17 June 2021 — These days, the ability to deal with change and the unexpected is a key survival skill. Just a few short weeks ago, Wendi Cai, Jonathan Chiang and Addison Bain from the inaugural cohort of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Master of Science in Industry 4.0 (MSc in I4.0) programme were preparing to receive their degree scrolls on a stage. Then, a wave of COVID-19 cases were detected across Singapore. The graduation ceremony had to go virtual. The development may have been disappointing, but change is nothing new to this trio.
Wendi Cai saw the importance of the transformations being wrought by Industry 4.0.
Foresight is needed to grow and advance.
Instead of shrinking away from the unknown, Wendi was thrilled to be able to try out things that were not among her existing strengths. The programme introduced her to myriad different courses and concepts, besides offering exposure to different industries and technologies.
Through that, she had many opportunities to explore and to try looking at things from different angles.
“Some things may seem difficult at first glance,” she noted, “but they can become easier to deal with if we break them down into smaller steps, and take one step at a time—just like change.”
Like Wendi, Jonathan enrolled in the same NUS MSc in I4.0 cohort with change in mind, although he was thinking about it on a more personal level. Having worked as a firmware engineer developing embedded products in the consumer space since he earned his Electrical and Electronic Engineering undergraduate degree, Jonathan wanted to upskill himself with a Master's degree.
Jonathan Chiang hoped the MSc in I4.0 would facilitate a career switch.
Another graduating MSc I4.0 student, Addison, shared similar sentiments. Addison, who holds an NUS Bachelor of Engineering (Industrial and Systems Engineering) degree, has worked in both the public and private sectors, gaining exposure to across a range of different business operations including manufacturing, supply chain and quality assurance.
“Throughout my career, I have been a strong advocate for using technology to improve productivity and enhance the value proposition of businesses,” he said. “I felt that enrolling in a technology-centric programme would open up more doors for me to transition my career into the fast-growing infocomm technology (ICT) sector.”
The MSc in I4.0 programme was his first choice as it aligned with his beliefs—but that was only one of the reasons why he decided to take it up.
“The multidisciplinary nature of the programme was the biggest pull factor,” Addison revealed, “It would enable me to develop a broad understanding of the latest technological trends and keep pace with the changing nature of industries in an age of disruption.”
Addision Bain chose the NUS MSc in I4.0 mainly because it was a multidisciplinary programme.
When Wendi, Jonathan and Addison started the MSc in I4.0 programme, the trio probably did not expect to experience that disruption first-hand.
A blast from the past, showing the early days of the inaugural cohort of the MSc in I4.0 programme.
“When Covid-19 hit,” Jonathan observed, “we all had to quickly adapt to learning in an online environment through video conferences and lectures, which is a timely reminder that things we take for granted are never so certain in a rapidly-changing world.”
Addison added, “During the circuit-breaker period, all face-to-face classes were converted to e-learning. The lecturers conducted lessons on Zoom and used polls and quizzes to keep students engaged. More importantly, as students, we were able to take charge of our own learning journey, such as presenting case studies to fellow students and sharing knowledge about interesting technologies and use cases.”
“Despite transiting to a full online learning model and not physically seeing one another,” he shared, “I believe we were able to achieve learning outcomes that were as robust as if we had all attended classes in-person.”
Getting ahead in the era of I4.0 means being able to draw ideas across multiple disciplines.
Graduation is a time to celebrate achievements and to look towards the future.
So, now that they are graduating, what do they see on the horizon?
“I would like to settle down and get used to working life,” Wendi, who has secured a product management role in a financial technology company, mused. “Maybe I will pursue another formal qualification in five-to-seven years, as I believe that a systematic approach to education with hand-on projects still has its place, compared to taking short courses.”
Jonathan and Addison meanwhile have both made a switch in their careers. Jonathan is now a Cybersecurity Researcher, and Addison is a Technology Consultant.
Prompted to provide more details about what his new job entails, Jonathan explained, “I conduct vulnerability assessments and security audits on both software and hardware for defensive purposes.”
“This field is still very new to me,” he shared. “I plan to continue self-learning and take up relevant certifications to bolster my knowledge through hands-on application.”
After thinking for a moment, he went on, “The practical component of the MSc in I4.0 programme required me to balance the workload and availability between team members in many of the projects we worked on. This helped me to develop project management and scheduling skills, which I think are always applicable to the real working world.”
Addison too appreciated the MSc in I4.0 programme’s practical aspect. “As part of the Industry Consulting and Application Project, I had the opportunity to work in the area of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) by helping the sponsoring company identify suitable supply chain business processes for automation. This allowed me to hone my skills in automation discovery, process design and RPA implementation, and prepared me for my new role in technology consulting.”
“The programme coursework also gave me valuable hands-on exposure to data visualisation tools (e.g. Tableau) and cloud services (e.g. Azure), and therefore laid a good technical foundation for my current work," he noted.
Success in the modern workplace (and the workplace of the future) depends on being able to bring together the right set of competencies to meet an organisation's business needs.
Certainly, the trio are confident that the suite of valuable skills and knowledge acquired through their time in the programme will serve them well in the foreseeable future—in terms of both the hard technical competencies, and the soft personal proficiencies.
Wendi’s opinion about what has changed for her since completing the programme is that she is now more accepting of change. “I am more confident and less resistant when I have to walk out of my comfort zone.”
Jonathan agreed, noting, “I have learned to be constantly adaptable and flexible in who I work with and what I work on, as what may be de facto today can quickly become obsolete and change in the future.”
Change can come unexpectedly and is sometimes scary, but as the trio have shown, it can be mastered with resilience and an open mind—and maybe an NUS MSc in I4.0 degree in hand.