The fast-changing nature of work has prompted many Singaporeans to upgrade their skills to stay relevant. TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts of Singaporeans who have recently done so to give their careers a boost, or even pursue new paths in life.
In this instalment, Mr Toh Hong Giep, 51, recounts his learning journey over the years to become a more “T-shaped” person, with broad knowledge across different disciplines and deep expertise in a few specific areas. Mr Toh, an IT professional, is now pursuing his second master’s degree in business analytics. Despite having a different approach to learning than his younger coursemates, it is important to embrace new technologies to stay relevant, he says.
In today’s rapidly changing world, continuous learning is not just a nice-to-have — it is a necessity.
As an IT professional with more than 20 years of experience working in multiple countries, I understand the importance of keeping up with the latest technologies and business practices.
I am currently an IT director with a government agency.
My responsibilities include overseeing projects to ensure that they receive timely support and actively engaging stakeholders to stay in tune with their business needs. Equally important, I will roll up my sleeves and work alongside my team to fix technical issues.
One concept that has been particularly useful in my career is the idea of being a “T-shaped” person through lifelong learning. This means having broad knowledge and skills across different disciplines (the top of the T) and deep expertise in one or a few specific areas (the vertical line of the T).
For example, to enhance my understanding of the business world beyond the technology lens, I pursued the Tsinghua-Insead Executive MBA programme (EMBA) in 2007.
This was 10 years after I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Systems & Information Science from the National University of Singapore (NUS) in 1997.
The EMBA was an 18-month programme, anchored in Singapore and Beijing, with lessons in Fontainebleau, France and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
It provided me with a broader perspective on business, ranging from strategy and marketing to finance and operations. I also got to interact with professionals from different industries, which gave me a fresh perspective on various business challenges.
The course opened my eyes to the myriad and complex decisions often faced by senior management. This allowed me to better approach issues from their perspective and build closer partnerships.
My passion for learning did not stop after my EMBA.
In 2021, at the age of 49, I enrolled in the NUS Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) programme and will graduate this year.
I’ve always enjoyed studying computer science and this programme was a great opportunity to get a deep technical understanding of the various techniques and tools used in data analytics. It covers topics like fraud analysis, propensity analysis and recommendation engines which businesses use to predict what customers will like.
Lifelong learning is not without its challenges.
As a working professional, finding time to learn can be hard. It is difficult to balance work, family, and personal commitments. Luckily, my wife and two teenage children are very supportive.
To strike a balance between family and study, I usually set aside weekend afternoons or evenings for family activities while leaving the rest for my coursework.
Even with family support, staying motivated and focused can be daunting.
To overcome this, I break my coursework down into manageable tasks and proactively seek support from faculty members and fellow classmates.
Interacting with classmates from the younger generation, especially millennials, I see that they have a different approach to learning.
They are more digitally savvy and prefer interactive and engaging methods such as gamification and micro-learning.
While this may not appeal to everyone, it is important to embrace new technologies and learning models to stay relevant in the digital age.
For example, I learned to go back to lecture recordings or use online resources to clarify any unclear points. This works well for me as I can schedule my learning to fit pockets of free time.
Being a T-shaped person has made me more versatile, adaptable, and valuable to employers. It has allowed me to collaborate across different fields and apply knowledge from various areas to solve problems.
Despite the challenges, lifelong learning has been fulfilling and rewarding, and has allowed me to grow personally and professionally.
As the car magnate Henry Ford once said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
ABOUT THE WRITER:
Mr Toh Hong Giep, 51, is an IT director with a government agency. He is a part-time student pursuing a Master of Science in Business Analytics at NUS.
If you have an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.