At 47, Anna Tan has gone through at least five career shifts
and worked in sectors as diverse as charity and IT. Her kith and kin have had
doubts about her decisions, but that has not stopped her from taking the plunge
each time. Neither has she been concerned about being labelled a job hopper.
Instead, she says it is because she dabbled in so many
fields and gained so much experience that she is able to run a coaching
business, which involves helping people to reach their personal or professional
goals. The Malaysia-born Tan spent most of her working life in London, where
she grew up. The Singapore permanent resident, moved back five years ago when
work opportunities started drying up in Britain. There, she had worked on
government and community projects.
She felt she needed a change and took a job on a four-month
contract, to help a local company put its retail arm online and found jobs in
project and change management, fields she had experience in. She has a diploma
in leisure and recreation studies and the course included sports coaching. Last
year, the accredited coach co-founded Coaching Go Where, which matches coaches
in areas such as life or career coaching with people seeking such services. She
also set up Barrage Vision, a change management consultancy. “I love doing
different things every few years. I don’t have to play office politics,” she
says. But when she was mulling over setting up her first company in Britain
about 12 years ago, she had support from fellow entrepreneur friends who told
her to go for it and her risks have paid off. “It’s because I’ve changed so
much that I had the breadth of experience to set up Coaching Go Where.” She
adds that people sometimes underestimate “the power of transferable skills” in
changing jobs or even careers. Douglas Foo, co-chairman of the Tripartite
Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices, says that while not
everyone is as comfortable embracing changes in working life, making career
moves in one’s 40s is no longer uncommon.
“As the workforce shrinks, employers need to adopt more progressive
approaches and mindsets to ensure they attract a diverse pool of talent to
maintain a competitive advantage,” says Foo, who is also chairman of Sakae
Holdings. He says employers can enable a smoother transition for staff making a
mid-career switch by exploring options such as redesigning their jobs to suit
their strengths and tapping programmes and grants available at agencies such as
Spring Singapore and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. A Workforce
Development Agency spokesman says that since 2007, more than 7,000
professionals, managers, executives, and technicians have participated in the
Professional Conversion Programmes, which help them get skills for new jobs.
These are targeted at a range of industries, such as early
childhood care and education, retail, intellectual property and food services.
Older workers considering a career change should prepare well before taking the
plunge, say experts. Woon Peng Ziady, who runs coaching business Chai Coaching,
says, “Understand how long you can survive on savings and passive income. If
you don’t have enough, build up your savings first. Be willing to accept a pay
cut.” She advises mid-career switchers to consider taking small steps
initially, such as joining a course in cooking if one wants to go into the food
and beverage industry, or co- investing in a business first.
Jovian Koh, co-founder of ConnectionQ, a coaching and
training consultancy, says the preparation is also mental. Middle-aged and
older people should do an ego check first. “In their own industry, they
may have been at a middle or senior level. Now they have to re-establish
themselves. It can be hard to establish networks. You have to eat humble pie at
times. Some people have the mindset that they just want an easier work life. If
this is the attitude, they cannot go far. There will always be people hungrier
than them,” she says.
Peng Ziady says once they have embarked on a new career,
they should be mindful to give themselves time to succeed and not have overly
high expectations in terms of money and accolades. Once they overcome the
challenges, the leaps they take can be rewarding. Some of her clients have
found greater meaning in their lives. Many people start their career without a
direction. When they are in their mid-40s and older, making a switch is like
getting a second chance.
As a child, Suguna Tambusamy dreamt of being a nurse, but it
was an ambition she fulfilled only last year, when she was 44. She was drawn to
the white uniform, which suggested to her a “pure and noble” profession. She
joined the Red Cross as a co-curricular activity in primary school and enjoyed
learning first aid. In secondary school, her housewife mother objected to her
career choice because she viewed nursing as “a dirty job” that involved washing
people’s bodies, says Tambusamy.
The Straits Times/ANN