future proof

Lester Tan speaks with Celine Quek, VP and Head of HR, DHL Global Forwarding APAC; Rosalind Chaw, GM of Human Capital, Domino’s Pizza Singapore; and Yvonne Tan, HR Director, dentsu Singapore to find out if we should make use of graduate qualifications to future-proof our careers.

At a certain point in our professional career, we’re bound to feel like it's plateauing. To kickstart it again, we may think of signing up for an MBA programme—because should you have the resources and capability, why not? After speaking to three HR professionals, however, we understand just how important it is to think hard before making this decision.

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TL;DR – Three HR professionals share with Human Resources Online that there is essentially no silver bullet when it comes to future-proofing one’s career. As long as you’re focusing on developing your personal attributes and transferable skills, building up a unique portfolio of solid experiences and track record of delivering success and results, you’re on the right track.


Walk down Singapore’s central business district (CBD), and ask any professional you see this: “Do you hold a degree qualification, or more?”

We can guarantee the answer is a resounding yes.

However, our confidence comes not from gut feel, but from the numbers released by the Singapore Department of Statistics. According to its data, the percentage of graduates with a university degree—from the five autonomous universities in Singapore: NTU, NUS, SMU, SUTD, and SIT—has increased from 23.7% in 2010 to 32.4% in 2019.

If we add in a sixth, i.e. Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), and calculate it across more recent period of time, you can expect the numbers to be greater. If we were to include graduates from private and overseas universities, you can imagine how ubiquitous a degree is.

The point is: in today’s talent pool, almost every individual is well-equipped with a qualification. Naturally, it’s hard to stand out among your colleagues and peers.

No doubt, there are courses employees can enrol into to upskill themselves, as well as professional programmes such as Young Women's Leadership Connection (YWLC) employees can join to expand their networks beyond LinkedIn.

Is that enough to stand out, though?

A professional, from a music company, we spoke to on the ground claims that it isn’t. She proceeds to compare the situation with those living in Singapore’s economic counterpart, Mainland China. A New York Times article revealed that increasingly Chinese graduates are looking beyond a bachelor’s degree, thus China’s Ministry of Education is ready to meet the growing demand for MBA. Outside of Asian context, the same thing is happening in the United Kingdom (UK), as Guardian reports.

“It’s only necessary [to go for an MBA]—if we want to compete not just locally, but also globally,” she tells us.

Isn’t that a fairly huge decision to make considering it requires tremendous amount of time and resources?

The phrase “it’s only necessary” is what spurred us next to reach out to three HR professionals, to understand from the true industry experts’ perspective on the value of furthering one’s education qualifications.

Read on as three HR professionals share their thoughts.

Why do you want an MBA?

If you’ve read the Business Times article, ‘To MBA or not to MBA’, you’ll find that the professional we spoke to earlier in the story isn’t the only one resorting to MBA as a future-proofing method. There are many others.

So, we pose this question to the HR heads to get a sense of the situation.

Celine Quek, Vice President and Head of HR, DHL Global Forwarding Asia Pacific, replies: “An MBA programme may help one gain new knowledge on business topics that they might otherwise not gain exposure to in their current roles.

“With an MBA from top global institutions, it may provide unique networking opportunities that one would otherwise not have access to.”

Other reasons she highlights are how an MBA could serve as “a stepping stone” to get into another industry; especially when some top management positions view it as “a pre-requisite.”

“Candidates may feel that getting an MBA may allow them to stand out amongst their peers,” Rosalind Chaw, General Manager of Human Capital, Domino’s Pizza Singapore, eloquently puts.

Quek then highlights that “not all MBAs are created equal.”

She says, “If you are going to invest a significant amount of time, effort and financial resources in it, make sure that you are, first and foremost, doing it for the right reasons,” which she lists out as interest, self-improvement, planning a career switch, or seeking exposure to networking opportunities.

“There must be sufficient motivation because an MBA course at a distinguished university will not be an easy ride,” she reminds.

I don’t possess an MBA. Do you?

