Career Coach Certification in Singapore: A Practitioner’s Journey (Part I)
13 December 2017 was a milestone for career development in Singapore. It was the first time the relevant national agency, Workforce Singapore-Career Practitioners Division (WSG-CPD), conducted a communication session for Career Practitioners (CPs) in Singapore.
It was a momentous event because they announced ambitious plans for CPs and new career credentials that were coming onstream in 2018. As I sat there amongst 100+ CPs in the auditorium at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar, with many more CPs online, it was a moment to savour. It was 18 years in the making as my mind drifted back to the year 2000. That year, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) started its first Careerlink centre at Havelock Road, the precursor to the posh modern career connect centres today.
To get the Career Consultants ready for the new generation one-stop career centres, they brought in Paul Stevens, the founder of Worklife, a renowned career development company in Australia, to run career coach certification programmes (CCC) for the career consultants at the Careerlink centre. I was fortunate to be one of the pioneers who was certified. Upon expiry of the Worklife licensing agreement, MOM did not continue because they had developed their own career processes.
In December 2001, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) signed a Memorandum of Understanding with 13 organisations to establish a Distributed CareerLink Network. Soon after, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA), a statutory board under MOM, was set up in 2003 to spearhead the efforts of the Careerlink Centres. Though MOM did not renew the Worklife licensing agreement, there was still interest in the Worklife CCC, because it was a new field. Worklife continued to offer the CCC to those who were keen.
Progressive organisations and individuals took the CCC to enhance their knowledge and professionalism in career development. Then 2008 came. It was a bad year for the Singapore economy. The world was embroiled in the global financial crisis, triggered by the US subprime mortgage crisis. The predecessor of the Employment & Employability Institute (e2i), a department from the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) called Employment & Employability Department, approached me to design a programme to train Employability Coaches.
This was to prepare for a possible onslaught of unemployment amongst Singaporeans as a consequence of the global financial crisis. I took up the challenge. With 21 years’ experience as a Senior Human Resource Professional and CP, I developed and conducted a 3-day Employability Coach Train-The-Trainer programme (EC-TTT) for a pilot group. It went very well. It prompted the then CEO of e2i to make the EC-TTT mandatory for all key employees of e2i. Over 3 years, I conducted 10 runs of EC-TTTs for e2i. I am glad the EC-TTTs contributed to equipping the Employability Coaches in assisting over 40,000 Singaporeans during the global financial crisis.
Thereafter, there was an attempt to formalise the EC-TTT as a Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) and an EC training validation process was started. In 2010, a progressive Polytechnic was looking for a Worklife-certified coach to train their staff, some of whom were previously certified by Worklife. Unfortunately, Worklife has ceased operations here. As the Polytechnic did not renew their agreement with Worklife, they were unable to continue using the proprietary Worklife materials.
However, they wanted a smooth transition and I won the deal. After 2 successful runs for the Polytechnic, an innocent question from a CCC participant got me thinking. She asked, “Han, is the CCC awarded or endorsed by any international professional body?” I was dumbstruck! It then dawned upon me that none of the CCCs in the market was “recognized by an international career development professional body”, including Worklife’s CCC. It was a Eureka moment! I realized that any organisation, private or public, can run CCCs and issue certificates.
The key question was what is the value of these certificates? The problem is exacerbated today because there are so many attractive sounding credentials, both online and offline, but they do not help much in your professional recognition and career progression. To test it out, simply google “career coach certification Singapore” and you will get a whole page of CCCs. The acid test is whether they are awarded or endorsed by an international career development professional body. If not, you better think twice.
You can get certified in a few days but to be competent is another story. Thus, if you are keen in a CCC, do your due diligence. Your only protection is “Caveat Emptor”, or let the buyer beware. The Quest for a “recognized” CCC became my mission. After an extensive search, I found a Credential called Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF) awarded by the Center for Credentialing & Education (CCE-US). To earn the GCDF, you must complete the Career Development Facilitator programme (CDF) by the National Career Development Association (NCDA, US).
NCDA, founded in 1913, is a premier professional body for career practitioners. NCDA’s CCC (CDF) is different because it is the Gold standard, backed by a rigorous curriculum. I was so excited that I flew to the USA and earned not only the CDF but also the CDF Instructor Certification. Arguably, I also became the 1st US GCDF in Singapore! With great excitement upon my return, I thought I could finally share a “recognized” CCC with local career practitioners after 10 long years (since 2000). The first agency that I contacted was WDA, since they were the ones that needed CCC.
