Can 60-year-old intern cut it working for a lady boss half his age?
Semi-retired business coach, 60, takes on internship at local fashion site owned by entrepreneur, 27
In the new comedy The Intern, which opens here tomorrow, Robert De Niro plays retiree Ben Whittaker, a 70-year-old intern at an online fashion retail company founded and run by Anne Hathaway's character Jules Ostin, who is also a mother of one.
Ben, a former sales head for a phone book company, shares his wisdom with Jules and an unlikely friendship and mentorship develops between them.
It is a cute premise for a Hollywood movie, but what if the story played out in real life in Singapore?
To find out, we followed Mr Mok Tuck Sung, a 60-year-old semi-retired profit and loss improvement specialist and business coach, as he embarked on a full-day internship at local fashion site Ministry of Retail.
Founded by Ms Yvonne Tan, 27, the company has a staff of four: one full-timer and three part-timers.
The pair had met at a business course five years ago, but had never worked together.
The "experiment" lasted from 9am to 5pm last Friday at Ministry of Retail's office at the JTC LaunchPad @ one-north.
So is the old saying "It's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks" true?
Mr Mok arrived at the Ministry of Retail office slightly late, apologising profusely.
"I drove here early, but got caught in a jam in the carpark!"
Though it might not have been a great start to the day, Ms Tan cheerfully moved on.
She ushered Mr Mok to his desk, which had a MacBook laptop, and explained his duties for the day.
Mr Mok's first task for the day was to measure the new arrivals, noting down each garment's length, bust, waist and hip measurements.
While this sounded simple enough, Mr Mok's lack of fashion knowledge began to show.
"What's the difference between the waist and hips?" he asked.
Next up was checking stock arrivals against a stock list, with the pictures stored in a MacBook folder.
"Unlike Robert De Niro, I have no problems using a MacBook," Mr Mok remarked, referring to a scene in The Intern where Ben is stumped by his MacBook and needed help from his fellow (young) interns to turn it on.
Mr Mok sorted the new arrivals with one hand, while holding the MacBook with the other.
All went well, save for a couple of occasions when he accidentally closed the folder and needed Ms Tan's help to re-open it.
Mr Mok now faced his greatest challenge - ironing clothes with a garment steamer.
"I've never used one of these before," he said. "Do you have a traditional iron? I'm afraid of burning the clothes."
"I'm afraid we don't have another iron," said Ms Tan. "But I'll show you how to use this one."
Mr Mok struggled a little with the ironing, but managed to finish the batch just in time for lunch.
We walked to a nearby The Soup Spoon outlet at Fusionopolis.
The bosses - Ms Tan and Mr Vincent Goh, 34, her husband and Ministry of Retail business partner - were buying lunch today.
While they were chatting, Mr Mok received a phone call from his wife.
"I talk to her every day at this time," he said.
"She was very curious about where I was today, because it's unusual for me to leave the house in a suit. She even asked which company made me their CEO."
Back in the office, Ms Tan gave Mr Mok a fashion crash course, teaching him how to describe the garments' features.
"These are ruffles," she said, showing him a chiffon ruffled dress.
"Oh, Ruffles... like the chips?" he replied, causing Ms Tan to burst into laughter.
With his internship tasks done, it was Mr Mok's turn to dispense his wisdom as Ms Tan and Mr Goh consulted him for business advice.
Their primary concern was work-life balance, as the couple manage their business while bringing up two daughters, aged five and two.
Mr Mok, who has a 22-year-old son, talked about how to integrate their personal and professional commitments by prioritising family time.
He also spent the next few hours explaining his model for business management and basic business principles and how the couple could apply them.
As a cash flow and profit improvement specialist, he also advised them to show him their financial numbers so he could help them accordingly.
With the workday over, Mr Mok, who had clearly bonded with his employers, decided to continue his working relationship with Ms Tan and Mr Goh and will meet them for an hour a week, for a year, on a pro bono basis.
His only conditions? That they give a small percentage of their earnings to a children's charity and pay him whatever amount they were comfortable with at the end of the year.
