Decided to write again today after a long hiatus “because elections are coming”! Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing is also making a speech on “Making a Living in a COVID-19 World” later today on national TV. Interesting topic, so I thought I would write something to make sense of the current unemployment/ lay-offs situation in Singapore, and pen down some personal takeaways that I feel that jobseekers can consider.
This COVID-19 period is a great time to be introspective. As Singaporeans, more societal discourse is good for us to collectively decide if we want to vote for change as Singaporeans. If you have any other data on unemployment or layoff rates in Singapore, please feel free to email me or share in the comments.
If You Are Currently Unemployed In Singapore…
Here are some statistics and forecasts on unemployment rates and lay-offs forecasts that I found:
- In an Apr 6 note, Maybank economists Chua Hak Bin and Lee Ju Ye predicted 150,000 to 200,000 job losses in Singapore in 2020, even with the various Government packages. This forecast is then used again in the later report on June 12 that “predicts that Singapore could see between 150,000 to 200,000 job losses this year”.
- One other forecast on April 28: Singapore lay-offs may hit 100,000 in 2020, with unemployment at 4-5%
- On 11 June, SCMP reports that “Foreign workers are expected to bear the brunt of the 200,000 redundancies economists forecast will be made in the city state by the end of the year“. This is the same “200,000” forecast made by the Maybank economists in the April 6 note.
Now this is the interesting part to the SCMP article– and I quote–
“Expatriates are expected to bear the brunt of the lay-offs – accounting for about 60 per cent, according to Maybank Kim Eng economist Lee Ju Ye – as Singapore’s government scrambles to save jobs for locals. So far, the government has made four fiscal injections totalling almost S$100 billion, including a Job Support Scheme subsidising 25 to 75 per cent of the first $4,600 in wages for 10 months – but this plan is only open to citizens and permanent residents of the city state.”
Now, if 60% of 200,000 forecast lay-offs involve expats, then 40% of 200,000 = 80,000 involves local residents, defined as Singaporeans and PR. So I did more calculations:
- As of 2019, the total number of Singaporeans is 3.5million and the total number of PRs is 525,300. The total number of local residents is 4.03million. So the 2020 forecast lay-off rate for local residents is 80,000/4,026,300 = 1.987%
In other words, this means for every 100 local residents we meet, approximately 2 would have lost their jobs most likely due to COVID-19 this year. Now, this does not mean the unemployed amongst local residents is two out of 100. There were people who were already unemployed prior to COVID-19, because unemployment in our SG economy was “at the all time high” in Q3 last year at 2.3%.
According to MOM, the official average annual number of people unemployed is 83,700 in 2019. And from Trading Economics we see that this “unemployed” number has been steadily increasing in the past three quarters. So COVID-19 would be likely to add 150,000 to 200,000 to this number by the end of 2020.
- As of 2019, the total number of foreigners is 1.6774million. So the 2020 forecast lay-off rate amongst foreigners is 120,000/1,677,400= 7.1539%
This means that for every 100 foreigners, approximately 7 would have lost their jobs this year. And then probably as the article mentioned, these 7 out of 100 foreigners probably would have to leave Singapore. However, note that there are still 93 foreigners out of the 100 who would have kept their jobs. So I personally don’t think it’s that bad for foreigners– it would have been worse in other countries as a non-local- plenty of statistics to prove that!!
And…SGD$6,000 a month as not enough for a foreign household of four in Singapore? Okay lah, Singapore is not good enough for you. Literally CB sia. To be fair though, SCMP probably just wants to shit-stir sometimes for views, because more eyeballs is good for their advertising revenue yeah?
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers for local residents. Who are these two out of the 100 who most likely lost their jobs due to COVID-19 this year, and have a high probability of not being able to find a job soon? To me, it is likely that the majority of this 80,000 lay-offs are above 40 years-old, who are not currently in the tech or healthcare industry.
The reason is simple: The above 40s are likely to draw way higher salaries than people in their 20s. All else being equal, employers who are currently hiring (aka in tech or health industries) are more likely to (i) hire people who have had at least some positive full-time experience in the healthcare/ tech space, and (ii) opt for cheaper labour.
