This week marks an exciting start to the end of my long term unemployment. As reported by Straits Times, IBM’s offering of i.am-vitalize under the banner of SGUnited Skills Programme, commenced on 21 Sep 2020, and I am one of the lucky ones who snagged a training place for the first cohort. However, this did not just happen overnight.
Coming Home to Joblessness
As my friends would know, I have been looking for jobs since I completed my certificate program in May. In fact, sensing that the Covid-19 would take a toil on the economy worldwide, I had commenced intensive job search since January. The journey henceforth was bleak, to say the least.
After returning to Singapore in July (and completed by 14-day quarantine), I quickly headed down to WSG’s Career Connect Centre at Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar. Over there, I had a chat with the Career Ambassador, who, on top of making an appointment for me to meet with a Career Coach, directed me to the SGUnited Skills Programme.
What IS SGUS?
According to SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG), the SGUnited Skills Programme is a 6 to 9 month long training programme with certifiable courses in in-demand skills areas. During the training, trainees would also receive an allowance of $1,200 a month. In this way, one could upskill in times of joblessness, while not having to worry about starving to death.
However, since the programmes are launched by various training providers, from universities to private schools, I had to scour the net to hunt these programmes down like a Pokemon catcher.
Post-Edit: I have wrote a post focusing on SGUS. Most of all, I created a table with a list of the Area of Training under SGUS, with the corresponding Training Providers.
There were a few programmes that I was interested in, like the programme by SMU that offered to prepare trainees to be ready for a post-pandemic world. I also looked at Temasek Polytechnic’s offering in tech-related programmes, since Software Development would also be one of the most in-demand skills in years to come. In fact, I was called up to attend an interview by TP, though there has been no news from them since then.
What really caught my attention was the programme offered by IBM. Called i.am-vitalize, trainees could choose to be trained in either of the 2 tracks, AI and Cybersecurity, over 6 months. Additionally, they offered an allowance of $1,500!
Now, that puts to death the worry about starving to death.
Preparation for i.am-vitalize
Like the other SGUS programmes that saw very high interest, there were also multiple hoops to jump through before one gets accepted in the i.am-vitalize SGUS programme.
First, there was the course preview, which was conducted over Zoom. Other than giving us more information about the programme, the organisers also answered queries by eager participants-to-be on areas like prerequisites, job prospects and suitability.
Called the IBM Trainee Profile Form attached to the application page, the questionnaire tested on basic understanding of using computers. Skills I think are equivalent to the Digital Skills Literacy – Basic level. I mean, you would really have to live in the 1990s if you can’t identify the USB ports!
Next comes the email to ask for payment. At $500 for a 6 month course, the government has really subsidised a great deal of the course fees! This could be paid via SkillsFuture Credit. For those who were like me – I had used up my credits for my Professional Certificate in Digital Marketing – we could use the next tranche of SkillsFuture Credit, due to be disbursed only in Oct 2020. They also accepted inter-bank transfers too.
SkillsFuture For The Digital Workplace (SFDW)
During the course preview, the organiser strongly recommended interested participants to sign up for IBM’s other course. Called “SkillsFuture For The Digital Workplace (SFDW)”, another course supported by SSG, it aims to equip learners with a basic understanding of technology and their application in the workplace.
One week before course commencement, my inbox came to life with a scurry of emails preparing us for the big day. One of the emails came to inform us to attend the orientation scheduled the Friday before the start date.
Over on Zoom, we had a last minute briefing on what was to come. The course schedule was released, together with the modes of delivery for each module. We also set up our computers to install the applications that we would be using.
Thoughts About The First Module
As of writing, we had already concluded the first module of the AI track. Being the first module to ease us into the whole programme, the content and delivery was easy and well-paced. This being an IBM course, we were introduced to the IBM Cloud platform, which hosted a slew of applications designed to take on AI projects heads on. There were also hands on lab sessions for us to try out these applications.
I mean, we were still on our first module, so we could only use these applications at a superficial level. We were told that the upcoming modules would focus on in-depth use of these applications.
Overview of i.am-vitalize SGUnited Skills Programme
For those who are more interested in the technical details of i.am-vitalize, here is what I understand so far as a trainee.
As mentioned, it is a 6 month programme with 2 tracks – AI and Cybersecurity. Trainees would receive $1,500/month throughout the duration of the programme. Currently, the courses are delivered online due to the pandemic situation. When the DORSCON level is eased, or when the situation allows, we would move to classroom training.
There is also a mix of learning activities. Other than instructor-led lectures and lab sessions, there is also allocated time for self study and project group discussions. That being said, we should expect to go through the training like we’re attending a full time course. That means we are not supposed to be holding full time jobs or working part time.
Due to the pandemic situation, all of the classes are conducted online via Zoom. Given that Singapore is easing into Phase 3 in the coming months, it is possible that classroom facilitation will resume in the later half of the programme. (Or the full duration for the programme, if the cohort starts after Phase 3)
As for the eligibility, I think the main website says it well. After all, they may also change the requirements in response to the Covid situation.
