Me & My Career: Building bridges for job seekers to cross over into tech

SINGAPORE – Even though the infocomm technology sector is in need of deep tech expertise, Mr Yeo Zhihan believes it offers opportunities for people with different skill sets too. And he wants to help them seize these opportunities.

His role as assistant director for capability and capacity development at trade association SGTech allows him to build bridges between job seekers and employers, and also liaise between the tech sector and the Government.

The aim is to create and run programmes that support jobs and skills development for the industry, focusing on supporting local students and displaced vulnerable workers.

“In Singapore, we have no lack of hard skills training. Ironically, as a tech association, we came in to address the soft side of things,” says Mr Yeo, 35.

SGTech has close to 1,000 members, ranging from start-ups to multinational corporations.

Since Mr Yeo joined in 2017, his team has started programmes such as speed interviews for career switchers, and the Career Support Group, a structured seven-week peer support and mentoring programme.

The pilot run of the support group, which started in August last year and saw 13 of 19 participants find new jobs within a couple of months, was sponsored by statutory board Workforce Singapore.

SGTech is looking to hold another run in the next two months.

Mr Yeo says he was drawn to the tech sector because technology can amplify the impact that companies want to achieve.

“With technology, it’s possible to reach many more people much more quickly by bypassing traditional business models and channels,” he says.

Q: What do you do at work?

A: We talk to job seekers to understand the challenges they face and their mindsets, and suggest to them where they can level up.

I communicate information from employers to job seekers so that they understand what it takes to land this job in their career switch.

We do a lot of outreach to employers as well to help them overcome any prejudices about career switchers and not close the door of opportunity for them.

Most of my days are actually spent convincing people to support us in the things we want to do.

For example, if I secure a one-year sponsorship to run a set of activities, I need to start thinking about what happens one year from now, and have multiple conversations going with potential partners.

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Q: How much do you earn?

A: My annual salary is between $80,000 and $110,000.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue this career?

A: I spent several years in the government sector and was keen to explore how the private sector can facilitate job opportunities for vulnerable workers, such as platforms to support workers in the gig economy.

With SGTech, I am able to do some good and develop the skills I need. The role also helps me better understand the tech landscape and how technology could be effectively leveraged.

Q: What is your educational background and how have you upgraded your skills along the way?

A: I have a degree in life sciences, but that has had no direct relevance to any of my jobs since graduating. That said, I’ve found myself able to apply certain methods of learning and processing information through the years.

I enjoy learning from short-form courses, e-learning and reading. What has helped me grow the most is learning from others.

Working in SGTech has been an amazing learning catalyst because I have the privilege to interact with top business leaders almost daily.

When I started at this job, I was out every single day meeting people – partners, companies, job seekers.

After 31/2 years, I still feel like I’ve just started and that is something special.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in getting to this point in your career? How did you overcome them?

A: One challenge in the tech sector is helping career switchers enter an industry that is evolving so rapidly. While there is no lack of jobs in the sector, the stark reality is that most of our workforce lacks the skills needed to take on these roles. These are often skills that even IT graduates who have not maintained their technical skills would struggle with, let alone people with no IT background.

SGTech advocates for “tech-lite” jobs that career switchers can realistically transition into. These require a strong understanding of digital methods, tools, platforms and channels, but not any IT-specific training. Examples include the professional conversion programmes for Salesforce platform professionals and digital sales executives.

I still struggle with staying hopeful in the face of failure. Discouragement can come from many sources – failed projects, exploitative partners, overbearing beneficiaries, unforeseen circumstances or sometimes simply too much pressure. But I’ve never lacked support when it was needed most and I’m deeply grateful for that.

Q: What are the best and worst parts of the job?

A: One of the most difficult parts has been navigating a very unique space between government and industry.

What we do as a trade association often happens behind the scenes, and this can make engaging unfamiliar stakeholders on both sides extra challenging. Thankfully, even in my short stint, I’ve seen the situation improving.

Purpose and people are easily the best parts of working with SGTech. It’s a special feeling to know why we do the things we do and to see the fruit of that labour when lives are positively impacted.

I never expected to have such a deep sense of pride in the work we do and, more importantly, the community from SGTech. I’ve seen so much commitment from our volunteers who are all extremely busy industry leaders themselves. The commitment from staff also continues to amaze me.

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Q: What are your tips for people who want to start or grow their careers in this field?

A: Stay curious, keep learning and hone your ability to process a wide array of information to solve complex problems.

Also, have an entrepreneurial mindset, have a desire to create value and make things better in whatever job you do.

If you are thinking of making a career switch, don’t get distracted by the hype surrounding the latest deep tech roles. Understand your own strengths and skills and find a role that can leverage those advantages in a different context.

This will help you cross the “career river” at the narrowest point possible. Once you get to the other side, keep growing.

Get plugged into the tech sector

About the industry

Singapore is developing its capabilities in four frontier technologies: artificial intelligence and data analytics; cyber security; immersive media; and the Internet of Things.

The infocomm technology (ICT) sector employed 190,200 people as at June last year – with 71 per cent being Singaporeans or permanent residents. This does not include ICT workers in other sectors.

Available jobs

There were around 12,000 job openings in the ICT sector posted on the MyCareersFuture portal at the end of January, 93 per cent for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

The tripartite initiative TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) also aims to develop 5,500 job placement opportunities with companies over the next few years.

Besides traditional ICT roles which require a deeper level of technology skills, there are also tech-lite roles such as customer success manager, digital marketing specialist and pre-sales consultant.

Job seekers without an ICT background can pick up tech-lite skills such as product management, technical sales support, integrated marketing and consumer intelligence analysis.

Median salaries for major PMET roles in ICT, as at end-January

• Management and business consultants: $6,750

• Software, web and multimedia developers: $6,000

• Sales, marketing and business development managers: $5,500

• Computer network and infrastructure professionals: $6,000

• IT support engineers/ technicians: $4,650

How to join the sector

• Professional conversion programmes: for PMETs without prior work experience in the industry

• SGUnited Traineeships Programme: company-hosted traineeships for fresh graduates

• SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme: company-hosted attachments for mid-career workers

• SkillsFuture Work-Study Programmes: lead to certifications offered by Institutes of Higher Learning, private providers appointed by SkillsFuture Singapore, as well as the industry

• Company-Led Training programme: on-the-job training aligned to the Skills Framework for ICT

• TeSA Mid-Career Advance programme: job placement and training for Singaporeans aged 40 and up entering in-demand tech roles

• Tech Immersion and Placement Programme: subsidised bootcamp-like training for in-demand entry-level tech roles; participants are required to find placements in tech job roles after the training

Sources: WSG, MOM

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