Why your first diploma/degree is probably not enough

By January 25, 2020People, Perspectives, The Dive

TL;DR – You’ve become part of a bigger universe. You just don’t know it yet.

Cross-industry career switches are more common than you can imagine. Personally, I have met a pilot who was an army regular for many years. I have also met a marketing girl who gave up her marketing career to take over her father’s prawn noodles stall.

Some did it by choice, probably because they found their new calling, while others changed to adapt, and to put bacon onto the table.

“It should never be a case where you expect yourself to just stay in your very first industry until you retire. What would you know about what you really like at the age of 17? If you don’t like your job, find a new passion, don’t drag yourself to work. Even if you do like it, how sure are you that the industry will always be there for you?” 

Real life lifelong learner, Paul Pang


Those were wise words from “Lifelong Learner”, Paul Pang, who is currently teaching part-time at NTUC Learning Hub.

One would notice something very interesting with a quick glance at Paul’s LinkedIn page.

He graduated from Singapore Polytechnic in 1971 and I also spotted a Google Ads certification as well as Google Analytics certification, both he got in 2019.

Of course there’re other courses and certs in between those years, including a Graduate Diploma in Marketing Management and even an MBA.

Yes, the man is 71 years old this year and he is still learning, and working.

“I am semi-retired. I still teach around 2 to 3 days a week, depending on the school’s schedule. I like to work. I like to learn. It keeps me active. It makes me happier and leaves me more fulfilled.” 

On the other hand, it is also not uncommon to meet someone like an accountant who would like to develop an app or maybe even become a full-time photographer. In my experience, more often than not, many of these individuals end up staying in their job, disgruntled, suffer from low productivity, feeling all burnt out, yet at the same time refuse to make the leap. What is stopping them? Sometimes it might be because the costs of switching seem too high, or simply because the risk seems too high and the possibility of success seems unrealistic. It is really the case or is it simply a case of fear?

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Here are some tips to help everyone pivot, yes, courtesy of Paul.

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Developing New Skill(s)

“Learning has to start from young. Not just a particular skill, but to build up the attitude of learning.”

I have never looked at the idea of lifelong learning in this way.

I have always thought lifelong learning means you start learning when you are old and available. Paul’s words gave me a whole new clarity to the concept.

First, we need to learn how to learn.

If we are not in tune with the concept of learning at a young age, it will be harder to pick it up later in life. You might only learn something when someone makes you do it or when you feel the heat. Sadly, that is not how learning works. Learning takes time, even more so if you are planning to learn something for the purpose of making it your livelihood. If you have learnt well and prepared well in a certain field, it builds confidence and lowers the fear.

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Paul completed his pre-university education at Raffles Institution (Raffles Junior College was only born in 1982), but sadly was unable to attend university due to family financial status back in 1969. On hindsight, that seems like a blessing in disguise. Instead, he enrolled into Singapore Polytechnic’s Telecommunication & Electronic diploma course which was the gateway to his first career with our Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) where he dealt with telecommunication & electronic equipment.

“Learning is so easy these days. All you have to do is Google. Or just go YouTube and find. They will teach you step-by-step. Problem is people don’t use Google enough. Many do not have the desire to learn. I took 3 different external courses while I was a regular with SAF. We did not have the Internet and I did distance studies. One of the schools actually sent their physical notes over while the other you had to buy the books yourself. All they did was to give me a list of books and facilitated the exams.” 

Although Paul did not manage to get into a local university, that did not stop him from learning. And because of this growth mindset of his, he continued to study and learn over the next decades both formally and informally. He was prepared, qualified, and confident (in fact, he still is). Not only did he do well in the field of electronics, he too has a strong liking for marketing and sales. At some point in his life, he was actually working with big players such as Microsoft and Lotus.

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“I just did my Google Analytics course so now I am actually certified. SkillsFuture? My credits long gone. I used it the moment it was introduced, haha. I am waiting for a top-up.” Paul told me as we shared some laughter when I asked if he had used his SkillsFuture credits for his course.

Let’s do a recap.

  • Paul is 71 years old.
  • We have the Internet which is loaded with free information as compared to the 1970s.
  • Even if you wish to pay for proper lessons and certificates, the government also plays its part by providing quite many different programmes (including SkillsFuture), schemes and subsidies, often 70% for Singapore citizens and even up to 90% if you’re over 40.

So, what is your excuse again?

Expanding Your Network 

“If you are not competent, at least be popular.”

While the above statement might sound a bit too crude for many, I am also sure many can relate.

Image via

Based on research published by LinkedIn, the number one way people discover new jobs is through referrals. I am sure you have referred a job to a friend or have been referred to one before. It is no rocket science here. Not only is it better for the recruiter but it is always better to have a familiar face at a new working environment. Someone there to guide you along and show some care and concern will definitely lead to a better outcome at work.

That is not all. When I was doing my own business, new investments or projects were usually discovered through personal network too. And expanding network does not stop smack at mixing with friends within the same social group. It is always good to meet people out of your own comfort zone.

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Taking the leap

I know this does not sound much like legit advice but some people just needed that last bit of support, that assurance that they can do it. So if you are undecided or been thinking and overthinking, just do it.

Life is short, and if you have already prepared yourself for it, just do it.

The world has changed. We are no longer living in our parents’ era where all they do is to stay in the same job for 40 years. I personally do not believe that it is about loyalty for the company or the lack of for us. We must understand that our economy has changed a lot over the last few decades. And it will continue to change at an increasing pace.

Today, Singapore’s youth unemployment rate is among the lowest among advanced economies. We are living in a world where youths are not worried about not being able to get a job and can afford to take a gap year. Did you know that between 2015 and 2018, our local employment grew by nearly 60,000 for the whole economy? Not only was my mum lowly educated but the number, as well as the type of jobs available, were different and very limited. Today in Singapore, not only do we have a great formal education system, but we also have a system that facilitates adult learning. We are also offered jobs that were never heard of years ago all thanks to the advancement in technology as well as foreign investments in Singapore.

The court is set, the ball is in your court. What are you waiting for?

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Smith Leong

Author Smith Leong

Social Media Trainer @ NTUC | Youth Mentor | Labour Champion | Photographer | Content Creator |

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