With great fortitude and the right support, procurement manager Daniel Tong proved that private hire drivers have the potential to be so much more.
45-year-old Daniel Tong’s career journey is a testament to how having a career plan doesn’t guarantee success; it’s merely one out of several contributing factors.
In March 2016, Daniel left his 7-year procurement manager job at an engineering company to pursue his passion of pastry making. Since then, the road to his current role as Head of Procurement at a privatised healthcare company has been a rocky yet fruitful one filled with self-discovery.
A Series of Unforeseen Events
Following his resignation in 2016, Daniel did a pastry apprenticeship in Japan. After an 8-month stint as an Assistant Pastry Chef cum Chef de partie in a hotel in Singapore, Daniel realised that life in the kitchen wasn’t for him.
Daniel did a Food Entrepreneur course at At-Sunrice from January to June 2019, with the intention of starting a food business. However, he soon discovered that sales wasn’t his forte and his business failed to take off. To fulfil the requirements of the Food Entrepreneur course, Daniel took over his friend’s family fruit juice business from September 2019 to January 2020. Sadly, during this year-end travelling period, business was very poor. For the 5 months, Daniel took home no salary as whatever was earned went to the overhead costs.
“While learning more about managing a business was thrilling, I couldn’t survive without salaries as all my savings were gone,” Daniel shared.
Juggling “Bridge Jobs” to Stay Afloat
From June 2019, Daniel also started working the night shift as a caregiver at St Andrew’s Community Hospital once a week for more income. During this time, he was also steadfastly applying for corporate positions in procurement, but was continually unsuccessful. He had connected with e2i for career coaching, but felt discouraged after receiving multiple rejections from hirers.
Switching to survival mode, Daniel began his “bridge job” as a Grab driver in March 2020. When Grab’s business was hit by the Circuit Breaker, Daniel ramped up his hours at St Andrew’s. He also joined the swabbing operations as an admin staff in September 2020 for additional income. He would juggle these bridge jobs almost every day, while his days off were spent on job applications.
Getting Back on Track with NPHVA
Upon getting his taxi license in February 2020, Daniel was approached to become a member of the National Private Hire Vehicles Association (NPHVA), an affiliate of NTUC to support private hire drivers. Daniel joined without hesitation, and began getting regular invitations from NPHVA, via emails and messages in the Grab app, to join career workshops and job fairs.
The Career Reinvention Workshop (CRW) caught Daniel’s attention as he wanted tips on how to increase his employability. He’d heard of other drivers acquiring niche skills through CRW courses, such as flying drones and urban gardening.
CRW aims to help private hire drivers build confidence to venture into other careers. Supported by e2i, Career Reinvention Workshop encourages drivers not to limit their careers and skills to just driving. Instead, they are taught how to explore other skills they might have, or pick up new ones. These transferable skills would eventually aid the self-employed drivers to transit their careers.
Just because you’re in Industry A doesn’t mean that other industries are closed off. For example, every company needs an accountant and might want to do it in-house rather than outsource.” — Daniel Tong
Daniel was very heartened by the other CRW attendees, all of whom had gone through similar setbacks in their careers. The CRW network of drivers opened Daniel up to seeking more help when needed.
Re-focusing Through One-on-One Career Coaching
Post-CRW, Daniel joined e2i’s Win the Job! series to improve his job search skills to increase his success rate. He learnt that there were many factors to an effective job search, from finding jobs through the right networks to customising each resume for every job application.
Daniel’s coach, Cassandra, would do interview roleplays with him as practice and give him tips along the way. Similar to CRW, Cassandra suggested that Daniel cast his net wider by branching out to all industries. She cited healthcare in particular, given Daniel’s recent experience at St Andrew’s and swab operations.
While receiving career coaching services, Daniel continued to send out resumes for any procurement position, even if it was entry-level. Although he still received no responses from hirers, Daniel didn’t wallow in despair. He chose to focus on his current bridge jobs and work hard at them, keeping an eye out for any job opportunities out there.
Right now, I’m on a contract job. It’s not a permanent full-time position, but no point in worrying about the unknown future. For now, I’ll focus on doing my best in the present, and tackle the future challenges when they come.” — Daniel Tong
In May 2021, an organisational change in the swab operations company led to a job opportunity for Daniel. He quickly informed his supervisor about his procurement background and wanted to contribute more in that area. By then, Daniel had an 8 months’ good track record of being reliable, hardworking, and meticulous: qualities needed in a procurement role.
Through internal hiring, Daniel was offered a 6-month contract as the Head of Procurement.
Takeaways: Learning from Disguised “Failure”
Daniel’s journey has been far from smooth sailing to say the least, one not possible without sheer determination and an openness to try new things. He shares these 3 biggest takeaways:
1. Stay on track by honing your expertise.
While juggling bridge jobs might have helped to tide him over, Daniel did not hold a procurement role since 2016. This could be a possible reason why Daniel’s job search kept being unsuccessful in the past. Daniel realised that in order to return to procurement, he needed to start with something relevant. This meant adding fresh procurement experience into his resume, even if the role was small.
I knew that driving wouldn’t be my permanent solution. During this pandemic, the most pragmatic option would be to secure a corporate job in what I know best — logistics and procurement. That is why I applied for whatever procurement job was available, even smaller roles like executive or assistant. So long as it was related, I applied.” — Daniel Tong
2. Valuable lessons are hidden in every experience.
Daniel’s career experiences since 2016 may seem too varied and unrelated — from procurement, to culinary arts, to business, to healthcare, to private hire driver. However, Daniel credits where he is now to his many work experiences in the last few years.
- From running a business: Business acumen. While Daniel had procurement training prior, selling a business was a completely different ball game. As an entrepreneur, Daniel got to use his expertise of inventory control and product selections to minimise fixed costs through online marketing and delivery programmes.
- From working in healthcare: Patience, Empathy, Mental Strength. Daniel became a caretaker and joined swab operations with a phobia of needles and blood. Caring for the aged, many of whom had great medical needs, trained Daniel to be more empathetic, appreciative, and determined to overcome his fear over time.
- From being a Grab driver: Customer service skills. Strategic thinking. Daniel learnt to place the interests of the customer first by not rejecting customers simply because of his personal preferences. Dealing with peak periods and navigating Singapore also trained Daniel to be a better strategist when accepting ride requests.
3. You’re not in this ordeal alone.
Before joining CRW, Daniel had kept his career journey private, no matter how difficult the situations got. With all the mishaps that followed his resignation, Daniel didn’t know how to face his friends in fear of judgement. But when Daniel finally regained contact with his friends, they never brought up career once, asking more about his well-being.
I’d keep telling my family when asked that I was okay, when in fact I was going through a lot of stress. While my work experiences have tested my mental strength, going through this interior battle was by far the hardest.” — Daniel Tong