Two years ago, Mr James Hong made a career switch that few would even contemplate. He went from being a personal banker of two years to taking care of aquariums at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS).
At that time, his only relevant experience was that he had worked part-time at Underwater World as a diver before. So he was paired up with a senior curator from abroad who had experience with renowned aquariums overseas, and dived alongside him for the first six months.
The 30-year-old was taught how to feed the fish, document their behaviour and maintain the water systems. Today, he leads a team of five aquarists, four of whom are local. They take care of all the exhibits at the SEA aquarium, including one of the world's largest viewing panels.
The programme is part of RWS' efforts to tackle the problem of attracting Singaporeans to niche jobs such as marine mammal specialists, aquarists and entertainers.
Foreign experts are brought in to train others and pass on the necessary skills that will eventually allow locals to lead their own teams.
"We will still see a tight labour market in Singapore," said Ms Teo Sio Hoon, vice-president of human resources and corporate communications at RWS.
"While we will continue in our efforts to attract locals to join us, we would still need to hire non-locals.
"This is especially important in jobs where there is a limited pool of locals with the appropriate skill sets, experience and expertise."
Four years after their opening, Singapore's two integrated resorts still face an uphill struggle in hiring Singaporeans and are turning to creative ways to attract them.
Singapore's other integrated resort, Marina Bay Sands, began a new programme for Institute of Technical Education students three months ago to "train the next generation of the local workforce".
Every week over two years, 16 students spend three days at the resort getting on-the-job training, such as on electrical and mechanical services and integrated building management systems, followed by two days in school.
"It's different than just reading about it," said 18-year-old Enoch Renesh Naidu, one of the trainees, who hopes to land a job with the resort. "Here, we run around servicing air-con, plumbing and fire-safety systems, and it's all very high-tech."
Since opening, the two integrated resorts have created 22,400 jobs so far. The resorts said the "majority" - 13,000 from RWS and 9,400 from Marina Bay Sands - have gone to locals, which include permanent residents.
RWS also said that eight in 10 of its 4,000 PME (professionals, managers and executives) jobs are filled by Singaporeans.
Job creation was cited as one key reason for allowing the resorts to open here, even as opponents decried the possible social fallout with the entry of casinos.
The resorts said that the bulk of their contracts are also awarded to local firms.
Marina Bay Sands awarded 92 per cent of their total procurement contracts to Singapore-based companies last year. Ninety per cent of RWS' spending went to Singapore small and medium-sized firms last year.
For Mr Hong, his interest in fish comes from having a mini aquarium at home since he was young. He joined RWS to pursue his passion further.
"Previously, these kinds of jobs only exist overseas but now Singaporeans have a wider range of options to pursue their passions," said Mr Hong.
This article was first published on May 25, 2014.
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