However, there are some nuances or ambiguous parts of the eligibility requirements.
i.am-vitalize is a full time training programme, so the classes are conducted Monday – Friday, 9am – 5.30pm. That being said, there are still pockets of “breaks”. For example, I had a one day break in between my first and second module. There were also “self study” and “project discussion” slots, where we need not have sessions with the instructor. While some people see that as a “break”, I would personally still make use of the time to catch up on the progress. After all, it’s a new skills area I’m training for!
N.B: I’m not uploading the full timetable here, since that is still IBM’s IP. Additionally, there may be variations between cohorts/classes, due to public holidays or availability of trainers.
The courses focus on tech heavy areas (AI and Cybersecurity), so it is quite important to have computers that can do more than carry out Zoom meetings for the whole day.
Specifically, we were told to have computers with minimum 8GB RAM. My laptop is 2 years old and meet the minimum requirements. However, it is definitely showing its age when trying to run the AI applications on top of running Zoom and keeping the PDF learner’s guide open. When I can afford it, I will definitely want to upgrade my machine!
The organisers were also being polite (and politically correct) by saying “using Apple products for this training is OK”. Why did I say they were being polite? Throughout my working life, the IBM machines I worked on never came installed with Mac OS. There were schools that tried to run MacOS on computers that were built for Windows and that was a disastrous experience.
I had even attended a Microsoft Excel course once and there were a few dudes who brought iPads (only) for the class.
Even though Apple is also a leader in the tech arena, the message here is about using the right tool for the right situation. I believe there will be training providers that conduct AI classes using Apple products. They will be more appropriate for those who can’t afford to switch machines due to a tight budget.
Search for suitable SGUS programmes on SSG’s training exchange:
Level of Computer Proficiency
One is expected to be familiar with “using a computer and a mouse”. Personally, I think anyone who went into the course with that bare minimum will soon be looking for a way out. To keep up with the content (and I’m saying this with having just gone through the first module), one needs also to have a good grasp of basic technology jargons and mainstream usage of technology.
That brings me to another question I heard during the course preview:
Should I Attend SkillsFuture For The Digital Workplace (SFDW) by IBM?
Initially, I thought this course is redundant for those who have been using computers for their work. But I was wrong. There were participants who were still overwhelmed by the content. As it seemed, “using computers in the workplace” is a very broad definition.
You need need not be like me to have been administrators of portals or enterprise programmes. If you had to go into the company software to change settings, troubleshoot IT issues for your colleagues (on an unofficial basis) or have been part of a committee to implement IT projects in the company, then you most likely have a basic to intermediate proficiency in Digital Literacy.
On the other hand, if you have been “using computers” to enter/amend data electronically, use emails only as communication, then you should definitely go through this course to prepare for the main programme.
Or, if you have recently created tickets to your IT department and the problem was something like “the program is not responding / the program hang”, then you should attend IBM’s SFDW.
Some people feel offended when I pointed out that their Digital Literacy skills were basic. They felt that since they had been “using computers at the workplace” (albeit doing data entry) for 20 years, they should be more than basic.
However, when it comes to improving oneself, I think it is important to put aside one’s ego and accept objective assessment of one’s skills. Recognising one’s shortcoming is a step towards preparing himself to take on the upcoming challenge. Going in unprepared is both unproductive and demoralising.
Therefore, when it comes to determining whether you have the right level of digital literacy to take on this programme, it’s better to be pragmatic. Even better, ask a close friend for advice! Use SSG’s Generic Skills and Competencies Framework to help in the process.
Anyways, IBM’s SFDW is only $10* after SSG subsidy!
*After SSG and NTUC subsidies.
Assuming you are an NTUC member, you would pay a total of $510 for both i.am-vitalise and IBM SFDW (see breakdown in table below). That being said, a non-NTUC member only needs to pay $40 more to attend both programmes.
I think this is a great steal. Especially when the fees for i.am-vitalise is so heavily subsidised by SSG.
|Breakdown||i.am-vitalise||SkillsFuture for Digital Workplace (SFDW)|
|After SSG Subsidy (incl. GST)||$500.00||$50.00|
|After NTUC Subsidy (incl. GST)||NA||$10.00|
What If I Find A Job?
This question popped out in all the sessions I attended before the course started. Securing a job is a happy problem for trainees. One would have to leave the course and stop receiving the monthly allowance after accepting a job offer. On the other hand, there would be a refund on the course fees, pro-rated.
However, given the prospect of securing a steady income, dropping out of course and losing the monthly allowance is really non-consequential.
I meant for this post to be a personal reflection of my journey on this programme. I hope to provide a first-person perspective for anyone who is considering taking up i.am-vitalize. While it is a good programme for one to switch to a career in AI or Cybersecurity, the learning curve will be less steep if one is already proficient in using computers.
To overcome that, IBM has an introductory course already in place. SkillsFuture For The Digital Workplace (SFDW) by IBM will help people be more acquainted with using technology to deliver business outcomes, beyond just simple data entry. That being said, I think there is still a need to brush up on computer usage skills prior to course commencement. If not, it would be really tough to catch up in class!
Hopefully, I can find time to pen down my thoughts on this journey for the next 6 months.
Till then, stay curious!
If you’re actively looking for a job, you can also make use of another government initiative, OpenCert. It can be found on the MySkillFuture portal, where you can send your prospective employers digital (and secure) copies of your academic qualifications and training certificates. Read more about OpenCert here!