On a typical day, Kevin Ng works with bankers at Credit Agricole to develop risk analysis tools using Java software.
No one would guess that barely a year back, he was a flight attendant.
The 29-year-old software engineer secured the job during Singapore coronavirus lockdown period after retraining in late 2019.
And while he couldn’t have predicted the devastating impact the pandemic would have on his former industry, Ng said he was motivated to move into a career with solid long-term prospects.
“My goals were set out quite clearly. I wanted to do work that’s more cumulative,” he told CNBC Make It. “I tended toward technology. There’s just this thing that tech draws people in.”
Ng is a graduate of a 12-week Tech Immersion and Placement Programme (TIPP), a tie-up between the Singapore government and coding school General Assembly, which helps workers without tech experience to transition into those careers.
Restless after six years in the skies, the millennial is one of a growing number of workers moving to master new skills in an increasingly volatile jobs market.
New jobs, new skills
Even before the pandemic, rapid tech innovations threatened to disrupt many jobs and industries. But Covid-19 has exacerbated that trend, resulting in historic unemployment.
In the first half of 2020, more than 5,000 Singapore citizens were laid off, while unemployment in the city-state hit its highest level in more than a decade, rising from 2.4% in the first quarter to 2.9% in the second.
That has put a renewed emphasis on learning new skills for job seekers and employees alike. According to an August study from recruiting firm Randstad, 86% of employees in Singapore said they are motivated to learn new skills in the next 12 months.
And they’re acting on it. Between July 2019 and June 2020, professional networking site LinkedIn saw a 300% increase in time spent on its learning platform in Singapore compared with the preceding period. Its most popular courses included a mixture of technical skills, such as Excel and programming language Python, as well as soft skills like strategic thinking and building resilience.
LinkedIn’s Asia Pacific vice president of talent and learning solutions, Feon Ang, said that reflects the diversity of skills needed for the future workplace.
Video: The job skills needed for a new future (CNBC)
“There is a huge movement in terms of forcing professionals to think about what else do I need to master? What other skills do I need to have?” said Ang.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has spurred more people to think about safeguarding themselves in an unpredictable future.
“It’s a combination of the lockdown really challenging people to say what else do they need to do to upgrade themselves. There’s also the need in terms of how they’re seeing companies moving,” she continued, citing decreased hiring in sectors like construction. “In order for you to be staying in the workforce, people just need to pick up new skills.”
Where the jobs are
That could place career-changers like Ng in good stead. As of August 2020, 96% of General Assembly’s immersive program graduates secured a new job within 180 days.
The course is one of several initiatives aimed at equipping citizens with skills for a digital future. In 2015, the Singapore government launched SkillsFuture, a national movement to encourage lifelong learning, with 500 Singapore dollars ($365) in learning credit allocated to every Singaporean over 25. An additional 500 Singapore dollars was allocated in 2020 as the pandemic forced many businesses — and even industries — to modernize quickly.
Authorities hope that will spark more job opportunities in industries that have embraced technology.
Examples of those include education, healthcare, logistics, retail and agriculture, according to Michael Lints of Singaporean venture capital firm golden Gate Ventures — an early backer of some of Southeast Asia’s rising companies including Gojek, Carousell and Redmart.
“People now understand that tech is here to stay,” he said. “If you look at homeschooling … anything related to e-commerce or logistics, a big boom.”
As such, Lints advised those looking for new careers to develop specific expertise in such high-growth areas.
“Getting a skill set in something that is new and making sure that you’re able to implement it in a business case is becoming more and more important,” he added.
Never stop learning
In fact, the ability to identify and respond to a fast-evolving jobs landscape could be the real skill to hone going forward, according to LinkedIn’s Ang.
“I think of learning as an identity that we need to adopt,” said Ang. “If you have a learner attitude, you will actually just adopt that and embrace change.”
That’s the philosophy of proactive learners like Ng in an uncertain future.
“Picking up all these skills actually helps you to be more versatile in whatever you’re doing,” he said. “You never know that there’s a rainy day that comes by and you will need these skills.”