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"Second-skilling" could bring a new lease of life to your career

NTUC advocates picking up a second skill, unrelated to your job, and suggests employers give you time off for it.

SINGAPORE: Investing in your hobby could open up a second career option - that is the view of the labour movement and human resource experts. They call it "second-skilling", and say it is essential for workers now, given the current uncertain economic landscape.

Mr Razin Abdul Rahman, 44, is one such success story. He turned his love for photography into a second career, forking out about $5,000 of his own money over a span of about four years in order to hone his craft. A year ago, he left his job as a manager in the public sector and today owns his own photography studio.

"I would encourage everyone to have a second skill so that they know they have an alternative future, instead of just going to work and coming back without having exploring their ability to do other skilful jobs," he said. "Everybody should be encouraged to get a second skill while they are at work."

Indeed, the labour movement wants to see more Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) take up a second skill. In fact, they would prefer it of your second skill is unrelated to your current job. 

Said Mr Patrick Tay, NTUC's Assistant Secretary-General: "In this new landscape, the type of jobs are ever changing, very fluid. Old jobs are gone, new jobs are being created. No one ever knew that just being on the Net or on Facebook all the time, you can actually make a living, running blog posts etc."

So second-skilling is all about cushioning PMEs against the current tide of economic restructuring, while broadening their career options. "We are increasingly seeing PMEs being affected in the past 10 years," notes Mr Tay. "Partly because of the change in the workforce profile, and partly because there are a greater number of PME job positions."

The union wants more support from employers and the Government. For example, employers could give workers time off, during office hours, to pursue a second skill, while the Government could expand the scope of current training incentives  to support individual-initiated training, as well as funding for PMEs.

"The breadth and depth of the programmes can be expanded. We can focus more on the PME programmes," suggested Mr Tay. Another possibility is to provide a higher level of funding for PME programmes and courses, "because opportunity cost for PMEs as well as employers of PMEs are much higher, if they were to send them for training". 

The idea may sound ridiculous to most employers - why should they allow their employees to take up a course during office hours, for something completely unrelated to their job, and perhaps even having to pay for it?

But many experts believe there are intangible benefits. For one, companies will have less difficulty placing workers in other sectors, if there was a retrenchment exercise.

And there is always the argument that a happier employee, is a better employee. "If you help your employees to pursue some of his interest and passion, you are in a way motivating your employees," Mr Tay pointed out. "They will definitely feel good, perhaps feel more motivated, and thankful and appreciative of employers and perhaps it may even help in staff retention."

HR experts say one way to get buy-in from employers, is a co-payment system. Said Mr Paul Heng, Managing Director of Next Career Consulting: "It's a little bit like medical expenses, where both parties, the employer and employee, need to jointly be responsible. I think it's a case where you cannot just rely on one party to be responsible for their own skills acquisition, because at the end of the day, they are the ones who will benefit from the skills and they can take it away with them when they leave the company."

In Parliament recently, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Government will support second-skilling for PMEs. In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia, the Manpower Ministry said "Singaporeans may find it useful to develop a second skill to enhance their resilience in the job market and for more career options." It added that "this can be self-initiated".

The ministry said the Government will continue to provide opportunities for individuals to upgrade via the Workforce Skills Qualification framework or Workforce Development Agency (WDA)-certifiable courses.

In a separate reply, the WDA said it provides course fee subsidies and absentee payroll support to companies to train their workers in areas beyond those which are directly related to their job scope. This could include leadership and people management skills, literacy and numeracy.
The agency added that individuals may also initiate training on their own at over 50 Continuing Education and Training Centres, to develop both sector-specific and horizontal skills that are unrelated to their current job scope and receive course-fee subsidies from the WDA. These subsidies are drawn from the Skills Development Fund and the Lifelong Learning Endowment Fund.

To date, more than 1.1 million individuals have been trained under the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications system since its inception in 2005.

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