In the space of a year, Hyrulnizam Juma'at saw how fragile and unstable an S-League footballer's career can be.
He started last year on a high after signing for powerhouses Tampines Rovers as their first-choice goalkeeper, but all that came crashing down in February, when an MRI scan revealed a benign tumour in his right gluteal region. He spent six months out of the game after surgery.
Then, last November, the 28-year-old saw how a string of policy changes, such as an age restriction rule (which was eventually scrapped), Tanjong Pagar United sitting out this season and the merger of Hougang and Woodlands, led to the enforced retirement of his colleagues. That got him thinking of a Plan B after his playing days.
Said Hyrulnizam, who has a diploma in sports science from Republic Polytechnic: "A footballer's career is already short, and all these (the changes in the S-League) told me not to take anything for granted.
"It made me realise I must really prepare for life after football, and to have as many options as possible."
So, when a chance to take up a course at the Petrofac Training Institute came along, he grabbed the opportunity.
The custodian, who signed up for a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) certificate in process technology (chemical production) course in June, said: "This course is very hands-on, and working on machines is something I'm very interested in.
"I've always wanted to try something similar, but I didn't really know where to go until I heard about it from Hafiz (Osman, the Geylang International player)."
Lessons are conducted at the Economic Development Board-owned Chemical Process Technology Centre on Jurong Island.
At $11,648.10, the course fees are not cheap, but Singapore citizens and permanent residents get 90 per cent funding from the Government.
They can pay for the remaining 10 per cent using their Post-Secondary Education Account.
Currently, the Football Association of Singapore has in place a Career After Football (CAF) Project, which helps players find jobs with partners such as port operator PSA, SMRT, Courts and Great Eastern.
But former international Hafiz told The Straits Times in an earlier interview that he would prefer if the S-League organised courses for players to learn vocational skills instead of job placements. The 31-year-old defender was eventually approached by Petrofac's business development manager Tan Ghim Wee in March.
Besides Hyrulnizam, other S-League players who have also signed up for the course include Jufri Taha (Tampines), Anaz Hadee and Syed Thaha (both Geylang) and Fazli Ayob (Home United).
The eight-module, 26-day course is conducted both in classrooms and in the institute's live plant.
Students are trained to align valves, start up, monitor and shut down pumps, as well as rectify oil leakages and other common issues that crop up at a petrochemical plant.
Completing the course gives them a WSQ certificate, recognised by petrochemical companies in Singapore. According to Tan, around 70 per cent of its graduates from the past year found a job in the industry within four months of completing the course.
For Thaha, the opportunity to rise up to be a team leader or superintendent in a petrochemical plant makes the career an attractive one.
He said: "The chances for advancement in this job were part of the reason I signed up.
"It's something I can see myself doing long-term."
Said Tan: "From the feedback that we gathered, the footballers feel excited at the prospect of picking up specialised skills, being recognised for it, and also enjoy the hands-on nature of the job.
"It also helps that the petrochemical industry is pretty stable."
Tan hopes that the players' positive feedback on the course will convince the S-League to work with the institute to offer courses with lesson schedules that help the players juggle studies and football.
As for Hyrulnizam, whose wife gave birth in June to his first child, a boy, he is looking forward to a stable future career.
He said: "I just want to be able to take care of my family if I have to stop playing.
"As players we need to be prepared. We can't depend on the sport 100 per cent. We need to help ourselves."
This article was first published on July 30, 2015.
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