What youths can learn from the retrenchment of older PMETs

I’ve been observing the trend of older workers being retrenched over the past few years. According to the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) Redundancy and Re-entry into Employment report for 2015, 7 out of 10 workers who were retrenched were PMETs. Of which, 40 percent of this group were in their 40s.

Reading the stories of some of these older PMETs who were retrenched saddens me. Imagine working for an organization for so many years, staying for long hours daily, only to be retrenched when they decide to move to somewhere else to cut cost or when the company decides to replace you with a younger worker.

In fact, this trend is not only affecting Singapore but also the rest of the world. Global unemployment is projected to rise in both 2016 and 2017.

The difference is that in many developed countries, workers get to enjoy a stronger social security system. In contrast, based on the recent World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Growth & Development report, Singapore performed  poorly in this area even though there isn’t any inherent trade off “between promotion of social inclusion and long term economic competitiveness.” (Refer to Page 18). Hence, the urgency for us Singaporeans to start planning now.

I worry for my generation that when we age, we will experience the same situation as what the older generation is now going through. However, the advantage of being young is that we have the energy, freedom and time to take control of our future.

While some believe that the root cause is due to Singaporeans being “expensive and entitled“, and a solution for all Singaporeans is to lower our salary expectations, I disagree. We cannot compete based on labour cost as a developed nation. Quoting Mr Alvin Liew, senior economist at UOB:

 “There is no cheap first world country. It’s how we try to manage it: transform, change the way we do things, and move up the value chain.”

Thus in my post, I prefer to focus on more practical things we can do to future proof our careers and reduce the likelihood of retrenchment in our 40s and 50s.

This would require adapting to some of the major trends which have led to the loss of jobs in many countries and consequentially, the type of right-wing populism we’ve witnessed in Brexit and the US Presidential Elections in 2016.

Please note that due to my lack of working experience and understanding about other sectors at this point,  the advice below is mostly applicable to the young Singaporean university graduate working in a PMET role.


1) Enter fast-growing industries

Technological advancement is definitely one of the ongoing causes of job losses. In fact, it is predicted to kill 5 million jobs by 2020 due to redundancy and automation.

While technology has made several older jobs more redundant, it also creates opportunities in other sectors which are growing rapidly. This results in a situation whereby the number of jobs exceed the number of available talent in the market. When that happens, companies would naturally offer more money and benefits to their workers.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at the list of top companies globally for compensation and benefits. Most of them are technology-related companies. Why would they offer employees so much perks if talent was readily available? It is simple economics – demand and supply.

Thus, my suggestion to my peers would be to avoid older industries in Singapore such as construction, manufacturing and wholesale trade and instead focus on sectors which are rapidly growing. Enter a fast-growing industries and join a fast-growing company.

While some youths may be hesitant about switching industries, citing lack of industry experience, I feel that it doesn’t really matter. At a junior level, most people don’t really expect you to have tons of experience. As long as you have a good attitude, a good story on why you wish to make a switch and some transferable skills, that is usually alright. Don’t always take job descriptions word for word, fulfilling every single criteria represents an ideal rather than a must have.


2)  Get global experience

The second factor causing loss of jobs is globalization. This is something one cannot run away from especially in Singapore.

If you’re a blue collar worker, you would be replaced by cheaper foreign workers. If you’re a PMET, you compete with ‘foreign talents’ on equal ground due to the fact that Singapore has no quota on employment passes.

Our country and the rest of the world is likely to get even more global and more competitive than it was. As youths, we can try our best to modify the policies that affect us, volunteer and speak out. However, it is also wise to complement that with learning the new rules of the game.

If you take a look at the LinkedIn profiles of directors, VPs, CEOs in big MNCs. It is likely that these individuals have at least some international exposure in various big cities spanning regions like Europe, Middle East, Asia and Latin America. My inference would be that companies prefer to hire and promote global citizens. No wonder they are being chosen over the Singaporean who has lived and worked in the same small island their whole life!

