Skill Up to Step Up: From delivery van driver to construction project engineer

Mr Shariff Rhusli wanted to stay in the construction sector but hoped the course would help expand his career options. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - After doing the same job for 10 years, delivery van driver Shariff Rhusli decided it was time to switch gears and try a change of direction, one that led him to a six-month course on workplace health and safety in 2016.

Mr Shariff, 41, wanted to stay in the construction sector but hoped the course would help expand his career options.

It was a gamble, given that he was "not good at studying" as a teen, having dropped out of Thomson Secondary School (now known as North Vista Secondary School) without sitting for his N levels after mixing with bad company.

He later attempted three O-level subjects as a private candidate but failed his English and maths and attained a C6 in Malay language.

Not one to give up, he decided to try a new approach, one that involved learning through short modules, which he felt would be more manageable and suitable for him compared with a formal educational curriculum.

Mr Shariff, who is married with a daughter, went on to take 27 more short courses by NTUC LearningHub related to workplace health and safety from 2016 until last year. Most lasted two to three days.

He had caught the learning bug after realising there were many more areas to master than he had realised, including how to manage workers operating at a height or in confined spaces, as well as how to don personal protective equipment at sites where employees may be more at risk.

"It was like going back to school," said Mr Shariff. "I thought I was not good at studying when I was in school last time, but then I started to think, 'Actually, I can do it'."

The additional certifications he earned helped him land a job as a project engineer in April 2018 with Fast Flow Singapore, which provides drainage solutions for rainwater management.

Mr Shariff's role entails conducting risk assessment and executing projects devised by the company's designers.

He noted that during his job interview, the project manager at the time said his knowledge of workplace health and safety would be relevant.

"I was lucky to get the job without any educational qualifications. He said he would give me a chance because my safety knowledge is valid in the construction sector," he added.

"He said engineering work is not that difficult. As long as you're willing to learn, you can learn on the job. So I took up the offer."

He has kept all his textbooks and class notes from the courses, which have come in useful when he wants to refer to something he had studied.

The switch in jobs after upskilling has been rewarding for Mr Shariff Rhusli, not just in terms of higher pay but also in personal growth. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The switch in jobs after upskilling has been rewarding for Mr Shariff, not just in terms of higher pay but also in personal growth. "This engineering work I'm doing gives me more confidence in myself and a greater sense of purpose. Financially, I am more stable as well."

Of course, there were challenges in his upskilling journey.

The first course he took had classes at 8am every Saturday and Sunday for six months at NTUC LearningHub (Benoi) near Joo Koon.

Mr Shariff, who lived in Punggol at the time, would wake up early to travel there on his motorbike.

This meant he had less time to spend with his wife, 37, who works in Apple, and his nine-year-old daughter, although it helped that his family supported his decision to upskill.

Sometimes, classes were also scheduled on weekdays, which forced him to take leave.

He also found it difficult to memorise some content that teachers went through in class but the lecturers were reasonable and some of the tests were open-book.

Last July, he undertook his 29th course, this one aimed at preparing people to be project managers.

It was a short course, but a day before the exam, he was diagnosed with dengue fever and had to be hospitalised. He was still allowed to take the paper, but failed as he was not in great shape.

Mr Shariff has forked out about $1,500 out of pocket for the courses, after subsidies and after using his SkillsFuture credit. He intends to take up more courses to fully utilise the rest of his credit.

He is planning to undertake a workplace health and safety specialist course, which will be challenging as it requires some physics and mathematics knowledge.

Mr Shariff noted: "My advice to others would be to not give up. Even if you couldn't make it previously, if you failed a course, it doesn't mean you'll never make it."

There is always something new to learn in every situation, he added.

For example, when he was making deliveries for Etron Resources, a building maintenance company, he went out of his way to familiarise himself with Singapore's roads.

"It wasn't a bad job. From that, I had a sort of map of Singapore in my head, and that helps me now when I have to travel from site to site."

Those who are in construction or are interested in it can refer to a framework for the sector and tap programmes and tools:

Skills Framework for Built Environment

This is a SkillsFuture initiative developed to promote skills mastery and lifelong learning, and is an integral component of the Construction Industry Transformation Map and the Real Estate Transformation Map.

It was jointly developed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), Workforce Singapore and the Building and Construction Authority, together with industry associations, training providers, organisations and unions.

It provides information on the sector, career pathways, occupations and job roles, existing and emerging skills, and training programmes for skills upgrading and mastery.

This framework may be useful for those who wish to join or progress in the built environment sector, to assess their career interest, identify relevant training programmes to upgrade their skills and prepare for the desired job roles.

Programmes to tap:

SGUnited Mid-career Pathways Programme

This programme allows mid-career job seekers to upskill through company training or a company attachment, where they can gain industry-relevant work experience while waiting for permanent jobs.

Participants will receive monthly allowances ranging from about $1,500 to $3,800.

SGUnited Skills Programme

This is a full-time training programme conducted over six to 12 months. It comprises certifiable courses delivered by the Continuing Education and Training centres, including institutes of higher learning.

Trainees will get opportunities such as workplace immersions and industry projects. They will receive a training allowance of $1,200 a month for the duration of the programme they undertake.

SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package

This package aims to create more career transition opportunities for locals in their 40s to 50s, and help them remain employable and able to access good jobs.

This can be done through initiatives such as increasing the capacity of reskilling programmes and providing incentives for employers to hire local job seekers aged 40 and above through a reskilling programme.

A special top-up of SkillsFuture Credit of $500 will also be provided to every Singaporean aged 40 to 60 in 2020. This additional credit can be used for selected reskilling programmes at continuing education and training centres. It will expire by end-2025.

More information can be found on the SkillsFuture website.

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