Friday, June 16, 2017

One thing modern workers need to do to stop digging their graves.

This is going to be a short article as I look forward to paying off some sleep debt.

Once of our upcoming talks in August was supposed to be lifelong learning but for very valid reasons, it did not pan out, so we will probably be going ahead with something else later this year.

I've done some preliminary readings on lifelong learning for my own benefit and discovered this insight about lifelong learning which is not shared public about - you need some degree of career mobility to benefit from lifelong learning.

For lifelong learning to really benefit a worker, he needs to be able to effect a change in his/her work environment to exploit his new  skills. At the personal level, I was somewhat a negative example of this insight. After getting a Masters in Applied Finance and passing all my CFA exams, my IT career was doing rather well and I never really did make the switch into a finance role. I do not have much regrets because I was able to derive an alternative income by building my own portfolio.

A lot of other workers are not so lucky. If you are over your 40s and struggling to pick up some new qualifications note that the research shows that the odds of you being able to exploit your newfound learning is limited. To test out your new skills, you might have to jump ship but the career mobility of a 40-something worker is somewhat limited so the odds of increasing your income from lifelong learning is also limited. The research paper has recommended that the government make it their role to provide career mobility for middle-aged lifelong learners.

So the modern worker must begin lifelong learning at a younger age and not wait for too long to begin developing cutting edge skills which are suited for tomorrow's corporate environment.

Which leads to another problem - You need to make time to pick up new skills !

Workers of the future may need to look for corporate cultures which release them from work on time so that they can invest in their own human capital by picking up new skills and keeping up with the industry. Otherwise, workers will become sitting ducks while being employed and may even  waste too much of their own time developing non-transferable skills that can only be used in one corporate setting.  It only takes the next technological change to render them obsolete.

In this aspect, multinationals continue to be attractive relative to SMEs.

Multinationals are also more exclusive and can afford to be selective based on paper qualifications.

At the end of the day, you can't really blame local graduates for only wanting to work for the biggest and most elite international firms.

Its a valid survival strategy.



  1. Hi Chris,

    I don't have enough experience to comment on lifelong learning/career mobility of those in their 40s. But for myself, I have been trying to pick up skill sets from other fields (e.g. database development, android app development, Internet of Things using Arduino, etc). Recently, I've even recommended and done preliminary text mining stuff at work (which my reporting officers were very pleased with).

    Over the longer term, I'm thinking of creating android apps and using IOT to improve processes at work. It wasn't until I took courses beyond my field that I realized that there are such gaps in the workplace that could be further improved upon. Once a person learns a substantial amount of stuff from another field, maybe opportunities in the workplace become slightly more apparent?

  2. Text analysis is itself quit a wide field which I think you can specialise in. Why not focus on Python and Natural Language Processing ?

    There are also quite a few nifty automation tricks you can perform with Python to increase your productivity at work.

    With your current selection of technologies, there is the risk that there is a lot of breadth but too little depth.

  3. "Lifelong learning" is euphemism for "working more; going the extra mile", especially if one NEEDS to learn life-long for survival purposes, as is framed. I also agree that "lifelong learning" is only useful to the extent that there's some career transitioning to enable the on-the-job utilisation of the newly-acquired skills; if not commercially utilised, lifelong learning is akin to theoretical masturbation. Indeed, as you have mentioned, there is most probably going to be trade-offs (financial, etc) to be made while transitioning. Furthermore, not all transitioning may pay off in the end. Success is not guaranteed.

    I just wish we can discern the nation's push for lifelong learning for what it is - to threaten the collective into working harder and to integrate work and life even more. The people who can truly benefit from lifelong learning are those with a sufficiently large FU stash.

    I have personally re-framed "lifelong learning" as "income diversification".

  4. i.e. side hustling

  5. snowybear,

    You are probably right. But I think there is one major consolation :

    If you invest your time doing lifelong learning, the certification or skills you picked up belongs to you.

    No company can ask you leave your expertise on your desk when you go. The financial characteristic of such a skill is like a call option. Theoretical masturbation can suddenly "go into the money" at a moment's notice like the time I opened a cryptocurrency mining account and put in some spare change just to learn how the process works.

  6. Yes, learning is always useful, some types being more useful than others. The call option also comes at a cost. So for the working class, further learning has to be strategic.

    I'm just really irked by the threatening narrative underlying the lifelong learning push in Singapore lah! The aspirational type of lifelong learning is really the preserve of the rich.

  7. Hello, You highlighted the research that training is not particular effective for over-40. I am interested in this research paper.

    The government is throwing so much money into training, and imagine this is pouring money into the drain.

  8. The paper is entitled "The effect of lifelong learning on men's wages" by Dorsett, Lui and Weale.

    Let's not turn this into a government bashing exercise because by and large our Government is trying to help 40-something year olds pick up new job skills and remain relevant in the workforce.

    There is no conspiracy to squeeze local workers because the government would rather we make more babies instead.

  9. There is no conspiracy. Policies will have trade offs. If money cannot be spent effectively in retraining, could it be that we need more subsidies elsewhere instead? For example, increase workfare for employees/family who underwent retraining because there will be a big income drop?

    A measure to determine the funding effectiveness is required. It is tax money. Yeoh Lam Keong suggested 1B funding can wipe out elderly poverty. Today NUS reported 50% of elderly are frail due to malnutrition and other factors. We are competing for the same pot of tax money.

    For individuals, if acquiring additional lateral skills does not increase income, it make sense not to go for training. I know people spending 20k in SAP SD training to only realised that employment prospect is limited. We,instead should save as much as possible, and limit long time liabilities that could extend beyond 45 or 50.

    BTW I am also in IT and I have lateral training too. I have ACCA but chose not to enter the accounting profession.

  10. The alternative is universal basic income. This blog did some number crunching on that before and I doubt voters would support this idea.

    I don't really give a damn about the ideas of Yeoh Lam Keong or Donald Low.

  11. Whether you and I give a damn is not important. I am sure Yeoh Lam Keong or Donald Low don't care too. What is important as an investor or looking at policy, I believe is, if there is data supporting it. For example your research paper on retraining is limited to male and UK. Granted that I am not sure if there are such studies in Singapore, we could extrapolate it to SG. Still it is a limited in scope and there are studies that suggest the opposite, that women had limited retraining benefits but men did!


    Since we are on the topic of Universal Basic Income, there must be data to back up their benefits. Finland, Canada, and US are conducting experiments. I am waiting for their results. I agree that Singapore will unlikely go down this road, simply because we use tax advantaged policy to advance our economy. No data crunching needed. ;) Second, UBI can reduce benefits to its elderly citizens and transfer it to the young.

    Like policy making and more importantly for minions like me investing our money, there are ideological frameworks that we all use and with good reasons.

    One negative example of a framework is the free market will take care of its risk, since they have the most vested interest in it -- the great financial crisis.

    Like Keynes famously said, "When the Facts Change, I Change My Mind. What Do You Do, Sir?" I keep an open mind, look for data and test it.