Investing in just stocks and shares is no longer enough



When I spoke to my 67-year-old father about his career/work aspirations in his youth, this was what he said:

  1. Find a stable, “iron rice bowl” full-time job, one where you can stay for 30 or 40 years and can do relatively well by working hard
  2. Save enough for marriage and a marital home
  3. Save for the kids’ education
  4. Diversify savings through investments to (hopefully) beat inflation
  5. Retire at 62
  6. Live out the rest of your days with CPF and returns from investments, with grandkids as entertainment

Technology has enhanced and disrupted 

We know that this has changed in modern times. Workers’ aspirations have changed, the workplace is changing and the nature of work is changing. Jobs that existed in the past are either gone or will be gone soon – save for the ones that have successfully adapted and embraced technological disruptions and advancements. Jobs that didn’t exist 5 to 8 years ago are emerging. The lifespan of jobs are shorter than ever (blame technology).

We invest our savings because we want to beat inflation and secure more returns for retirement. But perhaps it’s time to invest in more than just bonds, shares and stocks etc. (if you consider that we might lose our jobs given the shorter job lifespans these days). Perhaps it’s time for us to invest in our skills, abilities and networks. You can’t expect your degree from 10 years ago to be relevant for the next 30 years. The rise of robots and artificial intelligence also means that anything that can be converted into an algorithm can be done by machines. It is about flexibility, learning, embracing ambiguity and adapting to a transient labour market.

So what can we do? Invest in learning, upgrading our skills, expanding our networks and take a greater interest in lifelong learning.

Knowing what to learn

Say you are in the oil and gas industry. For anyone who has access to newspapers, you know that the industry is going through a pretty bad slump. Say you are a 48-year-old senior manager in oil and gas who just got retrenched. You have a family to feed, a mortgage to pay, and monthly expenses to service. What do you do?

Firstly, you’ll need to manage your expectations. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a job that will immediately match your income from the job you just lost. But you won’t stay at that level for too long too if you know the right things to do.

The National Trades Union Congress’ (NTUC) Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) both provide career coaching and training advisory services. Tap on these to find a good industry fit for your skills. For example, as someone with experience in oil and gas, perhaps you could be re-skilled for the sustainable energy industry. Your years in oil and gas would have equipped you with some knowledge on the energy sector and perhaps you could share the difficulties the sector is facing.  

For younger workers who hold stable jobs but wish to prepare themselves for the future, it would really help if you know the industry you want to move to. If you’re the, anywhere the wind blows kind of person, you can also approach the above-mentioned places to talk to some career counsellors. That being said, it wouldn’t hurt to do some research on “sunrise” industries on your own. Just go to the Jobs Bank and you’ll see that the Engineering and IT sectors have the most vacancies.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is, don’t jump from a sinking ship into a sinking yacht (Ahoy, Captain Obvious!). Look to the future, jobs of the future, industries of the future and develop skills that will enable you to stay relevant and current. And we’re not just talking about deskbound jobs or skills. You can look at a traditional industry and think of ways technology can help that industry. For example, furniture making/carpentry is an old industry. But everyone needs furniture for their homes. With the rise of 3D printing, how will that have an impact on the industry? These are the lines we should be thinking along.

Where to learn and network

After figuring out what you really, really want to do, where do you go to learn? Fortunately for us, the emergence of sites like Coursera has made learning and skill acquisition easy. You no longer have to travel to a classroom to learn, you can do it in the comfort of your own home, after dinner, after putting the kids to bed, in your pajamas. The best part is that many of these courses come from very reputable institutions of higher learning and some are free!    

The SkillsFuture website also has a list of courses that you can check out and the SkillsFuture Credit helps offset costs of training.

The NTUC also has some initiatives, catered to the needs of professionals, that allows you to both learn new skills and network, because y’know, sometimes it’s not just what you know, but who you know. In an effort to stay current and relevant to the growing PME workforce, they have identified the changing needs of the local workforce and are expanding their services to meet those needs. Apparently they’re also looking at a pay-per-use model for professionals, instead of its traditional pay-per-month model for union members.

Here are a couple of their initiatives and programmes targeted at professionals and white-collared workers:

U Associate – The U Associates also builds a network of professionals across major industries, a network that can help industries cross-pollinate ideas and solutions. You can contact them to learn more or if you’re a member of a professional guild/association, you can check to see if they’re affiliated too.

NTUC x NTU – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the first-ever collaboration between the NTUC and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in his May Day speech on 1 May 2016. NTU’s College of Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE) already has 28 courses available for workers. It starts in August 2016.

There are many other platforms where professionals can upgrade and learn new skills from, but this is a starting point for those who may not know where to look.


What to learn – consult career consultants at:

Where to learn and network:

Article contributed by reader Jai Ho


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