"Thank you so much, that is so kind," Ms Tan said, visibly touched.
Mr Mok was handed a pay cheque for the day as a token of appreciation.
"I learnt a lot today," said Mr Mok. "Now I know where a woman's bust is on a dress. And I know how to use a garment steamer... when my wife finds out, she will definitely ask me to do the ironing at home."
He said: "Yvonne is a good boss and very patient. I admire her energy and drive.
"If I had any feedback, it would be that she could have given clearer instructions while explaining tasks to me. But overall, I enjoyed working with her."
"Senior internships are a good idea. It's important to keep active and stay up to date on the latest trends," he added.
"I think he did very well, especially for someone who doesn't have a fashion background," said Ms Tan.
"Of course he had trouble with ironing and folding clothes, but I didn't expect him to be really good at these things.
"He asked plenty of questions when he didn't understand, which shows he has good initiative.
"The best part of the day was learning from him how to manage our business and personal lives. And of course, he is very funny, too, which made it fun to work together."
While Ms Tan has previously hired a 22-year-old intern who was paid $8 an hour for similar tasks like ironing and photography, she said she has no issues hiring seniors.
"I have worked with my mother and aunt in this business and I see that seniors tend to be more meticulous.
"They also have plenty of experience, so we have a lot to learn from them."
Over 50? This programme has internships for you
KEEPING ACTIVE: Madam P. Indira Thevy, who took up an internship with Tea Ideas, said working has helped her to keep active. PHOTOS: PEOPLES' ASSOCIATION
EXPANDED WORLD: Madam Lok Kim Buay, who has never worked, said the internship has expanded her world. PHOTOS: PEOPLES' ASSOCIATION
While The Intern's premise of senior internships may sound far-fetched, the idea is actually happening off-screen.
There is, for instance, the People's Association's (PA) Golden Work initiative, which ties up with partners such as the Singapore Manufacturing Federation to offer internships and part-time work to people aged above 50.
The first internship programme under the Golden Work Series took place in July.
"The rollout of the Golden Work Series was yet another effort by the PA Senior Academy to meet the needs of seniors keen to pick up some relevant job-based skills, and engage in freelance or part-time work to earn some pocket money," Ms Tan Swee Leng, director of Lifeskills & Lifestyle for PA, told M.
She said that the average internship period is between two weeks and a month, depending on the nature of the job and industry.
Opportunities are available in industries like retail and F&B.
"Our partner companies have given positive feedback about the internship programme.
"They commented that the seniors are hard-working, meticulous and show a good attitude towards learning," she said.
When the Golden Works Series was introduced, there were seven companies offering 100 vacancies, including internships, for senior participants.
The part-time work included floral arrangement, hamper wrapping and product promotion during festive seasons.
In August, 10 more partner companies were introduced and there are now 200 vacancies.PA estimates that about 20 per cent will be filled by the end of the year.
One such senior internship was provided by local tea company Tea Ideas, which offered a Basic Tea Appreciation course before short-listing participants for an interview.
Participants who passed were offered an internship which taught skills like tea packing and sales.
Madam P. Indira Thevy, 63, who quit her job in technology diagnostics about six years ago due to health issues, is now enjoying working part-time for Tea Ideas.
She helps with sales and packing whenever there are company road shows.
"It's important at our age to keep active and social, as we can easily fall sick if we stay at home all the time," she said.
"I've made many friends here and my employers treat us very well."
Madam Lok Kim Buay, 56, also took on a three-week senior internship with Tea Ideas.
"Before this, I had never worked before as I was busy raising my four children," said Madam Lok, who has three daughters who are working and a son in national service.
"Working has expanded my world. I used to be very quiet, but after working in sales, I've become more chatty and comfortable talking to others."
Both women declined to reveal their internship pay, saying it was not a large amount but "enough" for them.
"Salary is not the most important thing. I enjoy the opportunity to learn new skills and make friends," said Madam Lok.
Seniors can register for the PA Senior Academy Golden Work Series courses at any of the 15 participating community clubs.
For more information, call 8344-4129 from Monday to Fridays, 9am to 6pm.
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