Can You Really #DoWhatYouLove? We Speak to 2 Singaporeans Who Made A Mid-Career Switch
This post was written in collaboration with Ministry of Communications and Information: MCI. While we are financially compensated by them, we nonetheless strive to maintain our editorial integrity and review products with the same objective lens. We are committed to providing the best recommendations and advice in order for you to make personal financial decisions with confidence. You can view our Editorial Guidelines here.
You’ve been in the same line of work for many years; everything has fallen into a far too comfortable routine. You don’t feel that you’re learning anything new and your interest is starting to wane.
You may have developed a new interest in another field of work that seems completely different from your current role. Or perhaps circumstances have nudged you to seek alternatives. Making a mid-career switch seems exciting and challenging for some, but to others , it feels daunting. You wonder — will employers be willing to hire someone from a completely different industry, who is new to the field? Will you ever successfully adapt? How will your family cope with your career changes?
Whether it’s pursuing your dream job or forging a path towards a new passion, it is totally possible to #DoWhatYouLove.
We speak to 2 Singaporeans to find out what it takes to make the switch and how they succeeded.
Switched from sales
Mohamed Hazlee bin Jaafar
Switched from oil & gas to
robotic process automation
What were you working as previously, and what prompted the switch?
Dave: “I spent 12 years as a sales and operations manager in the offshore and maritime industry. I sold both products and ideas to enhance the customer’s systems, and was also the main conduit between the client and my team to achieve customer satisfaction.
“One day, I wondered if my sales job could sustain me till retirement. What were my other options? I knew I wanted to give back to society and help others, and at the same time, satisfy my love for learning something new every day.
“Joining nursing felt like the right decision. For me, it’s a very direct way of helping people. I can care and work together with the patient on a daily basis to improve their condition. Along the way, I can also hone my communication skills, nursing skills and management skills. There are also various paths I can take, such as in training/education (for fellow nurses, caregivers or patients)” as well as mentoring. We also work closely with the social workers to help the patient with issues such as lessening their financial burden. It’s an amalgamation of many skills and knowledge to help different individuals and also give back to society.”
Hazlee: “I was in the oil and gas industry for 12 years as a geophysicist when the company I was in had filed for bankruptcy. The oil and gas is a very specialised field, so initially I didn’t know what else I could do. I wasn’t thinking of going back to oil and gas because at that time, the industry wasn’t doing as well compared to earlier days.
“I was previously an end user, making use of available tools to achieve the desired results for my company using geophysical concepts. For example, I would be looking at seismic cross sections of marine surveys in 2D or 3D and remove any noises in the seismic data to achieve a clearer picture of the earth for identification of hydrocarbons.”
Getting extra support for a successful mid-career switch
Dave applied for the Professional Conversion Programme for Registered Nurses (Degree) at the Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies at the National University of Singapore, and became part of the programme’s pioneer batch of 34 trainees. Come this July, he will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing and will join the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.
Meanwhile, Hazlee researched online and found out about Workforce Singapore’s Careers Connect, which provides jobseekers like Hazlee with career coaching and advisory services at no cost. In addition, Careers Connect helps prepare jobseekers before connecting them with employers to achieve a better job fit. After uncovering his strengths and interests, Hazlee went on to do a Professional Conversion Programme for Data Analysts with the National University of Singapore’s Institute of Systems Science. Candidates can deposit their resume with Workforce Singapore’s Professional Conversion Programme Portal for job matching with potential employers.
Find out more about these initiatives at www.adaptandgrow.sg
In your current role, what’s your day-to-day routine like and what are some insights which you have gained?
Dave: “Currently, as I am still a student nurse, my role is similar to that of a junior nurse. I begin my day reading the case file of patients in my designated ward and taking note of schedules such as blood tests, medication, meals and showering. Besides the more routine work, I also attend to ad-hoc requests and make it a point to chit-chat with patients as trust and communication is key to helping patients understand and cope with their current issues and be on track of their recommended lifestyle. Nursing is more than just taking care of the physical health of patients. We also assess patients on their physiological, economic, social and lifestyle factors so that the healthcare team can recommend achievable goals for the patient.”
Hazlee: “My day-to-day routine involves the daily maintenance of deployed robots. I also meet with business owners on occasion to better understand their processes and feasibility of automation to help them troubleshoot issues that they may have. Most people think a career in robotic process automation is rocket science, but it’s actually closer to code development — with less code and more flow visualisation. There’s of course the option to include more coding work in the job scope if required.”
Starting your Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) journey — how was it like?
Dave: “The nursing PCP at NUS is an accelerated one that fits a 3-year programme into 2 years, and it covers interesting topics like psychology for nurses, ethics and law, and medical sociology. During the 2-year training period, I also received a training allowance* of $2500/month. (*training allowance is based on years of prior working experience). I am now spending the last semester of the programme fully attached to the various hospitals to transition to practice.
“I started with absolutely zero knowledge — I knew nothing about physiology, medication and so on. But learning new things excites me, and I really enjoyed being able to go back to school. After familiarising myself with different aspects of nursing care, I would like to explore palliative and end-of-life care in the future. This gels with my belief that we can live well and leave well.”