Imagine my surprise when they told me that they were already running a pilot run of the NCDA CDF for selected WDA staff in Singapore! This was both good news and bad news. Good news because I was aligned with the national agency’s thinking on finding a “recognized” CCC. The bad news? I was not the first NCDA CDF Instructor. As an entrepreneur, I dug in. I did what I could to spread the importance of CDF training.
My breakthrough came in 2013 when I won a deal to train the Counsellors from the Guidance Branch in the Ministry of Education (MOE), the unit responsible for Education & Career Guidance (ECG) in Singapore Schools. At that time, there were only 2 CDF Instructors in Singapore. It was a defining moment for me because I realised that CDF training is much more than a CCC. It has the potential to change lives, for real!
The feedback from the WDA pilot runs of CDF was positive and they were exploring options to develop a local version of the CDF. The Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) also sounded me out on their plans to localize the CDF. To ensure I stay current, I went back to the USA in 2014 and got certified as a NCDA Master Trainer for CDF. I became the 1st Singaporean to be one of only 2 Master Trainers outside USA.
By then, I had built my name as the sole private provider of the NCDA CDF training in Singapore. In fact, 5 out of the 6 autonomous local universities sent their career advisors and coaches to my CDF training! At least eight directors & deputy directors of career services from the local autonomous universities were my proud CDFs! Unfortunately, good times don’t last.
In 2015, the Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) informed me that they have signed an agreement with CCE-US to bring the GCDF-SG programme to Singapore. The Advanced Certificate in Career Development Facilitation (ACCDF), a local version of the CDF training, was launched.
Upon completion of the ACCDF, graduands will earn 2 Certificates: ACCDF, a WSQ qualification and CCE Certificate of Competence (CCE COC) in career development facilitation It was to train ECG Counsellors from MOE to support the SkillsFuture movement and Career Coaches for WDA, amongst other things. Unfortunately, very few ACCDF graduands understood that the CCE COC is different from the actual GCDF Credential. The GCDF can only be earned upon meeting minimum education & experience standards.
I have seen ACCDF graduands putting GCDF behind their names in their Linkedin profiles when they have not even earned the Credential. Some even continued to use it when their GCDF credential has expired, which is quite sad for a professional. To kickstart the ACCDF, CCE-US sent over a master trainer and conducted a ACCDF Train-The-Trainer Programme (TTT) for a local cohort of instructors. Some were my CDF graduands. From what I heard, a few of the ACCDF-TTT graduands were appointed as master trainers. This meant they could train others to be instructors for the ACCDF. I was surprised by this expedient approach because I had to work hard to earn my NCDA CDF, NCDA CDF Instructor and then NCDA CDF Master Trainer Credentials.
The full programme fee for the ACCDF was more than $5,000. With 70% Government subsidy, the nett fee was only about $1,500+. This was great news for aspiring career practitioners but very bad news for my NCDA CDF training, because my training does not enjoy any Government subsidy!
A senior staff from a local autonomous university told me candidly that as much as they like my NCDA CDF training, they would go with the ACCDF for future CDF training because there was subsidy. It did not matter that their staff needed to take 18 days off work (15 days + 3 days assessment) to attend the ACCDF, compared to only 5 days off work for my 120-hr hybrid CDF training! If you do the math, the time cost from not working is already more than the Government subsidy! The IAL tried to reassure me that
I can continue with my NCDA CDF training as per normal, but I sensed the end is near. At that moment, I understood what many Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) felt. We wondered why the local Goliaths are overwhelming little Davids like us instead of competing internationally to build Singapore’s brand and enlarging the economic pie! I recalled speaking with a counterpart from ASEAN recently.
He told me that they plan to be the Career Development Hub of Asia with my help in training them to be GCDFs. The best part? They do not even have a single GCDF in their country yet! With this kind of big thinking, I have no doubt they will go far! The analogy is simple.
I worked hard to bring a unique US recipe to Singapore and started a burger stand. I had to do everything, from marketing to fill the classes, one participant at a time, and ensuring an awesome learning experience for the participants. Suddenly, a full-fledged burger restaurant opened next to mine, offering burgers at 70% off the retail price.
Honestly, how do you compete? If you were in my shoes, what would you do? Would you throw in the towel? I would love to hear your take and I look forward to sharing what I did in the concluding segment of Career Coach Certification in Singapore: A Practitioner’s Journey! #GCDF