The irony of tight labour markets characterised by inflexible pyramid structures is that alongside a clamour for a certain group of skilled people is a neglect of another group of highly skilled workers made jobless by economic churn. Consequently, retrenched older professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) struggle to find a similar position. Only about half of such PMEs here are able to land a job within six months. And most are forced to "reinvent themselves or do something totally different" for lower wages, according to human resource directors. Meanwhile, businesses - exhorted to be manpower-lean and cost-conscious - might be making do with younger promotees or foreign PMEs, while striving to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace.
The structural mismatch is not easily resolved and calls for bold strategies - like the recently announced Career Support Programme which for a year pays up to 40 per cent of the salaries of mature, out-of-work local PMEs who are given a shot at a job by open-minded employers. That model is feared by some as it could become a new norm and a potential fiscal burden. As an interim measure, it's worth supporting to nudge bosses in the right direction, especially those partial to "foreign talent". One must also bear in mind there's no ceiling on the number of foreign professionals that bosses can hire on employment passes (but tougher hiring rules will take effect from October). While the unemployment rate for local PMEs, at 2.7 per cent, is low compared with that of their counterparts in other countries, Singaporean PMEs, as a group, are bearing the brunt of economic restructuring and warrant attention.
Yet another irony of labour markets here and elsewhere is that while employers can have the pick of the crop as more job-hunters vie for desirable positions, many bosses still can't find those with the "right" skill sets for vacancies. Thus, analysts see the employment crisis and the skills crisis as two sides of the same coin. The two must be addressed jointly. Older PMEs who readily accept that long-held skills must be updated or overlaid by completely different skill sets will have an edge over those who choose to dwell on their fall from grace and turn foreigners into bogeymen.
The career trajectories of PMEs ought to give pause to those aspiring for degrees and employees in general, given the larger forces of change at work that no individual or country can claim immunity from. Apart from bridging support for groups affected adversely, there is simply "no magic bullet" that a state can conjure up to solve the job crisis, whether in emerging markets or advanced economies, as a World Bank official has cautioned. A broad strategy like SkillsFuture that offers a platform for self-renewal has to be viewed as a lifelong undertaking that all must embrace to keep abreast of the times.
This article was first published on July 23, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.