“Go on course lor” – that’s the typical Singaporean response when you ask what the best way to upgrade yourself is. For most people here, spending that money to get a degree is a worthy investment, and you can’t really question that, when you consider the huge gap between the average starting pay of degree and non-degree holders in Singapore.
But once you’ve already gotten that basic degree, it’s harder to know how else to invest in yourself. Sure, there are all types of course providers jostling to get a slice of that SkillsFuture pie, but do you really think attending a seminar on “interpersonal skills in the workplace” is actually a good investment of your time?
Here are three ways to invest in yourself that will actually pay dividends career-wise:
Invest in building your network
Whom you know is of immeasurable importance in the working world. Whether you’re a junior employee who’s looking for new opportunities, a bigwig in upper management who’s expected to bring in business for the company or a real estate agent searching for rich clients, never underestimate the effect a large network can have on your income.
Many Singaporeans spend all their time and money investing in their education, while neglecting their personal and professional networks. The thing about growing your network is that it takes time and has to happen organically. You cannot force someone to become your friend overnight.
In fact, it’s often harder to build a big network than find a spouse—many Singaporeans sign up for the Social Development Unit’s events and within a year they’re balloting for that flat. But when it comes to your network, it takes time. You can’t just spam networking events with your business card. People need to feel you’re interesting or useful enough to want to stay in contact with you.
It’s a good idea to invest a bit of time and money into improving your social life and meeting more people in and out of your industry. This could mean joining an association like the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce, getting active in associations related to your specific industry (there are often volunteer or committee positions in profession-linked associations like the Law Society or the Institute of Architects) or joining alumni events organised by your university or secondary school. Heck, you could even start really small by asking out a friend you haven’t seen in five years. Just don’t try to sell them insurance on your coffee date.
Invest in your health
The answer to the question of whether Singaporeans prioritise their health over work is easy enough to answer. Just ask your colleagues how they’re feeling today and at least 40% will complain about being hideously sleep deprived, and 20% are down with the flu or some other ailment but felt compelled to come to the office.
Ironically, it’s poor health that could cause your financial ruin. Sure, we’ve now got MediShield Life, and you might even have taken out your own private insurance policies.
But there’s a whole lot of other stuff you won’t be compensated for, such as the time and monetary costs involved in visiting doctors, transportation (because who has the energy to stand on the MRT when they’re sick), and not being able to advance in your career because you’re ill.
Nobody’s saying you need to start eating only expensive superfoods or sign up for a gym that’s more technologically advanced than a space station. But spending a bit more in the name of health is justified if you’re sure you’re getting good value.
So go ahead and buy that new pair of running shoes or that bicycle, invest in some cookware, sign yourself up to try a new sport, stop eating at the same economy rice stall every day just because it’s the cheapest thing available, and, most importantly, don’t spend every single second of every day working—taking time out to exercise and de-stress will give you more career stamina in the long run—just ask the many Singaporeans who are suffering from depression and burnout due to work.
Invest in qualifications that strategically bump up your pay
If you think the SkillsFuture initiative is going to save your career, don’t be too happy just yet. There are lots of courses out there that companies are sending for employees for without really thinking about whether it will make them more valuable hires.
If you sign up for that flower arrangement class when you’re an accountant, we’re not saying it’s a total waste, but just don’t expect it to have any impact on your career for as long as you stay an accountant.
Qualifications and courses are not useful in and of themselves—their value is determined by your job and industry, and which areas you want to work in.
For instance, if you’re a compliance executive at a bank, you should ask your seniors which qualifications they recommend. There are many certifications you can obtain from associations like ACAMS that will make you indispensable as you rise through the ranks, and your company is very likely to sponsor you for the courses if you are interested.
When in doubt, ask a senior who’s in a position you hope to be in years from now. They’ll be able to lend some insight into whether a particular qualification is useful or not.
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