The media published a news report yesterday highlighting some of the job struggles faced by middle-age Singaporeans but pointed out that the government is “sending more help” to assist them (‘The job struggles of some middle-age S’poreans, as Govt sends more help their way‘, 29 Feb).
One of the Singaporean PMETs (Professional, Managers, Executives and Technicians) interviewed by the media was Jeff (not his real name), 49. He became unemployed in October last year after he was retrenched from a multinational manufacturing company. While looking for a new job, he sent out over 500 job applications to numerous companies. So far, he has only received one response.
And this is even after he began applying for jobs that offered about $2,000 a month, which is about one third of his $5,900 monthly pay he got while working for the multinational company.
“I have worked for 26 years and so far I’ve only joined three companies. I’m not a job hopper, I’m not the kind to leave for higher pay… It’s very simple, I just need a job to move on with my life,” said Jeff, who is awaiting a second interview with the only company which got back to him.
Jeff needs to get a job soon because he has a wife, two children and his parents to support at home.
Retrenched Singaporean PMETs ended up driving Grab
Another PMET interviewed was Alan Lim, 52, who was retrenched by StarHub two years ago. In fact, Alan had been with Starhub for 2 decades and last held the position of senior account manager, drawing $10,000 a month.
He then went for a handful of interviews but continued to be rejected by companies. He has been told that he was too old and the salary he wanted was too high — even though he was asking for only $4,000 a month, a 60 per cent cut from his pay at StarHub.
Faced with multiple rejections, Alan ended up driving Grab instead. He said, “I didn’t want to waste too much of my time. I felt that it was better for me to focus on driving Grab because that’s the only way for (older workers) like us (to earn a living) and that is the only job that is suitable.”
He makes about $3,500 to $5,000 a month as Grab driver but needs to drive up to 10 hours a day. Of late, his earnings have fallen by about a third due to the current coronavirus outbreak.
A 54-year-old who wanted to be known only as Mr Low had a similar experience. He was working as a heavy lift specialist at a multinational logistics firm until he was retrenched in July last year. This was the second time he was retrenched in about three years.
He has since gone back to driving Grab. He had previously driven for Uber in 2016 after he was first retrenched from his job as a regional manager for a foreign logistics company.
“I was almost hired by (another logistics firm) but at the end of the day, they wanted to hire someone new, someone younger. The fact remains that (they think) a younger more energetic person will go the extra mile”, he said.
“So you may have the experience and you may have the skill sets but age still matters at the end of the day.”
Govt thinks retrenched Singaporeans don’t have relevant skills
But the government thinks these middle age Singaporeans who were retrenched and couldn’t get a job is because they do not have the relevant skills in today’s “knowledge-based economy”.
Earlier this month in Parliament, DPM Heng Swee Keat said, “Born in the 1960s or 1970s, they grew up in a time when our economy was just starting to take off. When they started work, it was normal, even celebrated, to stay with one job, in one company, for life.”
And added, “Some workers in their 40s and 50s have not seen any job or career changes since leaving school, or had the chance to upskill earlier. But they are now facing greater competition, from younger workers and workers overseas. I understand their anxiety.”
To help these workers, Heng recently announced a “SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package”. For example in one of the initiatives, employers who hire locals aged 40 and above through its reskilling programme will receive 20 per cent salary support for six months, capped at $6,000 in total.
It remains to be seen how effective the government’s “SkillsFuture” programmes would be in helping retrenched Singaporeans to get jobs.
Replaced by “foreign talent”
Still, not all retrenchments were caused by Singaporeans lacking of skill sets.
The media managed to interview 40-year-old Laura (not her real name) where educational qualifications or a lack of relevant skills had nothing to do with her losing her job.
She told the media that she was let go from an international finance firm earlier this year. In an effort to cut costs, the company had combined two roles and chose to replace her with a “foreign talent” who was brought over from another branch in the region – essentially an intra-company transferree.
When Laura asked her boss why she was not retained, he told her that he had evaluated both their performances and felt the “foreign talent” was a “better fit” for the company.
She said, “This is not a skill set issue. I agree that some local workers may need to do some re-skilling but that is not the case for me. It’s only fair that you look at my credentials, I have a Master’s in Accountancy.”
She has since complained to Manpower Ministry (MOM) and Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) about being discriminated by her company.
It’s not known what MOM would do since likely the ministry has already issued an Employment Pass (EP) for the foreigner taking over her place.
Number of foreign PMETs continues to rise
Meanwhile, at the Singapore Bicentennial Conference last October, the former Singapore’s UN Permanent Representative Professor Tommy Koh advised the 4th generation PAP leaders to look into allegations of discriminatory hiring practices and working to make Singapore a classless society.
“We should not abandon the displaced workers because we don’t want more and more Singaporeans to become Grab drivers or, worse, to join the ranks of the angry voters,” he said.
“Remember this: It was the angry voters who helped to elect President (Donald) Trump in the United States. It was the angry voters in the United Kingdom who voted to leave the European Union,” Prof Koh warned.
Indeed, the number of foreign PMETs (EP and S Pass holders) employed in Singapore continues to climb as shown by figures provided on MOM website.
And as long as MOM continues to issue work passes to planeloads of foreigners to work here, like in Laura case, no matter how one is skilled, he or she will continue to face job struggles in their own home country.