Many millennials in Singapore grew up with their parents having an expectation of them to obtain a university degree and then secure a cushy, stable job. However, given the changing economy and tightening labour market today, fewer university graduates in Singapore have been able to secure permanent full-time jobs within six months of graduation.
In fact, the very notion of ‘permanent’ and ‘full-time’ employment is being challenged by the gig economy, with many millennials seeking freelance projects or perhaps driving for ride-sharing service providers such as Grab and Uber. We explore a few of the options available to millennials as they embark on their search for work experience, as well as offer a few suggestions on how to enhance their employability in pursuit of the job they ultimately desire to undertake.
Skills Are Everything
Local tertiary institutions such as the polytechnics and universities have seen enrolment figures double over the past 20 years. While the phenomenon of more young Singaporeans gaining access to tertiary education is not a bad thing, an over-reliance on paper qualifications alone may not bode well for the purpose of securing employment in a more competitive environment.
Facing a deluge of résumés from fresh graduates, employers are now more discerning of a candidate’s skill-sets beyond his or her academic performance. After all, the ability to perform well academically does not necessarily translate into good workplace performance. Several entrepreneurs and business owners the WP Newsdesk Team spoke to indicated that they look out for differentiated skills such as language abilities and leadership experience. Many of these employers also expressed a preference for candidates who have had some work experience, be it in the form of temporary employment during term breaks or internship stints. Such work experience is perceived to offer millennials a better understanding of work ethics and professionalism.
Freelancing or “Temp-ing”
The traditional model of permanent jobs that require one to be desk-bound Mondays to Fridays, from 9am to 6pm is on the decline. These jobs are increasingly being replaced by those that require value-added skills. Online platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr, to name just two, are contributing to this gig economy trend, where an individual with, for instance, good graphic design skills can accept job requests online.
Another emerging trend is the pursuit of temporary jobs (i.e. ‘temp-ing’) while perhaps seeking interviews for a more traditionally permanent career or while awaiting the next graduate employment intake. This option may be preferred by those seeking jobs at larger companies which tend to organise management trainee programmes and hence have more structured graduate employment cycles.
While the abovementioned types of jobs may offer more freedom and flexibility, one should also be mindful that such employment choices do not offer benefits such as Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions, health insurance, and career progression planning. In the current environment, you will need to have the discipline to find ways to plug these gaps if you want to go far working for yourself.
In Parliament, Workers’ Party MPs have been doing their part to call to attention the inadequate protections given to these workers. During the debates surrounding Budget 2017, Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh argued that young PMEs who have switched to contract-based service jobs are “more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, especially since they will not be able to lodge claims and obtain assistance through the usual channels.”
“Currently, employment-related laws in Singapore, such as the Employment Act, the CPF Act, and the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) outline the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers, including contributions towards housing, retirement and medical benefits,” highlighted Aljunied GRC MP Chen Show Mao during Budget 2017. However, he pointed out that, “Unlike an employee, a freelancer performing work under a contract for service currently falls outside the scope of many provisions of our employment-related laws.” In arguing that we should “embrace the rise of the gig economy,” he suggested that the Government should consider risk pooling mechanisms to yield protection for freelancers in the event of work injuries.
Another kind of opportunity to seek work experience arises from the fact that Singaporean youths are eligible for work-travel programmes in Australia and New Zealand, among other countries. Such visa schemes encourage youths to travel in these host countries for up to a year while picking up temporary employment in service sectors of their interest.
One benefit of such a scheme is that millennials who are undecided on their career direction may use such an opportunity to broaden their horizon while funding their stay abroad by working. As the saying goes, you only live once. So, why not find an excuse to travel and work concurrently if you are fortunate to have the means to do so?
‘Iron rice bowl’ Jobs
Many of us in Singapore are familiar with the term ‘iron rice bowl’ which is associated with jobs that are permanent and relatively stable in nature, with little to no risk of retrenchment. These jobs exist in Singapore, but are predominantly found in the Civil Service and the uniformed services such as the Singapore Police Force, the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Singapore Armed Forces.
Civil Service job openings are sought after by graduates as they pay competitively and include many roles which offer good work-life balance and benefits. The Public Service, of which the Civil Service is a subset, employs people in statutory boards, and offers more varied forms of employment including temporary contract roles. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile noting that the Public Service may not be immune to hiring freezes due to economic fluctuations and changing operational needs. If young Singaporeans have a calling to serve the public, the Public Service remains an attractive employer.
Changing economic conditions tend to bring new challenges to different demographic groups within a workforce. The rise of the gig economy in Singapore and its impact on young graduates entering the workforce is no exception. The current state of the economy provides young graduates with an even stronger impetus to take steps to adapt to these changes. However, the Government ought to play a leading role in fixing the institutional or structural challenges which are preventing young graduates from fulfilling their maximum potential in our Singaporean workforce.
Written by WP Newsdesk volunteers ~