Ms Janet Tan, an operations assistant with SITA World Travel, has joined a four-month-long digital marketing course that will equip her with various skills to manage her company’s digital efforts.

The staff at SITA World Travel were looking forward to 2020, optimistic about the company’s growth in the new year.

But just as New Year celebrations settled down, a contagious virus that was making people really sick spread around the world. Countries started closing their borders and planes were grounded. Airports became ghost towns, and hotels were repurposed and used as quarantine centres or hospitals. Global travel was essentially shut down.

Just a few weeks later, the travel agency felt the impact of COVID-19 significantly—95% of its business was wiped out.

But instead of choosing to wait it out and see what happens, the company’s Executive Director James Tang, 49, decided to send his employees—and himself—back to school.

In March, operations assistant Janet Tan, 53, started the Digital Marketing Place-and-Train Programme. This four-month-long course that was developed by Workforce Singapore (WSG) in partnership with Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Business Management. It aims to help employers in the tourism sectors train and upskill existing workers to take on digital roles as businesses undergo digitalisation.

Some areas the course delves into include digital marketing strategy, social media marketing and crafting digital stories. These are skills that will help her as SITA World Travel looks to expand its presence online, especially on social media.

Ms Tan, who has worked in the travel industry for 20 years, says, “I knew nothing about digital marketing, but I thought it was a good opportunity to learn something new, especially since we have a lot of competition from online sources.”

She was excited to get started, but felt stressed as lessons went more in-depth. It was hard to keep up as she felt she did not have the relevant IT skills and found it difficult to come up with marketing ideas, such as ways to advertise a company on Facebook and create or share relevant content that would attract views.

“That part was tough for me as I have not done it before. I was also stressed about writing content. But I just needed to overcome (my doubts) and try my best,” says Ms Tan, whose day-to-day role at SITA World Travel involves administrative tasks like booking flights, preparing sales reports for sub-agents and arranging incentive trips for companies.

She also shared her concerns with her nephew, who assured her that he would help her if she had any technical issues. To get inspiration for ideas, she tapped on online marketing resources.

Ms Tan was excited to be part of the class, but was overwhelmed as the course went more in-depth. However she did her own research and got help from her nephew, which helped her feel more confident.

Despite the initial worry, Ms Tan powered through and is now putting the final touches on her last project, a digital marketing campaign based on what she has learnt. It must include a company introduction, a value proposition and a campaign theme, among other components.

Ms Tan logs on for her online class once a week. She is given time off from her daily duties to attend the full-day course, which runs from 9am to 5pm.

She was given time off from work to attend the course, which runs online once a week from 9am to 5pm.

Mr Tang decided to attend the course with Ms Tan so that he would be up-to-date with the potential resources available to lead the 59-year-old company into digitalisation. Knowing that Ms Tan might have some reservations about the course, he was also there to give her moral support.

While many fretted about the economic downturn, Mr Tang saw the downtime as an opportunity for the company to do something out of its comfort zone. “This digital wave is coming very fast, and if you’re not caught up, you will struggle. In order for SITA World Travel to survive, digitalisation is necessary. It’s the bare minimum.”

The Place-and-Train programme came at the right time, as it is designed to help companies get through the COVID-19 pandemic by helping Singaporean workers gain new skills and adapt to changing job demands.

When the travel industry eventually picks up momentum, Ms Tan hopes to be able to use her new skills to market SITA World Travel’s offerings better online.

Mr Tang and Ms Tan are already putting their newly acquired skills to use by jazzing up the content on SITA World Travel’s Facebook page. While it was registered in December 2018, a burst of activity only took place in March and April this year. They have been sharing information about up-and-coming destinations and links about travel updates from airlines. “The page has seen at least a 1000% increase in engagement,” says Mr Tang.

“We’re building the foundation now, so that our (potential) customers get to know us and what we are about. We won’t be starting from ground zero when the economy picks up again, which might be at the end of the year or even next year.”

Meanwhile, Ms Tan, who joined SITA World Travel a year ago, is inspired to go on more courses that will complement what she has learnt from the Digital Marketing Place-and-Train Programme.

She says, “I want to learn more skills. Not just for my job, but also for my own knowledge and to improve myself.”

Mid-career Singaporeans and jobseekers can access reskilling programmes under SSG and WSG to boost their employability. To support workers to get good jobs and protect livelihoods, the Government will ramp up career conversion programmes to more than 14,000 places.

Singaporeans aged 40 to 60 can also tap on their additional $1,000 SkillsFuture Credit to pick up new skills during this downtime, and be ready to take on new opportunities when the economy recovers. The new SGUnited Skills programme will also offer training opportunities for up to 30,000 jobseekers to enhance their employability.

The Government will also pay up to 40% salary support for up to six months, capped at $12,000 in total, to encourage employers to hire reskilled local jobseekers.

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