Ang Hin Kee: Gao Chap Gao Wan

Shortly after I obtained my driving licence, I faced a tough driving challenge. I was visiting a friend staying in Pasir Panjang, and had chosen to drive there via South Buona Vista Road. Friends forewarned me that it might be tough because the road, as legend had it, comprises 99 turns (or in Hokkien, gao chap gao wan).

Handling the many twists and turns, and keeping a constant lookout for oncoming vehicles, are among some of the challenges any driver would face while navigating this road. In short, it did not earn the moniker “99 turns” for nothing.

Ang Hin Kee: Gao Chap Gao Wan

NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Ang Hin Kee speaks on what training means to us and the importance of mind-set change to both employees and training providers (Photo Credit: NTUC This Week)

What Training Means To Us

We too, may face daunting trials in our careers which require us to know the lay of the land, to possess the right skills and if not, acquire them quickly to tackle challenges. This becomes more pertinent if we anticipate a downturn on the horizon. But far too often, we don’t necessarily think of re-skilling or even multi-skilling as ‘the’ way to stay employable or adaptable. In addition to the existing workload that we have to grapple with, signing up to attend training is probably not the first priority. Furthermore, there’s also the costs of training to contend with?

For a closer insight, I took to asking views from an expert. A freelance employability coach and instructor for about 10 years, Wing Sun, shared with me that his workshop attendees typically comprise two different groups.

The first group is generally fearful of the unknown, preferring to stick with that, which is familiar. Years back, I met a group of aunties working in a garment factory who lost their jobs. Their preference was to secure the same type of work and tap on existing skills. One even asked if arrangements could be made so that she could work with her former co-workers at a new job. At this point, perhaps you may start to form an opinion that these workers are just being choosy. The truth is, fear of the unknown is a tough hurdle for many to overcome.

A seasoned taxi driver, Simon, told me that it is actually easier to drive along South Buona Vista Road when it is dark. Apparently, the headlights from oncoming vehicles help enhance visibility on the roads, enabling the driver to see the bends ahead. Perhaps, what it takes for these job seekers to overcome the unknown, may be just that – for others to share their experience and to show the way ahead. I also met Theng Leng, who chose to return back to work. She summed up her experience in four short Mandarin words “峰回路转”, which means things will get better and new possibilities will emerge.

In contrast, the second group of workshop attendees are generally receptive and adaptable. Coaches like Wing Sun, love such participants in their classes. These job seekers come across as being hungrier for opportunities and chances to upgrade. Surely, it goes without saying that it is useful for the first group to learn from them too.

But hold that thought, that can’t be it.

Mind-set Change – Not Just Employees but also Training Providers

Just as different people are suited for different jobs, clearly what fits one may not fit another. Perhaps, what is needed is the right training environment and pedagogy to cater to different workers. A one-size-fits-all approach ignores the fact that workers come with different experiences, and in some cases, the training programme may be their first since they started work many years ago.

Often, we come across commentaries about workers needing to have the right mind-set, that more government funding is needed and for added assistance to be extended to companies to support training. Most of these commentaries are well-intended. But much can also be said about the mind-set towards workers attending training.

As mentioned earlier, we are naturally inclined to those who are receptive. I suggest that we will need to ensure that everyone is on board and not to brush aside those who come across as ‘choosy’. Training agencies will need to structure the content to meet trainees’ needs and to effectively reach out to long-term unemployed and retrenched workers. To this end, I welcome enhanced training grants by the Ministry of Manpower for workers, especially for mature workers and support for companies that want to create better careers.

More Support for Training Agencies Too

To make the support scheme more comprehensive, the Government can also consider granting more funding support for training agencies to develop new curriculum, co-invest in rolling out innovative approaches and enhance training support for training instructors and employability coaches. This will send a strong signal to training partners that we will complement their efforts and encourage more trainers such as Wing Sun to up their game. We can also consider roping in potential associate trainers like Theng Leng to step forward and play a role in coaching and supporting their peers.

It may be known as 99 turns in hokkien but in Italian, “Buona Vista” means lovely sight. For those of us who labour alongside our workers through the many twists and turns in their training and retraining journey, what lies ahead will doubtlessly be rewarding enough.


Ang Hin Kee

This is a post by National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Assistant Secretary-General Ang Hin Kee. Any extracts should be attributed back to the author. 18 March 2016. 

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