Looking at GMAC’s Corporate Survey 2020, it was revealed that corporate hirers value an MBA employee a lot, so much so they tend to have an upper hand when it comes to employment, or career progression.

How true is that report, at least in an Asian context?

Quek responds: “What weighs more in a recruitment decision is the candidate’s track record, experience, personal attributes, and testimonials from other senior leaders or reliable third parties.

“High-potential employees are identified based on their work performance and personal attributes, while senior managers and leaders are often selected based on the results they have proven to deliver and, of course, personal gravitas.

“Most of the hiring managers I know in DHL value a candidate’s work experience and leadership style more than mere academic qualifications.”

Chaw agrees: “It is not the key deciding factor as there are a lot more considerations when assessing whether a candidate is suitable for the role during the interview process.

“As a HR professional, attitude and experience are the top qualities I value in a candidate during the interview process.”

The HR heads have spoken. Through HRO’s straw poll, it’s fairly safe to say that most corporate hirers look beyond just academic qualifications to determine more of a culture fit.

An MBA can fast-track my career into the C-suite, can’t it?

Jumping into this question is Yvonne Tan, HR Director, dentsu Singapore.

“MBAs provide fertile ground for holistic and rounded training for professionals who are keen on climbing the corporate ladder. They do support a fast-track to C-suite opportunities albeit they do not guarantee it,” Tan says.

Quek backs Tan’s point. “An MBA degree alone does not propel or fast-track someone into the C-suite - it is far more critical that one possesses all the essential skills and attributes that fulfil the requirements of a C-suite role.”

Chaw, however, believes we should think hard if we’re ready to put on the C-suite hat. Because, at times, employees tend to bite more than they can chew; donning the ‘C-suit’ is no easy feat.

“Being a C-suite executive requires tenacity to respond to business challenges, and the capacity to manage through adversity.

“With the outbreak of COVID-19 in particular, substantial industry disruptions are further accelerated and require experience to manage or respond to – something that case studies in business school education may not be able to fully prepare you for,” she cautions.

Note to self: There’s no silver bullet

If there’s one takeaway the HR professionals want you to have from this interview, it is that when it comes to future-proofing a career, MBA or not, there’s no silver bullet. Furthermore, employers are increasingly looking at talents who possess soft skills, such as resilience, adaptability, creativity, and originality.

Quek concurs this observation.

“An MBA on its own is not a silver bullet to future-proofing anyone’s career. It may enhance one’s qualifications, but it does not replace the other critical factors that are always considered in a recruitment or promotion decision.

“I would suggest that the best and most effective way to future-proof your career is to ensure that you continually work on developing your personal attributes and transferable skills, building up a unique portfolio of solid experiences and track record of delivering success and results,” Quek reckons.

Tan adds: “I see key tenets of future careers to include client centricity and human attributes that complement machine learning.

“As businesses strive to survive competition of the future, its ability to stay laser-focused on client needs is critical and this will be fuelled by a talent community anchored on a culture of client centricity.

“Employees who are passionate about adding value to clients will remain relevant in the marketplace and be highly sought after.”

Tan shares that she’s also fairly certain if employees make use of their “more human” attributes—think empathy, resilience, emotional connect, gut feel—and leverage on today’s AI and technology, they will stand out from the rest.

As the interview reaches its closure, Quek leaves us with something to keep in mind.

“The world is constantly evolving, as are our lives and the world of work.

“The factors that could attribute to the success of one’s career versus another is wholly dependent on the circumstance, the opportunities made available and critically, the attitude, qualifications and aptitude of any given individual.

“It used to be that a university degree was viewed as a ticket to a good job and career but this is no longer true in today’s context.”

"I believe that to stay relevant and future-proof one’s career, it is essential to be creative, adaptable and willing to get out of one’s comfort zone to embark on a lifelong journey of continuous learning.”

An apt reminder for all of us as we prepare for the future of work.


If you enjoy this content, check out another one of our interview with Syngenta about diversity, equity, and inclusion.

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