SINGAPORE: Tender-hearted nurses that took care of his leukaemia-striken daughter, his mum and his father-in-law. A childhood dream to join the medical field.
It all made sense when the opportune time came for Joshua Liew to join the profession he so admired.
The 50-year-old is one of 22 in a pioneering batch of mid-career switchers who enrolled last August in the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies.
The programme is part of Workforce Singapore’s (WSG) nursing Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP), which 1,300 mid-career locals have participated in since 2003.
A former lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic’s Centre for Character & Leadership Education, Mr Liew made the transition when he was helping his daughter, Ophelia, research her career prospects as a nurse.
He chanced upon the PCP programme, and having fostered that lifelong medical aspiration of his by volunteering with the Red Cross and getting trained in first aid, decided to take it a step further.
Now both Mr Liew and his daughter are first-year nursing students at their respective schools, NUS and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
Making a mid-career switch is an increasingly popular trend, using WSG’s figures as a proxy. In 2016, there were about 1,300 PCP placements. In 2019, the number rose to almost 4,500.
Within the pool, the proportion of middle-aged participants has remained significant. According to the agency, about one in three participants every year are aged 40 and above. The most popular sectors among those seeking a second career are banking, technology and healthcare, human resource experts said.
They explained that these are high-growth areas where vacancies and job satisfaction can be found – the two main reasons why individuals pursue a career transition in the first place.
“The motivations for career switching can be generalised into voluntarily and involuntary reasons,” said Avodah People Solutions’ career coach Gerald Tan. Technological disruptions has caused job displacements, while others are “disgruntle(d) with the status quo.”
“Their motivation is fuelled not by money but by a desire to find purpose and satisfaction in what they do,” he said.
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TURNED OFF BY PAY CUT, FEAR OF FAILURE
But not everyone is able to accept the demands that come with a mid-career switch.
WSG did not reveal how many people drop out of the PCPs, but said: “individuals may have dropped out of the PCP training as part of the normal staff attrition at their companies”.
“There is a lack of confidence (and) fear of failure… in terms of whether they are able to do the job,” said Lim Chai Leng, a senior director at recruitment agency Randstad Singapore which specialises in banking and financial services.
“A career switcher often needs to start from the bottom, taking large pay cuts,” added Mr Tan. “If they are switching from a supervisory and high-earning role, it may be a bit of a shock for them.”
When Mr Liew made the jump to go back to school, his salary dropped by three-quarters, he said.
Fortunately, his family was supportive, aware of his longtime ambitions. After working the sums out with him, Mr Liew’s wife gave the go-ahead.
Going back to school was another challenge Mr Liew had to overcome, given that his age makes it harder to retain what he learns. His studies require a lot of memory work but learning from lecturers who shared their real-life encounters “make the subject interesting”. Having clinical attachments right after each semester ends keeps the knowledge fresh as well.
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Likewise, when Steven Hoon shut his business down and joined software company Workato in October 2018 under a PCP, he took a 50 per cent pay cut.
The 42-year-old knew it was worth it, however. His business selling safety glass components was in a sunset industry, and returning to the tech sector – he used to be a programmer – seemed like the right move, given the growth prospects of the industry.
Beyond the new tech skills he had to pick up, there were other aspects of a mid-career switch he had to mentally prepare himself for: A younger boss, colleagues nearly half his age and a new work culture.
He reports to a managing director who is 32. His colleagues “talk about buying a HDB, BGR (boy-girl relationship) issues”, which are issues he has left behind with, the father of three said. “We are in a different phase of life”.
Then there are late-night meetings that take place any time between 10pm and 4am sometimes. Luckily, raising three kids has conditioned him to a sleep-deprived world, he joked.
But when it comes to whether he finds it easy to respect his colleagues, Mr Hoon said age is not an issue at all.
“Age in a startup is not a measure of someone’s experience,” he said. “They are young, but they also have a lot of work experience.”
LEVERAGING ON THEIR WEALTH OF EXPERIENCE
For those looking to join a different industry, experts say that beyond upskilling themselves, they should get comfortable networking.
“Go out and talk to people,” said Randstad’s Ms Lim. “Attend events so that you… have a better understanding of what you want to be part of and what you can bring to the table.”
Build a portfolio by attending workshops and volunteering in projects, added Mr Tan.
“Don’t start thinking about career changes only when you are unemployed,” he said.
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“Unemployment is a highly stressful transition and there will be preoccupation and pressure with securing a new job quickly to restore your livelihood.”
The mid-career switchers themselves believe that they bring a set of soft skills, such as the ability to manage others, or communicate with empathy, that their younger peers appreciate.
Mr Liew said that he noticed while on his attachment that sometimes he is able to apply his skills as a trained counsellor – he was also a student counsellor at Temasek Polytechnic – to his role as a nurse.
He knows what questions to ask, and shares about the multiple instances he was his family member’s caregiver. This helps the patients and their family members to open up about their pain and suffering.
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“I would ask them to describe their feelings and share about their family member,” he said. “I would also ask what I can do to make it more comfortable for them.”
As to whether he wished he had made the leap earlier, the former A*STAR researcher and infocomm technology lecturer said no.
“All the skills that I picked up along the way (in my life) has given me this toolkit that I can use now as a nurse,” he said.
“Once I go into nursing, I can be a nurse manager, I can be a nurse clinician, or I can even be a nurse educator.”
Except now, he is “finally doing what I want to do.”