Turning crisis into an opportunity: Ex-tour guide embarks on new role as an Assistant Teacher

Ms Ong assisting her fellow teachers by engaging children with stories from the Big Book.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Singapore last year, Ms Ong Lay Chern’s “break” from work turned into what seemed like a state of unemployment.

“We had initially thought it would be like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), and it would blow over in a couple of months. But by June or July, it had been months since I was out of work and no sign of the pandemic ending,” said Ms Ong.

The 57-year-old tour guide who had been in the industry for 25 years, had no other choice but to look for other temporary employment opportunities when the COVID-19 outbreak impacted the tourism industry last year.

To support affected Singaporeans from sectors hard-hit by the pandemic, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has worked closely with NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) and operators to create short-term Safe Management Assistant (SMA) roles – in support of the SGUnited Jobs and Skills efforts.

Ms Ong was amongst the affected Singaporeans who took up the role of a short-term SMA, where she was deployed at NTUC First Campus’ My First Skool to assist with the implementation of safe management measures.

“Before the COVID-19 outbreak, I used to greet tourists “good morning” every day. Now, I’m greeting the children and parents instead. Although it is of a different setting, my role now still requires my interpersonal skills and I have to be approachable as well.”

While the income she earns as an SMA is lesser than what she used to earn as a tour guide, Ms Ong felt that to her, the salary was a secondary consideration.

“Having a job allows one to stay active. When you have a job, life becomes more fulfilling too. It doesn’t matter where you are, you just need to have the right attitude. Of course, I also look forward to the day where the situation improves, where I can go back to being a tour guide,” she added

As of August 2020, more than 250 individuals have been placed into jobs as SMAs under this initiative.

During Ms Ong’s stint as an SMA from 24 August 2020 to 23 November 2020, she had the first-hand experience working in a preschool and found her interest in working more closely with children. One thing leads to another – Ms Ong has since started a new role as a contract Assistant Teacher from 15 February 2021, on a 6-month contract.

In her new role, Ms Ong was given the opportunity to directly nurture young children and see them grow, “When many of them came in, they couldn’t really speak, but over the months it’s been so rewarding to see them grow and now many of them can speak and call me by name.”

“Also, as an Assistant Teacher, I get to be softer with them and to chit chat with them more, so many of them come and find me to talk. We have become much closer, and I really love this part of the job,” Ms Ong added.

As the Chinese saying goes, 危机就是转机, the crisis has indeed turned into a new opportunity for Ms Ong!

Ms Ong now works at My First Skool at Blk 49 Whampoa South as an Assistant Teacher. She assists her fellow teachers in their daily programmes in and around the classrooms, facilitating the children’s learnings and managing their routine care.

More job opportunities in the Early Childhood sector

Besides allowing job seekers to be exposed to the pre-school education environment, the short-term position of the SMA may also open new possibilities of developing a career in the Early Childhood sector.

Job seekers who wish to join the sector as Early Childhood educators can pursue either a certificate or diploma in early childhood offered by the National Institute of Early Childhood Development (NIEC) or ECDA-accredited programmes conducted by Private Training Agencies.

Interested mid-career individuals may also join the Early Childhood sector through the Professional Conversion Programme for Preschool Teachers and the Place-and-Train Programme for Educarers to equip them with the necessary skills and ECDA-accredited qualifications.

e2i and NTUC First Campus will be collaborating on a walk-in recruitment drive for those interested in exploring the Early Childhood sector. Contract/relief Assistant Teacher positions will be available, as well as cook and cleaner vacancies.

Stay tuned to https://e2i.com.sg/events/ for more information on Early Childhood career opportunities!