For as long as Ms Ong Tun Kim can remember, her life has been shaped by her relentless pursuit of higher knowledge.
The payoff: A fulfilling and enriching career – and, last month, recognition with the award of the SkillsFuture Fellowships.
Ms Ong has worked in various roles throughout her 30 years at tech giant IBM, from administration and procurement to operations and supply chain management.
Today, Ms Ong, 53, is the general manager at IBM Manufacturing Solutions, where she oversees the supply chain operations in Singapore.
Outside work, she is also a certified neuro-linguistic programming practitioner, a professional career coach, and has skills in data science and design thinking.
She is driven by one core principle: Never stop learning. “The day I stop learning is the day I stop growing,” says Ms Ong.
Her commitment to learning and self-development was recognised by two of her managers at IBM, who nominated her for the SkillsFuture Fellowships 2021.
One of them is Mr John Dell'Arciprete, director, Supply Assurance at IBM Systems Group, who has worked with Ms Ong for about 10 years.
“Tun Kim has an extraordinary ability to inspire and influence people,” he says. “She has been devoting her time to developing herself, developing leaders, and sharing her expertise for many years.”
Established by SkillsFuture Singapore, the SkillsFuture Fellowships award individuals who demonstrate a strong commitment to skills mastery in their work and who contribute to developing the skills of others. Last year, 18 awardees — including Ms Ong — received $10,000 each to further develop their skills.
Ms Ong plans to use her prize money to pay for a psychology course and formal facilitation training.
Ms Ong, a graduate in business administration with a major in human resource management from RMIT University, believes in staying relevant by broadening her skills, both in and out of her field of expertise. “You can’t assume that whatever you know now will be relevant in future,” she says.
With a wealth of learning and development resources such as self-paced online courses available on her company’s learning platform, Ms Ong decided to learn design thinking in 2017, and data science in 2019.
How does she find the time? Ms Ong, who is married and has two sons, admits that it is not always easy. Challenges such as a lack of time and energy are common, she says.
She is also fortunate to have supportive bosses at times when she had to take leave to study.
“Time is a choice,” says Ms Ong. “We all have the same number of hours, and it’s up to me to prioritise my goals.”
For example, Ms Ong first learned of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) — which focuses on how people think and speak, and how language can influence their actions — back when her children were young. But family commitments were a priority then, and she decided to put it off.
In 2018, when her sons were aged 14 and 20, she signed up for NLP training courses.
Ms Ong wants to be a good role model for her sons and show that she can still learn and contribute to society, never mind her age.
Her latest goal: To continue upgrading her leadership skills and help develop others. As part of her efforts to become a better leader, Ms Ong went through a professional career coaching course in 2018, clocking over 100 hours of coaching experience to become a certified career coach.
Her coaching skills have made her a better mentor. Having benefited from her own mentors, she believes in paying it forward by helping to guide and support others.
At work, she facilitates the leadership programmes for first-time managers. Ms Ong is especially keen to mentor other women, supporting their career growth and personal development.
“What I went through may be similar to what someone else is going through,” she says. “It would be selfish of me to keep my knowledge and experience to myself. I want to give back to the community.”
Outside of work, she is also a mentor to some Singapore Management University undergraduates, a role she took on two years ago. She provides them with insights into the supply chain industry, and even tips on developing people skills, preparing for job interviews, and career growth.
Ms Ong also learns from the people she mentors. Often, “our conversations help me to broaden my perspective and see things in a different light.”
“The most rewarding part of the journey is seeing my mentees develop confidence,” she says. “Most importantly, they will be able to motivate and inspire others. Imagine the ripple effect created.”
This is the first of a two-part series in partnership with SkillsFuture Singapore