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Never too old for the crossroads

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ITE grads top cohort after taking career leaps to follow their passion

He had been done with school more than three decades ago, but in 2020, 50-year-old Desmond Ng decided to step into the classroom once more. 

Driven by his passion for caregiving and helping others, Mr Ng enrolled in ITE as a nursing student, where he found himself more than twice the age of most of his classmates. 

He also found that being older meant he had to work harder to learn and retain information than many of his classmates; he had to put in more hours to bridge the gaps in knowledge, having left school a long time ago. 

Overcoming the obstacles, Mr Ng, now 52, graduated with a National ITE Certificate in nursing earlier this year and was awarded the Ngee Ann Kongsi Gold Medal at the ITE Graduation Ceremony on Wednesday (July 27).

He is one of three recipients of the award, given to an ITE graduate from each of the three colleges for their excellent academic performance and active participation in co-curricular activities, as well as their contributions to their college. 

Mr Ng shared that he deeply enjoyed his time as a student and the opportunity to interact with students much younger to him. 

“Instead of asking me for my name, they will ask me how old I am,” he said with a smile.

“They would also ask me why I’m studying at this age, and I’ll tell them a bit more about my life.” 

He had once been a pastry chef for nine years before switching to an office job for the next 19 years. 

When his grandmother fell ill in 2019, he left his job and dedicated his time to taking care of her. 

Said Mr Ng: “I realised how much time I was spending at work, and how much I had neglected my family.”

During his daily hospital visits, Mr Ng noticed how the nurses would perform tasks such as cleaning up patients after they went to the toilet without complaint, while his own family members would grumble about having to do the same for his grandmother. 

Intrigued, Mr Ng asked the nurses about their jobs, and realised that they were fuelled by their passion for caregiving. As he spent much of his time there, he slowly learnt how to perform basic tasks like cleaning and feeding his grandmother – and eventually developed an interest for the nursing profession. 

He is now an enrolled nurse at Singapore General Hospital. 


For Mr Tan Wen Yao, 26, change is also a familiar friend. 

Upon completing his O levels, Mr Tan pursued studies in the marine offshore sector as he had heard it was a secure and well-paying industry. However, he quickly realised he had no interest in the field, and took a gap year to figure out what he really wanted to pursue. 

“I did not want to rush to study and start work without clarity,” he said. 

During his gap year, he worked in banquets and event management, where he discovered his passion for food. H

He eventually decided to study culinary arts through a traineeship offered by ITE while working five-day weeks at a local hotel. 

Despite a hectic schedule, Mr Tan embarked on an entrepreneurship project with his team in July 2021, setting up a stall at Timbre+.

Working on all aspects of the dining concept, the team managed finances and menus while adapting to changing Covid-19 curbs. 

As most of the office workers in the central business district around Timbre+ were working remotely at the time, the lunch crowd would be relatively small.

This however worsened when pandemic curbs became stricter, forcing the establishment to close off their side entrances and leave only the main entrance open. 

Business was heavily impacted, said Mr Tan, as the already small crowd became sparse. 

“This was the most disheartening period for us, because our income relied on the number of customers we got, and we still had to pay the utilities bill,” he said.

Despite the hardships, Mr Tan remains optimistic about his future in the industry. 

The demi chef de partie, who currently works at a local French restaurant, hopes to one day have his own cafe or restaurant. 

“I am young, and I will push myself to do more and cook more while I still can.” 

Institute of Technical Education (ITE)