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Singapore: Career Development for a Fast Changing World
by Gerald Tan and Jeremiah Wong


Career development is commonly defined by organisations such as the Career Industry Council of Australia (CICA) and the National Career Development Association (NCDA) as the lifelong process of managing and exploring work, learning, leisure, and transitions in order to move towards a personally determined and evolving preferred future. On a micro level, it helps working individuals and students evaluate choices and make considered decisions about employment and education transitions. On a macro level, career development pays off in the form of a workforce that is more engaged, productive, self-evolving to meet changing work trends and more ready to ride the economic waves.

However, based on interactions with fellow ASEAN career development professionals, career development is still in its infancy stage in ASEAN. People may be aware of it, but may not fully understand or correctly and actively practise it. Some think that career development is only for executive-level professionals. Others think that investing all their time and effort into their current jobs is already a form of career development. There may also be some who are already practising career development without knowing what it is.

Career development is also not the same for every nation; the extent of its benefits will depend on each nation or state's own context of labour policies, economy, workforce and employers. For example, in a state where the only economic activity is heavily centred on manual agriculture, it may not be easy to introduce career development. Comparatively, in a city state where there are many different jobs and where corporate progression structures exist within firms, career development becomes more relevant.

Given that the world of work is fast evolving through technology and new ways of doing business, we feel that people could benefit more from career development if they learn to surf the change waves and take opportunities as they come along. We are also of the view that career development is especially useful for people who are employed, have their basic needs met (first two levels of Maslow's Hierarchy), and are therefore committed to invest time and effort to expand their career options.

This article has been structured in the form of some questions that your clients might have in their minds when you share career development with them.

Why is Career Development needed?

Clients need to understand that the relationship between employer and employee has evolved. In the past where the world was less technologically linked, employee loyalty was a desired and rewarded trait. Employers invested heavily to develop employees because they need the employees to be effective in contributing back.[1]

In today's fast changing and competitive business environment, employers now want the best people working on their projects in the shortest time, possibly at the lowest cost. Unfair? This is reality. It is every business entity's right to account for their profitability and grow their businesses while maintaining low costs. Technology plays a big part in this because it has bridged distance and information, and allows global talent to be within reach from any part of the world. It's also important to remember that we are not just competing with foreign talent. 'Uber-rization' and freelancing services use technology to deliver professional services and contribute to upping the competition.

Clients need to know that they should have a say in how they want their careers to take shape, through career development. Clients need to take ownership of their career development, be proactive rather than reactive because the business environment is only going to evolve faster. Being proactive can help them get clarity on their preferences and needs, build up on their networks and competencies, and identify possible areas they can move into as part of their contingency plan in times of need, thus making them more resilient to face the future.

What does Career Development look like?

The most important thing we need to help clients do is to change their mindsets about careers. They need to know that their careers go beyond their present jobs and should be viewed as a lifelong journey of experiences obtained across work and personal life, inclusive of paid or unpaid experiences. We need to help clients move away from the typical thinking of a career as one that is a continuous series of elevated titles and increasing salaries.

The thinking our clients need is based on the Happenstance Theory - explore, cultivate and develop their interest areas outside of their work and take advantage of opportunities that come along. The diagrams below illustrate this point:

Typical Thinking of Career

John started off as an Assistant Finance Manager with one MNC Firm A. After working for a few years, he made a move to their competitor Firm B as they had a vacancy for a higher position which paid 20% more. To John, Firm B was a stepping stone because the role there elevated his status and made him more attractive to recruiters. After a few years in the role, Firm C offered John the role of a Senior Finance Manager with more pay. As John had a family to feed and a large housing debt, he chose to move to Firm C.

Enlightened Thinking of Career

John worked in the finance line and had an interest in fitness. John volunteered his free time as a fitness coach. After becoming a Finance Manager, John found that he wanted a career change to pursue his interests. As he already had built networks and a client base at the gym he volunteers with, he became a gym coach. Although the pay is not sufficient to feed his family, the boss of the gym paid John more by having him manage the finances of the gym. During this time, John also developed a need to give back to society. He started helping out as a Youth Adventure Facilitator working with children from low income families. Eventually, John decided to establish his own fitness centre so that he could provide more for his family while continuing to give back to society.

Your clients may think that this 'Enlightened Thinking of a Career' requires a lot of planning, and additional time and effort, as they view these as beyond their usual work. They may also find difficulty in balancing this concept with their commitments, and work and family needs.

It is useful to share with your clients that the career development process is something that is always in progress, based on their new experiences, new people they meet and new opportunities presented. The more interests your clients have can lead to more deliberation in pursuing their interests, it will help naturally to lead them to develop more Plan Bs and opportunities which fulfill their needs and values.

