For undergraduates, the last week of summer is the last opportunity to catch up on precious sleep before starting the new semester, which will undoubtedly be filled with late nights of studying and working on assignments, followed by waking up early for morning lectures.
The last thing we’d likely be thinking about is to (gasp) attend more classes. I surprised my friends and myself by spending three days of the last week of my summer holidays attending a course. As someone who used to cramp my university lessons to fit a 3-day timetable, attending this course was equivalent to an extra week in school.
As a former DollarsAndSense intern, I was given the opportunity to attend a masterclass on “Global E-Commerce Insights and the Future of E-Commerce” at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability (e2i). This course was jointly run by Alibaba Business School and NTUC LearningHub.
When I arrived at the course venue at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability, I noticed right away that my fellow course attendees were mostly working adults – which was obvious from the enthusiastic name card exchange as they greeted each other.
This should not come as a surprise, since NTUC LearningHub aims to help equip Singaporeans in the workforce with the skills needed by employers, and help employees stay relevant in “Industry 4.0” by upgrading to become a “Worker 4.0“.
In the first activity of the day, our first trainer Joseph got us to introduce ourselves. I learned that in our class, there was a mix of working professionals, aspiring entrepreneurs and even a retiree in his seventies. I wondered if a course which had such a targeted focus could to meet the expectations of such a diverse class.
In his introduction, Joseph gave an overview about what can we expect to learn at the end of the course. E-commerce, he said, has enabled B2B, B2C and even C2C marketing and transactions on a scale previously unimaginable. This is possible because of well-developed logistics, payments and cloud infrastructure.
Whether its new start-ups or established companies, unlocking the full potential of e-commerce requires a pool of highly-skilled workers who are well-versed with the latest concepts and tools. Our trainer promised that at the end of the course, we’ll learn how to adapt traditional businesses to embrace new opportunities brought by e-commerce, as well as how to begin an e-commerce business from scratch.
I was genuinely excited. Did the course live up to its promises? Here’s what I learned after three days.
My coursemates and I (front row, first from left).
Long-Term Partnerships Versus Short-Term Interests
In China, the business culture is still heavily dependent on the concept of guanxi, where personal relationships matter a lot in the business world where rule of law may not be practical to enforce or reliable enough to rely on.
In Singapore, clearly defined business laws and contracts are the foundation of business transactions. However, in China, requesting for an official contract for the first order is commonly viewed an insult, because it is seen as a lack of trust.
Understanding the different cultural nuances is important if you wish to do business overseas, such as reaching out to e-commerce customers or suppliers in China.
On the customer front, our second trainer Selena shared with us the importance of viewing customers as long-term relationships too, rather than one-off transactions. Given enough volume, complaints might be inevitable due to unforeseen circumstances or human error, they should be viewed as opportunities to build the brand’s value. When negative feedback is handled well, it is possible to turn an unhappy customer into a loyal customer.
Negative Feedback Isn’t Always Bad
Selena also shared with us the psychology of consumers: potential customers pay less attention to positive reviews, but actively seek for negative reviews of a product. Having zero negative reviews can raise red flags in the mind of consumers, who could be suspicious that all the reviews listed are fake.
When it comes to selling products or selling ourselves, we might be tempted to showcase only our very best side. However, the human brain naturally has a negativity bias, which means we are inclined to look out for faults in the things we buy and the people we talk to.
This means is that we need to talk about our own vulnerabilities to establish trust with the other party. When interviewers or potential business partners ask questions like “What is your greatest weakness?”, it isn’t necessarily to put you down or meant for you to present pseudo-weaknesses like “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist”.
Take the opportunity to show how self-aware you are and the genuine efforts you’re willing to take to improve yourself.
Always Measure And Test
As with every new product, you should always test the response of the market before placing large orders. You can try to negotiate for the best price while limiting potential losses by making a small order while sharing your vision for a long-term partnership.
To help business owners conduct comprehensive background checks on other business partners without spoiling the guanxi, data search platforms like TianYanCha (“SkyEye Search”) have become extremely popular in China, though it is inaccessible for overseas users.
If you’re looking to do business in China, you can use the platform and other means to verify the authenticity of your business partners before entering into a major agreement.
Rediscovering The Joy Of Learning
All in all, I felt that this workshop exceeded my expectations. I was initially concerned this was going to be similar to another of those ‘get-rich-quick’ seminars, however the trainers quickly dispelled that idea by sharing about their own arduous journeys when setting up their e-commerce businesses.
As a business undergraduate, I was familiar with some of the concepts introduced, but was impressed by the insights I gained about entrepreneurship and China’s business environment. For a working adult with minimal prior knowledge, courses like this is a great place to start.
While I might not be starting my own e-commerce business any time soon, this course has given me plenty of business wisdom, filled me with interesting ideas, and sparked my interest to continue to learn more on my own.
Being A Worker 4.0 In Industry 4.0
As mentioned earlier, this course is one of the many offered by NTUC LearningHub. Established in its current form in 2004, NTUC LearningHub is the largest continuing education centre in Singapore and is one of the social enterprises under NTUC. It aims to provide learning opportunities to enhance employability and create a better life for all working people – regardless of vocation or age.
Today, we are on the cusp of Industry 4.0, which is characterised by the interconnectedness of systems and and self-learning by advanced computer algorithms and self-learning by advanced computer algorithms.
Here’s an video that explains more about what it means to be a Worker 4.0:
Disruptive technologies will proliferate in today’s connected, globalised world, whether we like it or not. While Industry 4.0 disrupts existing workers, it also creates new job opportunities for those who are ready for it.
How can we become Workers 4.0 and equip ourselves with adaptive, technological and technical skills? How do we develop the mindset and agility to make the use of technology to be a writer 4.0, videographer 4.0, or entrepreneur 4.0?
Don’t Fret, Help Is Available
Recognising the fact that the best people to train workers in the skills required by the industry are those movers and shakers in the respective industries themselves, NTUC (together with tripartite partners) brings in relevant and timely training (like this Alibaba masterclass) to help Singaporeans be future-ready.
These courses designed to be bite-sized and some of them, like e2i’s ULeap, are even conducted online, allowing workers to upgrade and reskill without the opportunity cost of taking too much time off work.
There are also training subsidies provided through various grants, so most of us won’t be paying full sticker price for these courses. You can also make use of your SkillsFuture credits and NTUC’s UTAP funding, even earn Linkpoints for taking NTUC LearningHub courses (if you’re into reward schemes).
If you’re unsure about what courses you should be taking or the future direction of your career, career-planning resources such as NTUC’s Youth Career Network allow young working adults to be abreast of the industry trends and skills in demand.
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