In my country, the call for all of us to learn new skills throughout life has amplified in recent years. The evolving nature of work and unexpected events like COVID-19 have exposed the decreasing durability of skills. This makes it necessary for us to continue learning new skills throughout life.

The decreasing half-life of skills

Before deciding on a course, make sure that the job is a good fit for you. Don’t take a course just because “everyone else is doing it” or “the government says this is the future”. In the best case, you waste money learning a skill you don’t have a passion for. At worst, you are stuck in a job that you can’t wait to leave.

Having settled your course choice, maybe you think that certifications and courses are not practically useful. After all, most employers value real-world experience over a sheet of paper (all other things being equal). But this doesn’t mean that all certifications and courses are useless. Here are a few reasons why you should consider taking courses or certification:

1. Compulsory pre-requisite for your job

This might be stating the obvious, but many jobs have mandatory certification requirements. In Singapore, aspiring real estate agents must take the Real Estate Salesperson (RES) course and RES examination. Private hire car drivers have to earn their Private Hire Car Driver’s Vocational Licence (PDVL). Financial advisors need to clear the Capital Markets and Financial Advisory Services (CMFAS) examination. If your desired job falls into this category, make sure you have the certification before applying.

2. Help you progress in your current role

Maybe you’re not looking to switch career, but to advance and get promoted. Courses and certifications could also be useful to you. Some bosses might be hesitant to give you new responsibilities if you don’t have prior experience. In such cases, taking courses could give your boss the assurance they need to give you a chance. For regulatory compliance, having legal training opens up new opportunities for progression and lateral movements between roles. You can move between 3 progression verticals instead of 2, giving you greater adaptability. Employers also value the rigour and prestige of the certification, which will boost your bargaining power during salary negotiations.

A job description for Compliance, courtesy of the Skills Framework
Compliance career progression pathways, courtesy of the Skills Framework

3. Serves as a milestone for achievement

This last point is not often discussed and not immediately useful for your career. However, it fulfils a critical role in building resilience and giving confidence during difficult times. In my area of IT project management, there are few mandatory certifications and not many courses that help progression. Most certifications (e.g. PMP) function as third-party validation for skills you already have. Nevertheless, I take these certifications as milestones for my career, reminding me of what I’ve achieved and what I can do. If I lose my job in future, they can provide a source of confidence and sense of control that are easily eroded during unemployment.

To be clear, this is not a license to be close-minded and backward, dwelling on past glories. Rather, it is a psychological bank account I can draw from to tide over the trauma of job loss. Having gone through my own career transition, I can’t stress how important this is. The technical term for this is loss of career self-efficacy, and it accounts for many challenges facing the long-term unemployed. Hope this article has given you good reasons to pursue the course or certification you’ve been putting off. If you’re still hesitating because you think that courses are just theoretical knowledge, let me assure you. It’s taken a while, but training providers, schools and universities are slowly addressing this gap in higher education. Courses and degrees now make work attachments, internships and industry projects a core part of assessment criteria. Some programmes that stand out to me include SUTD, General Assembly and SMU-X. Remember to read the prospectus/ outline carefully to make sure you’re getting what you need!

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