“I’ve never envisioned my success being tied to having a degree. And I was learning so much more at work than I ever would have in a lecture theatre.”
Aaron’s story is one of the path less trodden – he has built his young but budding career on the personal belief that on-the-job skills, the right attitude, and a desire to learn are more important for his career than academic qualifications.
Which was why when his friend mentioned the Tangent programme to him, he was immediately taken by its philosophy: that recruitment should be “blind to educational pedigree, work experience, background, race and gender.” With Tangent, Aaron felt that he had finally found the perfect match for his career development journey.
Today, Aaron is currently pursuing a promising career with Dymon Asia, one of Singapore’s leading hedge fund firms. He’s the happiest he’s ever been, excited about the work he’s doing and picking up skills at breakneck speed. He attributes a significant part of his growth to the company’s culture, which is competitive yet supportive, and which prizes curiosity, diversity, street smarts, and EQ.
“Everyone is self-driven to be the best. I have benefitted so much from their collective experience and it has helped me grow and learn expeditiously as a result. I take my work performance as my way of being grateful and giving back to the firm.”
Great talent is worth the search
In an interview with the Straits Times, founder of Dymon Asia Danny Yong shared why it’s important for companies to sift through the haystack for hidden talent, with or without fancy degrees.
“Grades are not the best way to find traits like hunger, adaptability, resilience, and EQ,” says Yong. “We need to give street-smart and unconventional Singaporeans a chance too… Talent comes in all shapes and sizes.”
This philosophy led to Yong founding Tangent, a social enterprise which hopes to enlighten more companies to a better way of identifying and hiring talent, as opposed to just focusing on grades. His company Dymon Asia is one of many organisations which have taken part in a pilot programme with Tangent.
As part of the Tangent process, Aaron sat through a 2-hour long personality test meant to map out applicants’ character traits and match them to their “best fit” roles. His hunger for learning and keen interest in finance made him the perfect candidate for Dymon Asia. After several rounds of face-to-face interviews, he was offered an apprenticeship.
The Tangent programme is well-structured and looking to ensure that every apprentice is primed for success, and will receive tailored onboarding and hands-on learning under the direct mentorship of senior leaders. The hopeful end result is that the apprentice will thrive and build a confident career with the skills learnt.
Thus, backed by enlightened mentors and equally warm, supportive colleagues, Aaron completed his two months of onboarding training before embarking on 10 months of on-the-job training in the firm’s macro research arm. Following the conclusion of his year-long training, Aaron was moved to the data intelligence team on the equity side. There, he made use of the skills he had learnt to analyse how big data could be used to find solutions and optimise strategies for trading.
“I’m currently involved in something that has tremendous potential. I get really excited about this every single day,” he shares enthusiastically.
Redefining career success takes guts
The decision to forgo a university degree was not an easy one; familial pressure and societal conventions were some of the reasons Aaron felt conflicted about his decision to drop out of the academic race. After all, 50% of young Singaporeans today hold undergraduate degrees – but even they were facing difficulties finding employment upon graduation.
In the end, Aaron decided to stick to his gut that good work ethic, creative problem-solving skills, and willingness to learn on the job would add more value to himself as an employee than a paper qualification.
His choice to pursue an alternative career development route has paid off tremendously. But Aaron makes it clear that he’s not saying that getting a degree is a bad move, and acknowledges that the classroom can be a great place for picking up “hard skills” like math and computer science.
It was simply that the pursuit of paper qualifications didn’t fit into his own ambitions. In the end, he chose a path that would be better suited to his development instead, electing to focus on on-the-job learning, accumulating work experience over grades.
The underrated importance of constant upskilling
When asked what advice he would give to his younger self, Aaron says that he wished he had picked up a programming-related skills earlier. “Ten years ago, when I had just completed my ‘O’ Levels, I was quite oblivious to how rapidly industries were evolving in this new digital age,” he reflects.
“Developing a good base in programming skills requires you to think creatively, reverse engineer processes, and think about problems that might occur.”
Staying proactive in anticipation of future needs comes easily to Aaron. He spends a lot of his weekends taking up SkillsFuture courses and studying online. In particular, he has taken up Python coding lessons; allowing him to write a simple code to automate repetitive tasks at work, freeing up precious time. It’s a skill that keeps paying itself forward, and one that “adds to [his] productivity every day, permanently”.
And so, he wishes that more people would share his views on the importance of programming-related skills, even if they are not pursuing careers in technology-related fields.
“One thing I found severely lacking [in most working adults today] is that there was no advice given about how to transit,” he shares.
He refers to the tendency for people to stay in their comfort zone, thinking that mastering a single skill is enough to weather economic storms. With digital disruption and technological progress in the workplace, this is no longer the case. Complacency can prove dangerous and lead to obsolescence.
“In this day and age, [even for] regular people coming into the workforce, you need constant upskilling…especially when someone else comes in [with more tech skills] and does things a lot faster than you.”
The Investment Management Association of Singapore (IMAS) as well as various fund management institutions engaged by IBF have acknowledged this, and recognises that jobs in the financial sector will be significantly augmented by technology and digitalisation. But while some roles may be replaced, new roles are also being created, resulting in a multitude of opportunities for mid-career professionals to redefine their progression and pivot their career path. Tangent is perfect for such candidates, who may not have the exact paper qualifications, but who show keen interest, hunger to learn, and adaptability in the face of challenges. The programme is also supported under Workforce Singapore’s Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) administered by the Institute of Banking and Finance (IBF) as it provides mid-career individuals with the opportunity to be re-skilled and take on new careers in growth areas.
Aaron hopes that his experience can encourage more organisations to follow the same hiring philosophy as Tangent, whether the candidate is a younger professional like him or a more mature mid-career switcher looking to change tracks. “I feel that the Tangent programme has given me a fantastic opportunity to demonstrate that even in this day and age, the apprenticeship route can still be a viable option, and perhaps, a more effective way of hiring and retaining good employees in the long run.”
Click here to find out how Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP) can help you acquire new skills for your dream job.