It can also be useful to highlight that if career development is only done at the point of unemployment, it may be too late. Unemployment adds to the pressures of coping with the loss of income, piling debts and lowered self-esteem. Given the pressures, your clients may fall into making quick and irrational decisions, and have lesser mental capacity to explore their options objectively.

How to Start Planning for Career Development?

Help your client to identify and develop their plans to pursue their interests, to do the things they like. Interest areas are usually the things your client find themselves doing on their own without prompting or payment from anyone, and/or are things that people tell them that they are good at.

We have listed out four key steps that you could use with your clients based on Dr John Krumboltz's Happenstance theory. Happenstance theory advocates pursuing interests and opportunities in our fast-changing world today.

Firstly, help your clients identify their interests. Look at what they are currently doing and ask them to identify their hobbies and non-work interest areas. Ask them to recall what others have told them they are good at or what they would do for free. Use psychometric profiling tests such as the Strong Interest Inventory test to reveal more about their interests too.

We suggest: Have your clients write out a list of their interests and things they would like to do. Be their motivator at this stage.

Next, guide them to search intensively and extensively for people, groups, activities with common interests. At this stage, it is all about meeting like-minded people, joining in their social circles, participating in their activities such as conferences or events. Your goal at this stage is to guide your client to know how and where to look for like-minded people or bodies, expand their network and build relationships. This is Networking 101. Remind your clients to be genuine and have them add value to others through their service or time.

We suggest: Have your clients identify the people, groups, associations, non-profit organisations, that have the same interests as them. Discuss with them how they could reach out to the identified people and what could your clients offer these identified people. Be their network strategist at this stage.

Help them build up knowledge, skills and experiences in their interest areas. You could tell your clients to see themselves as a budding expert in their interest areas. An expert is equipped with the relevant knowledge, skills and experiences and hence, that is something you need to guide your clients to build up on too. The idea here is to have your client seek their like-minded network for advice, read up on the latest developments, invest in training, attend conferences and workshops, offer to do pro bono projects, and write or blog about their thoughts and views to share with others. All these efforts build up their portfolio and showcase them as budding experts. While this may sound like a lot of work, encourage your clients by telling them that this is also the most gratifying part because people will start to recognise them as the real deal and this helps to open their network to more like-minded people and opportunities.

We suggest: Guide your clients to build up their online profile using platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and start documenting their work, projects and contributions into the platforms. Have them research and guide them in seeking possible courses, workshops, seminars, conferences and projects they can join in or contribute to on a pro bono basis. Be their accountability partner at this stage.

Are they ready? Take advantage of opportunities that arise. This stage usually takes some time to reach so you may not get to follow up with your client for some time until they contact you again. All the time and effort they invest in pursuing their interests, building their network, increasing their knowledge, skills and experiences should culminate in new opportunities for them. By then, their network should also be strong enough to help refer or recommend them into roles that interest them or even start their own venture. At this stage, it is all about taking a leap of faith by seizing the opportunity after proper consideration of their values, priorities and motivations.

We suggest: Help your client visualise a future of various possibilities. Manage their expectations by highlighting the time investment required and do also share that things might flow into an unexpected area. Remind them to keep working at it. Be their listening ear and coach if they come back to you with an opportunity they received.

Remind your client that the above steps need to be repeated for different interests, all across their lifelong career journeys. There are no two ways around this. While it is tough and it requires work and time investment to perform the four steps, constantly encourage your client that they are not sowing for immediate returns, but for their futures.

We hope this article has provided you with some useful insights and suggestions to help you guide your clients towards developing their careers, raising their awareness in career development and benefiting from well thought-out, careful and deliberate planning. There is a template called the Multiple Careers Action Plan attached below for your use with your client. Drop us a note if you found this article or the template interesting or useful, we will be happy to connect with you!

* Refer to descriptors based on Donald Super's Career Life Stages. Color tone reflects the intensity of work related activities.

MCAP developed by Jeremiah Wong and Gerald Tan (2016 V1.0)


[1] A multi level approach to bridging the global skills gap

Gerald Tan is a Career Development Facilitator (CDF) from Singapore. He has experience working in the public service on national employment trends and policies. His passion lies in mentoring youth from low income families to break the poverty cycle and he hopes to see the awareness and professional levels of career development raised in Singapore and ASEAN. You can reach him at

Jeremiah Wong is a registered Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) from Singapore and has been career coaching for the last 4 years. His passion is in mentoring youth leaders and he hopes to see more actualised individuals build fulfilling careers and make an impact to the society of Singapore and the ASEAN region. You can reach him at

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