“Wisdom At Work” by Chip Conley
Because there are no clear statistics on this age group, I went to some webinars to get answers, and there was one recent webinar by Elena Chow on how to enter the tech industry without tech experience. In this webinar, the other panelist Kenny Lew referred to this book “Wisdom at Work” by Chip Conley, so I went to download the book. And eventually I got so curious about this guy that I watched him on youtube:
The google talk was interesting! Chip Conley defined “mid-life” liberally as the age group between 35-65. And he talks about how mid-lifers can repurpose their experience to suit the modern job-market. Most importantly, he speaks about new models of learning, living and working in the current age of disruption/ digital transformation, because older linear models of “school >> work >> retirement” is now outdated.
I encourage you to read his book/ watch the above video for more nuggets of wisdom!
Will “Just” Upskilling Work?
There has been a lot of calls by various stakeholders to “upskill employees” recently in the mainstream media. (Check here, here, here and here). This might give the impression that “just” upskilling will necessarily work, because not all unemployed people will opt to upskill.
Of course “just” upskilling will not work– yet this seems like a narrative that some official institutions choose to take! “Just upskill and you’ll be fine” is quite BS in my opinion. It makes me angry even, because this seems to give a sense of false hope to jobseekers.
Upskilling will definitely help employment prospects, BUT IF the job: applicants ratio is indeed 400:1200 as mentioned by Elena Chow specific to early stage startups, according to statistics from a crowdsourced early stage startup document, then surely additional steps are needed. Also, the job market is likely to get worse, not better– because this is just Q1 and Q2 ‘2020 statistics.
“Just” upskilling is NOT sufficient. Jobseekers still have to do their best to communicate the value of their skill-sets to the business model of the company they are applying for. At least this is what I would do if I were in their shoes today.
This means to make the argument that if a company hires you, it will most likely add a certain percentage to their bottom line. A knowledge of the particular company’s business model and sense of financial sheet is therefore essential to even begin that conversation. At the end of the day, it is hard to argue against a proven track record and solid financials/ numbers you can bring to the table.
Also, it might be wise to get LinkedIn testimonials from your previous employers. Request for them to highlight the value you brought to the respective organisations in previous years.
On a sidenote, don’t we all feel relieved that SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam is heading the National Job Council to create 100,000 jobs in the upcoming days? I definitely am relieved that the government is putting a strong leader to such an important area! While I have my reservations of the quality of most of the 100,000 jobs, it is definitely a great start as compared to nothing.
3 Take-aways For Job-Seekers In a COVID-19 World
>Takeaway #1: Put your mental and physical health as first priority
Okay this is potentially the hardest to do, so let me elaborate.
You’ll always want to be the best version of yourself to get a job. Having a current cash-flow crunch and many worries about the future might bring out the desperate version of yourself. So it is important to always put your mental and physical health as first priority, because you still want to move closer to your natural/ best self every day.
Job-seeking in a COVID-19 world is not going to be easy, because changes are happening everyday. These changes are on all levels: International, national, changes in consumer behavior, changes in environment, etc. It’s tough to always be in the fight-or-flight mode most of the time, or to have to continually worry about cashflow.
Therefore, it might be wise to be aware of what you can control, and what you cannot control. It might also be wise to restrict negative self-talk, even though it is very difficult. Sometimes, we might blame ourselves for these unfortunate circumstances. Here, I recommend a book “Positive Intelligence” which talks about the many saboteurs we have which might jeopardise our recovery in a difficult situation. Read it!
Interestingly, some people– especially your creditors if you borrow money– might even judge you for taking good care of yourself! The argument goes like “On debt and can still eat good food?” or “On debt and can still afford to dress well?” Well, just ignore such people. If eating good food and dressing well daily makes you feel better about your situation and gives you energy to deal with problems, then go ahead to enjoy.
(A sidenote: One thing I realised about lending people money is precisely this– If you cannot treat the money as a donation, then it is best not to lend money at all. As human beings, creditors tend to judge how debtors spend their money, and rightly so even. Lending money is one of the surest ways of spoiling relationships. It is actually not a bad thing if a job-seeker spends money on himself/herself as a form of self-care– so there is conflict of interest from the start)
The key is to be aware and be in a good state to deal with potential problems and issues head-on. Be your own best friend and be kind to yourself!
