual tours to keep his business alive
When the Covid-19 pandemic froze tourist arrivals and wiped out local tour operator Woopa Group's business last year, founder and chief executive Suen Tat Yam, 35, pivoted to offering virtual tours and local tours for Singaporeans.
The company has several brands, including Monster Day Tours, which offers private tours; Unique Business Experience, its corporate innovation tours arm; and 8explore, which caters to tourists from China.
The idea for the virtual tours came from using Google tools, which were introduced to him at a SME Leadership Academy programme in 2019.
The programme, launched that year in partnership with UOB, seeks to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) speed up their digital transformation and compete more effectively in the digital economy.
It was conducted as a three-day classroom programme every quarter before transitioning last April, amid the pandemic, into a series of six to eight webinars for SMEs from the hard-hit retail, tourism and food and beverage sectors.
Led by trainers from Google and UOB, the programme has trained over 4,600 SMEs since it moved online, up from just 400 in 2019.
Mr Suen was initially hesitant about the programme; he was unsure about how digitalisation would help his business.
"It looked difficult and I wasn't sure if it would be worth the investment."
But Mr Suen learnt to use Google's digital tools, including using Google Analytics to analyse the online traffic of his brands' websites.
"Going through the programme changed my mind and made me more open to new ideas, which was also why I thought virtual tours might work."
Since its pivot, Woopa has earned almost as much as it did pre-pandemic, and expanded its team (full-time, part-time and freelance guides) from 15 to 30. It operates eight to 10 in-person tours for Singaporeans and their families per week, and about 20 live virtual tours, for up to 300 people each time, per month.
"The virtual tours, in particular, have been very popular among people who can't travel physically but still want to get away," says Mr Suen.
He has also embedded digitalisation in Woopa's operations.
He invests in digital marketing, which has generated 40 to 50 leads a month, and uses data analytics to track his return on investment.
With the improved revenue, he says: "We were able to hire tour guides who lost their jobs, and equip them with the skills and technologies to lead virtual tours.
"The SME Leadership Academy opened up new possibilities for us, and we have continued to build on them."
This concludes an eight-part series titled "Going global, thinking local" in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry.