I went from being COO to trainee amid COVID-19 and never looked back | SGInnovate

I went from being COO to trainee amid COVID-19 and never looked back

Monday, April 12, 2021

The writer, Mr Cheng Yi Chiao, said his move from being a chief operating officer to trainee raised eyebrows, and some friends teased him.

As jobs are a top concern for Singaporeans in the COVID-19 crisis, TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts from jobseekers in which they reflect on their experiences and what keeps them going.

In this instalment of Jobseekers’ Diaries, Mr Cheng Yi Chiao, 37, gives a glimpse into how he is not afraid to swim against the current and restart his career as a trainee in a new field, even though he has held top-ranking jobs in organisations.

The road less travelled is as exciting as it is daunting.

Since I graduated with a master’s degree a decade ago, I have had a penchant for adventures and this has shaped my eclectic career path.

I have held a range of jobs, from those at powerhouse firms such as IBM and KPMG to startups.

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I assumed the role of chief operating officer (COO) at an agricultural technology startup in Malaysia and signed the lease on a house in Johor.

But, as border restrictions kicked in, I made the difficult but necessary decision to resign from my job to be home with my wife and two young kids in Singapore.

I have no regrets leaving a C-suite role. During this downtime, I took the opportunity to diversify and sharpen my skills, first applying to work at fast-food chain McDonald’s.

From July to November last year, I worked as a service crew member for six days a week, eight hours a day. This was not easy — on top of the long hours, service crew often have to deal with impolite customers.

The role opened my eyes to the “gemba” aspect of lean manufacturing. Gemba is Japanese for “the actual place” — in other words, the place where real work and value are created. This is a concept that I have always been fascinated with, in theory. I learnt the value of taking a “gemba walk” with staff members, to get a more holistic understanding of the situation on the ground.

It was also at this time that I chanced on an advertisement for government-owned venture company SGInnovate’s PowerX Robotics programme, a traineeship that equips individuals with real-world skills for careers in “Deep Tech”.

Deep Tech startups are those relying on advanced scientific research. With my fascination for robots, I applied immediately.

At present, I am among SGInnovate’s first cohort of Robotics trainees. As part of the traineeship, I am undergoing a six-month attachment with Polybee, a Singapore Deep Tech startup building autonomous drones for precision pollination in indoor farming.

My move from COO to trainee raised eyebrows, and some friends teased me. Yet, as an advocate of upskilling, I have relished every day of the traineeship, where I learn about the robot operating system — a collection of software libraries and tools to build robotic applications.

The dots started to connect when I began my on-the-job training at Polybee. My role includes programming drones, which we hope would unlock greater opportunities for indoor-farming firms to grow a wider variety of crops locally.

It also allowed me to reconcile my new Robotics skills with my knowledge in agricultural technology while working and learning with my mentor, one of the founders. A mid-career switch, even to the Deep Tech space, is not as daunting as it seems.

Learning never stops. After this traineeship, I hope to pair my newfound engineering skills with the knowledge that I have amassed from various roles and industries this past decade.



Mr Cheng Yi Chiao, 37, held top leadership roles in various multinational corporations and startups. He is now a Robotics trainee.

Original article: TODAY Online

Topics: A.I., Cybersecurity, Deep Tech for Good, Startups, Talent, Others

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