Mid-career switches: while some voluntarily make this decision, others find themselves without a choice.
58-year-old Mark Kuah shares the ups and downs of his career journey and how he bounced back from setbacks.
During the early years of his career in 1994, Mark learnt of power shortage issues in Cambodia. He leapt at the opportunity to set up a company there, supplying electricity to households and businesses.
“The first few years were good and I made some money. In 1997, there was political unrest and I saw my business decline,” Mark shared during the interview.
He continued struggling before he finally gave up his business in 2003, to join a French mechanical and electrical contractor as their service manager.
In 2015, Mark was unfortunately retrenched after working for the French company in middle management for 13 years. The company was sold to another owner and major restructuring to the organisation led to the taking over of several management positions, including his own. Mark survived on his retrenchment benefits and odd jobs for two years before he returned to Singapore upon the urging of his family members.
Job Search Challenges
Mark saw no other choice but to seek another job midway in his career. He started sending out job applications upon his return to Singapore, but despite his extensive industry knowledge and experience, he did not receive any response on his job applications.
“I decided to take up courses to improve my knowledge as I lacked paper qualifications. I also kept fit so that prospective employers will not see me as a haggard old man, but an energetic one,” Mark said.
Some courses he took include Access Database, Solidworks 3D AutoCAD, PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers) Programming and Certified Ethical Hacker.
Yet, even with his best efforts, Mark was still unsuccessful in his job search. His wife and daughter then suggested that he approach e2i for career coaching, as they had sought e2i’s assistance previously.
Winston Chue, an associate coach for e2i, shared that Mark was feeling discouraged when he met him.
“Mark is very friendly and unassuming. But I felt that he was lost and dejected as he was rejected many times during his job applications,” said Winston.
“Initially, Mark felt that the rejections were due to his age. Through coaching, he realized that it was due to a lack of necessary skills qualifications and limited networks in Singapore since the bulk of his network was in Cambodia,” Winston added.
Winston then advised Mark to attend an executive workshop to pick up interviewing tips and how to craft an effective resume.
Winston also encouraged Mark to leverage on various available schemes such as the Union Training Assistance Programme (UTAP – a training benefit for NTUC members to defray their cost of training and skill upgrading) to upskill himself and remain current, as well as the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) and Career Trial Programme.
The Career Trial Programme is part of a suite of career services offered by Workforce Singapore (WSG) and e2i to strengthen the employability of locals, through a short-term stint with an employer.
In November of 2018, Mark attended a Wholesale Trade Career Fair organised by e2i. It was there that he met his prospective employer Eligo Pte Ltd. He participated in a Career Trial with the company and soon after, was successfully employed as a sales engineer with them.
Mark Kuah and his boss, Eligo Managing Director Wee Kok Seng (Photo credit: Jonathan Tan).
Not Giving Up in the Face of Challenges
When asked about the traits that helped Mark successfully land a job, Winston attributed it to his attitude, mindset, and perseverance.
“Firstly, Mark is unafraid to unlearn and relearn. Secondly, although he is uncomfortable with using new technology, he is still willing to try it,” Winston said.
Elaborating further, Winston noted that Mark adopted the mindset of ‘what is the worst that can happen if I try something? If I don’t even try, I will not get a job.’
“Having a positive attitude is important. It is easy to say but not easy to do. After being unemployed for two years, you will inevitably feel down and want to give up,” shared Mark.
Help At Hand
For help on mid-career switches, one can consider the Career Trial programme or the Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) – which is suitable for mid-career switchers who are prepared to undergo On-Job Training (OJT) to transition into a new industry. PCP provides career growth support to mid-career Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians across many sectors.
Mark Kuah's story was featured in a video at the May Day Rally 2019 on 1st May Labour Day (where Labour Movement leaders and partners gather at the May Day Rally to strategise and reaffirm their commitments to help businesses create new jobs, people find alternative jobs and to train workers to grow in their jobs).
The Wholesale Trade Career Fair that Mark attended in 2018 was jointly organised by e2i, Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and WSG. The fair aimed to match relevant job seekers to industry employers.
In November of 2018, a new Skills Framework for Wholesale Trade was also launched to help both businesses and their employees identify suitable training programmes, and develop new skill sets that will be required for their jobs.
This framework, jointly developed by ESG, WSG and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), is one of the strategies under the Wholesale Trade Industry Transformation Map (ITM) to help more trading companies adopt digital technology and internationalise.
For more information on e2i’s services for Singaporeans, visit https://e2i.com.sg/individuals
By Elena Owyong