There have been many reports about how middle-aged workers and higher skilled workers were hardest hit by layoffs last year. In leading up to the Budget announcement, I've been reminded about how fortunate I am to still be employed.
And even though our unemployment rate has remained low and unchanged at 2.9 per cent, it's enough to make anyone still employed feel guilty.
And trust me, I'm Catholic, it's Good Friday this week, I know pretty well what guilt is.
Naturally, it would appear that people are hoping that tomorrow's Budget announcement would address these economic issues. Businesses, especially small and medium enterprises, want help with operating costs. For example, manufacturing companies want reductions in taxes for foreign workers, tech firms want more support for R&D and training, and start-ups are asking for more grants.
According to the government's feedback unit, REACH, workers want more reassurances during this slower economy. They're asking for schemes that will help them overcome their current struggles, including the need to learn new skills, the drop in opportunities for career switches, and the fear of income stagnation.
And while I'm sure that the government does take all this feedback seriously and should want to do right by the country, I do think Singaporeans need to keep four things in mind ahead of the Budget announcement.
1. Personal growth is your responsibility, not your employer's nor the Government's
Gone are the days when an employee in Singapore could be assured that as long as they do good work, their career with a company would last till retirement. Even in the Civil Service, where jobs used to be seen as an iron rice bowl, the quality and development of civil servants have been called into question earlier this year - and in Parliament by Dr Lee Bee Wah, no less.
The fact remains that no one should consider their employment to be set in stone, and the only way to ensure that you remain relevant in this fast changing economy is to consistently upgrade your skills. Whether it's by reading journals in your field of work, self-help books, or attending courses, the onus needs to be on you to ensure that you achieve constant personal growth. You alone are responsible, not your employer and definitely not the government.
In fact, there should no longer be any excuse not to upgrade yourself. Websites like Coursera and Udemy allow you to do a variety of courses online at your own pace. To make things even easier, the government introduced SkillsFuture Credit during last year's Budget announcement. The initial sum for all Singaporeans aged 25 and above is $500, and is meant to subsidise a wide variety of courses.
2. As unfair as it sounds, there's no one else you can blame if you're in a sinking industry
Several people who were laid off in the past year were recently featured by the mainstream media. While we have sympathy for anyone who's lost their job due to the current economic downturn, some of those profiled really made us wonder if they were in a situation of their own making.
One of these was a manager earning between US$8,000 and US$10,000 a month at a manufacturing firm. He had been told since 2014 that his plant was closing down, but only started sending out resumes in October last year. Surprise, surprise, he has yet to find a job offer six months later.
Another was a former real estate agent for almost five years, before becoming a taxi driver last year when he had enough of the poor property market. He isn't happy with being a taxi driver either, but rightly thinks it's not the best time to venture into starting his own business.
Harsh as it sounds, it's not easy to feel sorry for workers who have been made redundant as a result of several industries going through harder times. Why? Because it's highly likely that many of them were enjoying significant incomes during the years when the industry was doing well.
You really don't have anyone else to blame if you took your high income for granted during the good years. And there's definitely no excuse if you know your industry isn't doing well, but assume that your job will be protected. If you're guilty of either of these, you definitely shouldn't be expecting the government to give you a safety net, and announce financial assistance for job seekers in tomorrow's Budget.
3. No one owes you a living, and you should definitely not assume that you're entitled to your current income
I think what truly boggles my mind is that some workers still expect their incomes to increase even when an industry is doing poorly as a whole. It was confusing to hear that the REACH feedback included calls for "stable employment conditions" in Singapore, especially for older workers. There is no such thing - no one can promise you that your job will be unaffected by the global economy.
As workers, we need to constantly ensure that we are bringing value to our employers. At the end of the day, there is only so much that an employer can pay for "job experience", especially if you've been doing the same job for years without any improvement. Not only are employers not obliged to give you a raise just for staying with a company, but if an employer can hire someone else to do your job for a lower salary? You're definitely going to have to prove your worth, and the government shouldn't be expected to encourage your employers to keep you on the payroll.
That said, for workers nearing retirement age, the government has already set in place several measures and incentives to give employers opportunities to keep workers hired till after the age of 65. Recognising that Singaporeans are living longer and are also generally healthier, it seems clear that policies will continue to be implemented to ensure those who can still work are given the opportunity to.
4. If you're starting your own business, don't expect the government to keep you afloat
While Singaporeans are being encouraged to be entrepreneurs, and analysts are projecting significant growth in the high-technology and knowledge-intensive sectors, that doesn't mean that the government should be expected to create safety nets for every fledgling start-up.
Singapore is home to thousands of start-up companies, many of them taking advantage of our country's entrepreneurial programmes in tertiary institutions, subsidised infrastructures and a transparent legal system, to base their headquarters here. Yet, while lots of initiatives are in place to help these companies get off the ground, there isn't a culture of ensuring that these companies stay the course.
In a start-up ecosystem, the government should not be expected to keep every company alive. Government funding should be a springboard, not a feeding tube. If a new company is unable to attract funding from private venture capitalists, that should be an indication that more needs to be done by the company to sustain business growth.
Ultimately, tomorrow's Budget announcement should be looking to help Singaporeans who are truly affected by the economic slowdown we're experiencing this year. It should definitely not be about enabling bad decisions or encouraging a generation of entitled workers.
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