James Hia at work
James Hia and his team
With 16 years in the media industry and hours spent behind the camera, it is unfathomable that cinematographer James Hia would need to go back to school to obtain a degree. His credentials speak for themselves: he’s worked on productions ranging from corporate videos, to live broadcasts and TV dramas. He’s also worked with established broadcaster MediaCorp.

Despite his successful career, James Hia has applied for the in the SkillsFuture Study Award (Media).

What would make a veteran freelancer want to go back to school? The answer lies in personal development, and lifelong learning to keep pace with the latest developments.

The cinematographer and the businessman

James is a freelancer, and that requires him to manage his business and run the operations of it, i.e. working behind the camera. But that’s how he likes it:

“I enjoy having the option to work on different projects, like TVCs, documentaries, TV series and feature films. If I were a full-time employee, my company would limit me to work on only the projects they take on.”

There’s the added benefit of having the flexibility to manage his own time.

Just like any other companies, James needs to focus on the long-term planning of his business. He is, after all, his own human resource and strategy director. A lot of thought goes into the process:

“As a self-employed person, I would treat myself as a business. Upskilling is a means to show more credibility as a business,” James says, “Managing the cost and time for upgrading is a very thought-out process for me. I had planned on furthering my education many years before, it was just a matter of putting aside the money, and committing to the time needed.”

The SkillsFuture Study Award (Media), which is intended to benefit this sort of continued education, came in especially handy.

“The way SkillsFuture Study Award (Media) lowers the cost of studying is extremely useful,” James says, “Because as a freelancer, time away from work means no income for us. So grants that assist with the fees are a great help.”

Thanks to the grants, James was able to embark on a full-time course, allowing him to commit whole-heartedly to his studies. “For me it was a matter of full commitment to the studies. I was ready to take a break from work, and concentrate on school. While I did get some pockets of free time to work, those occasional days were just a bonus.”

 James Hia at work
James Hia at work

James was quick to seize on the SkillsFuture Study Award (Media) opportunity, as he had planned to further his qualifications in Digital Media Design when he began his solo career: “Since I started freelancing, I’ve always wanted to improve and learn more constantly. So I already knew I wanted a degree, after my Diploma in Digital Media Design.” 

James feels that going back to school has helped augment his skill-sets that have been honed through years of on-the-job training. 

The key move in upgrading, James explains, is to find the courses that fill the gaps in your skillsets:

“I think it’s a matter of deciding which aspect you feel you’re lacking in. Years in the film industry have helped me tremendously in the technical aspect, but I’ve always needed to understand film from a more theoretical, conceptual perspective.”

Thanks to a deeper grasp of concept and theory, James is able to apply a different thought process to his work. And that will matter, for anyone in his line of work:

“Personally, for the media industry, whether it’s over the next 10 or 15 years, I feel it’s always about good content. That means good concept creation, along with great execution,” he says.

Besides the need to think different and develop unique content, one needs to keep pace with technology to stay current. There hasn’t been much change in skills demand”, he points out “But there is a change toward having to be very current, with the tech.” 

An example of this would be learning to use new video-editing software, or to use new functions available in more recent cameras. 

For others seeking to enter the same industry, James has the following advice:

“They will need full commitment. The media industry in Singapore is relatively small compared to our neighbouring countries, so there is a lot of competition. Especially as a freelancer. 
And perhaps it is not absolutely necessary to pick up these skills, but even so, I believe some business-oriented skills would be useful.”

About SkillsFuture Study Awards

The SkillsFuture Study Awards equip Singaporeans with the skills needed to benefit from quality jobs created by our economy. As Singapore continues our transition to an innovation-driven economy, new skills and competencies among Singaporeans will be in demand. Jobs are also evolving with new functions and existing ones requiring updated skillsets.

The SkillsFuture Study Awardsencourage Singaporeans to develop and deepen specialist skills needed by future economic growth sectors or in areas of demand. It also supports Singaporeans who already have deep specialist skills to develop other competencies.

This article is written by Ryan Ong and information is accurate as of 14 August 2019