Hazlee: “Based on the discovery sessions that I had with my career coach at WSG’s Careers Connect, I could better pinpoint what I wanted to do; what are my strengths and weaknesses; which career path is suitable for me. I found out that I’m more suited for technical yet challenging roles.
“My Career Coach also directed me to the programmes available that allowed me to switch to a different industry with little or no experience. Even though I had no prior experience, I landed a job as a software developer. Thereafter, through the PCP programme, my employer sent me for the 6-month training in data analytics.”
How was the process of the career switch like for you? Was it stressful?
Dave: “As we have other family commitments, there are times when my coursemates and I would find ourselves dozing off during the lessons. (laughs) But my love for learning sees me through, as it helps me absorb all the new knowledge quickly. It also helps that I have previous work experience to fall back on. The stress level for me is OK as I enjoy what I’m doing, and it’s definitely achievable, academically.”
Hazlee: “The 6-month PCP training in data analytics was an introductory crash course on data analytics that focused on understanding statistical models. I took another exam after that to receive a certification in robotic process automation (RPA). That was quite tough, so it took me another 3 months and 2 tries to achieve that. As the certification only gave me the basic knowledge of using the tools, having the opportunity to do hands-on work in my company really helped me to pick up deployment, project management and domain-specific experience.”
Did you face any setbacks and how did you overcome them?
Dave: “Whenever I make a decision it’s always worth it. I’m not one to look back. My family’s support was key to my decision to switch careers. If all the parties agree (my wife, my children and whoever is being supported by us), then we can go ahead. As long as one party doesn’t agree to the terms, there will be unhappiness along the way. The job change won’t work. And the career switch will always be brought up during the argument. So I’m thankful for my family’s wholehearted support during this journey.
“In fact, many of my colleagues, including the younger ones, tell me they are inspired by my passion and decision to join nursing at my age. I also don’t face much of a struggle in my job — my 22 years of working experience have taught me communication and persuasion, as well as given me a head for numbers. For instance, I am able to use everyday life experiences or examples to help my patients understand why they need to stick to their medication routine, or why diabetic patients should wear comfortable and protective footwear, etc. When what I advise patients to do is grounded in facts, they’re more convinced to change their habits or to listen to their body’s signals.”
Hazlee: “Of course, there was this initial fear that perhaps I had made a mistake. It’s normal to feel that way, once you are out of your comfort zone. But once we overcome the fear, we’ll realise that it’s unfounded and the task at hand is not as difficult as we had assumed. Thus I pressed on, and the more I felt my new direction is something that is suitable for me — in the sense of what I used to do, and what I like — a specialised, technical role. And when you switch industries, there’s a lot of discomfort that you have to overcome because you are so used to your comfort zone — but you have to explore, you have to learn. So I keep my mind open — you cannot close yourself off and be happy with what you know.
“My parents are cool with my choice, but honestly, they don’t know exactly what I’m doing (laughs). However, they encouraged me when I felt like giving up.”
What do you love most about your new career?
Dave: “There are many things that affirm my decision to join nursing. In addition to being able to help others and to give back to society, it’s the appreciation from my colleagues and patients/their family members that keeps me going. Even from the doctors — sometimes when we highlight simple medical conditions that they didn’t detect, they will say ‘Thank you very much for being so observant’. This makes everything worth it. I no longer have to drag myself to work. And that motivates me.”
Hazlee: “The industry I’m in is still considered to be in its infancy, so there’s a lot of potential for me to grow. If I had stayed where I was comfortable, I wouldn’t have this opportunity. There’s also a lot of development going on and it’s an interesting time to be in this field. I’m glad to be part of it. Robotic process automation, together with artificial intelligence and machine learning, will change the whole workforce in the future. It’s exciting for me.”
What tips or advice would you have for someone considering a career switch?
Dave: “You need to consider that you have prior working experience, so there are a lot of transferable skills that can benefit you — but this is something we don’t realise until we use them. Drawing from my 12 years of sales experience, although I am no longer selling things but I can sell ideas — fitness ideas, compliance ideas, and so on.
“In addition, our prior work experience helps us to relate better to those we work with. For example, just like in sales, finding a common ground or topic with another helps me to establish a relationship and build trust. “
Hazlee: “The most important thing is to manage your expectations. Going to an industry with little or no experience, we need to see the big picture and focus on gaining more knowledge in order to be even more successful in the near future.
“And don’t hesitate or be afraid to move on if you don’t feel the passion in what you used to do. It’s important to realise that learning is something that is lifelong — you have to constantly pick up new skills. You cannot be the generation before us, they stayed in a particular field, they retired in that field. We have to constantly pick up new skills and be in an industry where you have the opportunity to learn. People are afraid to move to a new industry, because initially there will be a huge hurdle, a steep learning curve. However, once you overcome the initial hurdle, things will get easier and better.”
Do their stories inspire you to make a mid-career switch to #DoWhatYouLove? Share your thoughts in the comments below!