An experience issue with millennials

PHOTO: The Straits Times

After working in insurance sales for more than six years, Mr Shawn Rowan, 34, wanted to switch to a corporate role in the finance industry and pursued a Master of Science in Applied Finance at the Singapore Management University.

Armed with his master's, he sent more than 100 job applications over the past year for a compliance or operational job, but he has received only a couple of calls for an interview.

Mr Rowan, a Singaporean who used to earn between $3,000 to $8,000 a month and is willing to take a pay cut, believes his lack of suitable working experience is the main reason behind the rejections.

A study released yesterday by recruitment consultancy firm Robert Half backed his suspicions - more than half of the financial services firms surveyed say that the lack of necessary experience is the key reason why it is hard to find skilled professionals here.

The annual study, which surveyed 100 chief financial officers (CFOs) and finance directors in Singapore, also revealed that 66 per cent think that millennial finance professionals (aged between 22 and 40) are the most challenging to recruit and are partnering with universities to combat the generational skills shortage as the baby boomer generation gradually exits the workforce.

To address the demand for various financial services skill sets, Mr Patrick Tay, assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), announced the launch of a new Professional Conversion Programme (PCP). (See report on page 4.)

OCBC Bank is the first financial institution piloting the company-initiated PCP. It will train and convert new hires into compliance-related roles.


"This is key given the general shortage of compliance talent in Singapore, especially in anti-money laundering and sanctions," said Ms Jacinta Low, head of HR planning, OCBC Bank.

The PCP is one of the programmes rolled out by the Government under the Adapt and Grow initiative, which aims to help Singaporeans adjust to changing job demands and grow their skills.

In a blog post on Monday, NTUC's Mr Tay pointed out that although the financial and insurance sector saw 2,310 redundancies last year, there were approximately 2,800 vacancies in the financial industry.

He wrote: "The sector appears to be experiencing a churn (rather) than a literal declining plateau.

"Old jobs are gone but new ones are created at digital speed."

How millennials are different from their parents

  • Once upon a time, small businesses made money by setting up shop somewhere in town, prettying up their storefront and then waiting for people to come in. But that's not how you make money out of millennials, who have consumption habits that are different from the previous generation.
  • They do a lot of their shopping online

    One reason for the downfall of Orchard Road malls is that many millennials' idea of a shopping spree isn't rampaging through an air conditioned mall, but checking out a virtual cartful of stuff on websites like Asos, Modcloth and Amazon.

  • They do a lot of their shopping online

    It's quick, convenient, you get to browse through a lot more stuff within an hour than you would fighting through crowds in malls.

  • They do a lot of their shopping online

    Millennials in Singapore spend almost 3.4 hours a day on their mobile phones. Retail businesses need to realise that without online shopping options, they're going to miss out on a lot of business from millennial customers.

  • They are eager to participate in the sharing economy

    While their parents might have turned up their noses at the thought of buying people's old stuff online, the sharing economy is alive and well amongst millennials in Singapore.

  • They are eager to participate in the sharing economy

    Millennials are used to interacting with others online and savvy enough to ensure they don't get cheated, well most of the time anyway.

  • They are eager to participate in the sharing economy

    Not only are they selling their old stuff and buying other people's at an unprecedented rate, they're also totally open to the idea of staying in the home of someone they've only ever interacted with on Airbnb, or being chauffeured by an Uber driver their own age.

  • They are suspicious of advertising

    Millennials are so used to being bombarded with ads on the internet, they tend to be a lot more suspicious.

  • They are suspicious of advertising

    Just look at the number of scandals there've been regarding "influencers" who are paid by companies to endorse their products, the most recent involving PeelFresh juice. Businesses now need to demonstrate authenticity, build trust and spread the word in a more organic manner.

  • They are willing to pay for experiences, not just stuff

    These days, more and more young Singaporeans are willing to spend not just on material goods, but also on experiences. A recent report shed light on the fact that Singaporean millennials love to travel and prioritise travel spending.

  • They are willing to pay for experiences, not just stuff

    It's clear that the Singaporean millennial wants to spend their money on numerous overseas holidays, at nice restaurants and bars and fun activities, whether they be paintball sessions or art jam sessions.

  • They are willing to pay for experiences, not just stuff

    Retail businesses who manage to turn their stores into the site of experiences, such as by organising events as yoga apparel store Lululemon Athletica has done, could be on to something.

Associate Professor Trevor Yu from Nanyang Business School's (NBS) division of strategy, management and organisation thinks that skills involving the application of computing and mathematics within the realm of finance are also highly sought after but are in short supply.

He said: "There are not many higher level educational institutions offering such courses.

"NBS is one of the few around. It is also hard to find people with the ability and aptitude to pursue training in such areas.

"Typically, it takes a lot of investment in terms of time and lost income (especially for finance professionals who tend to be already highly paid) to be upskilled in these latest skills."

Mr Rowan is not giving up on his job search and has been going for Chinese classes, as well as reading widely on related topics such as fintech and blockchain (technology underpinning the digital currency bitcoin).

This article was first published on Mar 29, 2017.
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