>Takeaway #2: Have a game plan of where you want to go
If you are recently unemployed, you probably need to have a game plan of where you want to go. It might be tempting to “just get any job” to tide over the cashflow crunch– and even if you choose to do that, you still eventually need to have a game plan for the longer term.
Resist the urge to be mindlessly busy as a means of distraction. Sometimes, desperate people want to be busy and do many things at one shot because they want to feel in control, and that they are progressing. I have been like that once, and it’s hardly healthy.
There is one red flag I’ve noticed amongst acquaintances who are current job-seekers– they love using the term “network” to make them feel that they have a productive day. The truth is that if you don’t have a game plan of where you are going, no amount of networking will help, unless you are exploring options at the initial stage. (It’s good to explore btw)
The main point is that it is not “network” that is enough: It is straight access to C-levels that will get you the job. The C-level folks have to personally like and trust you enough to give you that chance. So if you are networking with people at PMET or junior levels, it is not helpful AT ALL. You might as well use the time to do self-care.
So please do have a game plan of where you want to go. Think about your likes, dislikes, past value-add to companies and what you can bring to the table to future companies. Think a little longer-term: Write a direction for yourself, and do some introspection 🙂
>Takeaway #3: Do your best to make people feel that you are NOT making use of them
This is the flipside of the coin to Tip #1, and might be very difficult to do, especially when one is desperate and stressed. Awareness is key. Remember that it is the natural, non-stressed version of yourself that makes people want to help you, and it is the best version of yourself that makes people want to hire you.
BUT it is the desperate, stressed version of yourself that makes people cautious about giving you a chance. Sometimes, you might not even be aware of the behaviour coming from this stressed version of yourself. And most people will not tell you if they have experienced it prior, because they sense the risk and are likely to choose to distance themselves.
Think of it like a pet hamster. When a hamster is well-fed and happy, it’s cute most of the time and people just love holding and caring for it out of their own will and volition. However, when the hamster is stressed and hungry, it might very well just bite the hand that feeds it. If it ever does so, then people might feel contempt and not want to go near it anymore, even though it’s cute and loving in normal circumstances.
I had two jobseekers come to me with the expectation to introduce them to my blockchain network even though they did not have anything concrete to value-add to the hiring organisation, due to a lack of prior significant experience in this space. I said I would consider if I ever saw a future value-add as most likely they wouldn’t be able to get the job because of the current lack of value-add. Both took the perceived “NO” personally. I later learnt to not even entertain such requests, and to simply direct them to the company’s formal job application process.
Having said that, the fact that they wanted to go through a personal referral when they show close to zero value-add and then got pissed when I spoke my view made me feel used. Why project feelings of frustration on me, though? See–This is the feeling of contempt once again, and many otherwise promising relationships die because of contempt that seeped in at one point.
So if you have been recently feeling stressed and anxious (completely understandable), it might be wise to be aware that sometimes the stressed version of you is the reason why people cannot/ don’t really want to help more. To someone who is keeping a lookout for the natural/best version of you, dealing with this desperate version of you for a prolonged period of time can be a considerable reputational/ emotional/ practical risk on their side. So they choose to distance themselves.
This is why as a jobseeker, self-care is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT during a pandemic like COVID-19, even though it can be difficult. You want to self-care your way back to a natural/best version of yourself.
This bad job market is likely to last for at least a couple of years, and this is precisely WHY you should prioritize self-care even more.
There is a Chinese phrase that my fellow digital marketing manager Thing and I love, that is:
Loosely, it can be translated as– “If there is pity towards someone, there is contempt somewhere too. If there is contempt towards someone, there should be a sad story of a difficult situation somewhere too.” The key takeaway is perhaps to avoid being situations that make you pitiable in the first place. If unfortunate circumstances happens however, a toolkit to recover and get back on your feet fast is essential.
So let’s do our best to be more understanding towards each other these days too. Patience is definitely not my strongest suit though, so I’m doing my best to have more tact in the way I say things these days. I’ll always think about…”which version of this person am I speaking to”?
I’m looking forward SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s speech on 18th June! Also looking forward to election campaigning by opposition parties, especially the very charismatic Dr Chee Soon Juan. I also hear rumours that Nicole Seah is joining WP??– would be great if she can stand as a MP candidate!!
Elections are coming soon, Singapore! Vote wisely, ah!