When I shared this with a friend, he objected saying that it was because of our colonial history and western media influence, that these expats have an advantage here. Many Asians believe that angmohs are superior, making promotion, job hunting and client facing roles easier for them. So, even if Asians try to become globally mobile citizens, we won’t reap the same benefits.

I understand where he is coming from. However, I feel this is changing with the rapid rise of Asia Pacific and also social progress in human society over time which will lead to lesser discrimination.

My recommendation for my peers would be to:

  • Try to work overseas for a few years. Who knows that you might find the culture of the new place more suitable for you and settle down there like how many foreigners have settled here.
  • Try to get a regional role which covers Asia-Pacific, not just Singapore. Singapore’s growth is projected to be at best 2-3 percent and this is driven by an increase in our population. However, the rest of Southeast Asia is expected to grow much more. Experience in these other larger and fast growing markets would definitely be a huge plus.


3) Equip yourself with relevant skills

Many older PMETs stop learning once they reach a certain level in their career which they are comfortable in. Some of them do so because of family commitments. Others because they feel that other factors are more important such as accumulating many years of experience; company loyalty or clocking in several hours. As a result, some of them end up with skills that are no longer relevant despite having decades of experience in a specific industry.

I feel that there is much value in having decades of experience. However, I am also a firm believer that it’s your current ability to deliver what the company or industry wants that really counts. Experience can give us wisdom but it cannot replace the impact and output of specific skills and knowledge.

Ultimately, its is best to stay on top of what the industry and companies want – productivity; revenue; consistency and relevant skills and deliver it.

What we can do as youths would be to make it a habit to constantly learn new things and stay updated on the developments in your industry. Here are some things which I do:

  • Read my industry’s trade magazines daily and other business publications
  • Attend workshops and panel discussions about trends and new areas I am not so familiar with at least once per quarter
  • Learn things on my own. For instance, I picked up Adobe Lightroom and SEO on my own and got pretty good with it.

Unlike the older folks, we have no excuse and access to tons of learning resources online, so make the most out of it. 🙂


4) Network and treat people of all levels with respect

I know that many young people have heard from their seniors about the importance of networking. However, many don’t really understand what it is about. So, I’d like to clear some misunderstandings about it.

First of all, networking isn’t about exchanging name cards and awkward conversations. Networking is simply about getting to know other people and forming win-win relationships. It is about learning and being genuine.

Hence, don’t approach people immediately by asking them for a favour. Instead, take your time to know them. I know I am always instantly turned off when people try to use me for publicity because I have a significant following online.

Not everyone is comfortable with putting ourselves out there to talk to people and I myself had this problem when I first started.

Here are two tips which worked really well for me.

  • Combine learning with networking: Don’t attend pure networking sessions and instead attend workshops and courses where you can learn new things and meet new people at the same time. Connections will form a lot more naturally then.
  • As the author suggests in 10 Tips To Help You Crush it in Networking: Go with a partner. It’s easier to approach others when you have someone with you. It won’t feel as intimidating especially if you’re approaching a group of people. I count myself really fortunate to have a neighbour who works in a similar industry and a similar role as I do so we can go for events together.

Do remember that it is not just important to respect professionals who are more experienced than you but also the younger ones. I’ve encountered some older folks who do not treat youths with respect as they feel that the young are not as ‘powerful’ as them.

To me, this isn’t wise because everyone will age one day. Young punks will no longer be ‘junior’ and similarly, the people in their prime now would face a greater risk of retrenchment as they age.

That is when you really need younger professionals (who are no longer in junior positions by then) to help you out or even hire you in the future.

If you’re interested in reading another post of a similar topic, do check out MoneySmart’s “3 Lessons Young Singaporeans Can Learn From The Retrenchment of Middled Aged PMETs” . Should you have any suggestions or tips to share, do let me know in the comments section below. 🙂