Our employment landscape is evolving.
In the early 90s, professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) made up approximately 30 per cent of our workforce.
Today, that number has doubled.
A Double-edged Situation
While an increase in white-collar jobs indicates our nation’s shift away from manual labour towards more highly skilled tasks with higher average incomes, it brings about its own challenges.
Most notably, the average time it takes for a PMET to re-enter the labour market should they find themselves unemployed or retrenched.
This was something that former CIMB Vice President of Partnership & Strategic Alliance Koh Yeong-Ming found out when he received a retrenchment letter back in April 2021.
The 44-year-old father of three was unemployed for almost a year before securing his next role in March 2022.
“During the first three months, I was applying for jobs, but perhaps I was a bit laid back in my attempts,” he shared admittedly.
“After that, I got aggressive and basically left no stone unturned. I kept my options open, meaning I looked at areas not just within banking and finance. I looked at areas within FinTech, statutory boards, and SMEs. Anywhere where I felt that my skills could match the description of the role, I gave it a shot.”
At one point, Yeong-Ming shared that he sent over 400 job applications through LinkedIn. Still, only 10 turned into interviews, of which none bore fruit.
In terms of PMEs who go through retrenchment, he is not alone in his experience either.
Historically, PMEs usually experience more extended unemployment after being made redundant.
According to the Labour Market Report Second Quarter 2022, the re-entry rate of retrenched production/transport operators, cleaners and labourers six months after being retrenched was 83 per cent for the first quarter of 2022.
The re-entry rate for clerical, sales and service workers during the same period was 72.5 per cent, while PMETs showed the lowest rate of re-entry at 69 per cent.
A Change in Expectations
Why many PMEs, particularly more mature PMEs, face more difficulties in re-entering the job market could also be attributed to a change in employer expectations.
Yeong-Ming attributed his challenges to two main factors: his age and the eight years he clocked with his last company.
He recalled: “There was one interview where I sensed it was definitely because of my age. I was applying for a team leader role. At the end of the interview, the interviewer shared with me that for team leaders, they could get someone who was younger and not so highly paid.”
Even though he shared during the interview that he was open to salary negotiations, he was ultimately not accepted for the role.
As someone who used to run his team, he could understand why age sometimes plays a huge factor for certain organisations.
He shared: “When talking about client-facing roles, if I bring down my team of relationship managers to meet clients, I want them to see us as young, vibrant, and, you know, aggressive.”
But perhaps more surprising was when he shared that he was not considered for certain roles as he had stayed too long in his last job.
He explained: “Some interviewers said, ‘you have spent too much time in your previous role, and that actually hurt your chances of being hired.’
“I think for many of us, we belong to the generation whereby we feel the longer we stay with a company, the better. But that is no longer the case.
“Companies are now looking for people who are always moving, two to three years. Why? Because it shows that these people are still marketable, they are still hungry and can learn more new things.”
Support is Key
For many, long periods of unemployment also bring about episodes of self-doubt, and Yeong-Ming’s case was no exception.
Fortunately, he was given strong emotional support from his wife and parents during the 11 months he was home. He was also able to spend more time with his children.
Additionally, he shared that the support he received as a union member also played a part in securing his latest role.
They showed him how to improve his LinkedIn presence and that it was not enough to just update his profile on the site.
He said: “I have always maintained my LinkedIn account, but after e2i’s intervention, I realised that I needed to do more.
“Beyond having a profile, you must have activity on the platform. And it is not just about liking posts. You must also share content.”
They even showed him how to overcome interview scenarios such as those that faulted him for the duration of his last employment.
“That was when Joyce [an e2i career coach] rehearsed and explained that I must be able to take my resume and show how my roles have changed over the years,” he shared.
Today, Yeong-Ming is a business development associate director for a FinTech company – a role he secured back in March 2022.
NTUC Recognises that More Unemployment Support is Needed
Unemployment support, such as what Yeong-Ming received, is something that the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) continues to lobby for today.
In August 2021, a joint PME Taskforce – consisting of members from NTUC and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) – shared that it was looking to offer more support to PMEs.
Beyond ensuring more hiring opportunities for mature PMEs, it is also lobbying the Government to provide interim financial support to unemployed PMEs. This is to help tide them over the period they are in-between jobs.
While Yeong-Ming was able to get through his period of unemployment using his retrenchment package and savings, he agreed that such an initiative could prove helpful for many others who may not be as fortunate as he was.
For him, what is most important is the attitude a person can bring to an organisation.
On picking himself up after getting retrenched, he shared: “I feel attitude is more important than aptitude. So if PMEs are in this situation [unemployed], but they are aggressive, passionate, and want to learn new things, it will open more doors for them.
“Be ready to take on new things you never thought you could take on, and just try. Because if you never try, you will never know.”