Women from poorer families pick up IT skills

Welfare group aims to teach 390 of them to use basic programs so they can get better jobs

Ms Sarina (far left) and Ms Kavitha Amudhan, 38, learn how to use Excel with the help of volunteer trainer Chan Wai.
Ms Sarina (far left) and Ms Kavitha Amudhan, 38, learn how to use Excel with the help of volunteer trainer Chan Wai.PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

When her 14-year-old daughter started spending nights away from home early last year, Ms Sarina Sabdi, 32, quit her overnight factory job to keep an eye on her three children.

The single mother ended up losing her pay of $900 a month.

With her former husband uncontactable and not paying her maintenance, she had to feed the family and pay for the rental flat on a $600 public subsidy and the money she made from selling home-made popsicles.

But two Fridays ago, Ms Sarina started a new quality assurance job at Hewlett-Packard that pays about $1,400 a month, thanks to a technology literacy course that she recently completed.

"They've been asking me if I've Excel experience, so I said yes I do. I did go for these courses," she told The Straits Times.

Ms Sarina is one of eight women from households with incomes of less than $600 per capita a month who attended a pilot training course to upgrade their IT skills so they can find better jobs.

The four-week course, which started on Aug 3, was run by voluntary welfare organisation Daughters of Tomorrow, which works with low-income women in partnership with manufacturing company Rockwell Automation.

The women attended weekly training sessions of two hours, learning how to use programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel and e-mail.

Rockwell Automation designed and conducted the workshops, and provided engineers and managers who also volunteer as mentors to the women.

After the four weeks, the women can still contact their mentors if they need help.

Donations from the public - $2,000 in all - provided the women with second-hand laptops and software subscriptions so they could practise their IT skills at home.

Daughters of Tomorrow founder Carrie Tan said that through the course, her group aims to upgrade the skills of the 390 underprivileged women it works with, to help them get better jobs.

"From our interactions with our women beneficiaries, many of them aspire to an office job that fits childcare hours.

However, many lack the basic IT skills required for administrative jobs," she said.

Ms Sarina said she found the training helpful. She had dropped out of school after N levels to work and contribute to the household. She married at 17, had her first child at 18 and divorced at 20 in 2004.

"For me, I learnt a lot of short-cuts which I didn't know before - for example, that Excel can calculate everything and I don't need a calculator. I was shocked," she said, referring to the common computer program.

Now, she hopes her daughter will behave while she is at work.

"My concern is my kids, especially the first one. I hope that she won't give me problems any more. She's going for counselling and she understands my situation now."

Daughters of Tomorrow will scale up the IT literacy course and run it for 50 women annually, starting later this year. The programme is also supported by local retailer PC Dreams, which has donated 50 computers for women enrolling in the course over the next year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'Women from poorer families pick up IT skills'. Subscribe