As of end-October 2020, Singapore’s unemployment rate was at 3.6 per cent, with a total of 112,500 unemployed residents, out of which 97,700 are Singaporeans. This is almost comparable to the unemployment rate during the post-SARS period of 4.8 per cent, and during the third quarter of the Global Financial Crisis in 2009, which was 3.3 per cent.
Financial experts and economists alike have given countless forecasts on the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, and we all know that things aren’t looking too good. Those in the workforce are worried about whether they can keep their jobs, while students on the brink of graduation are afraid that they’ll have to leave school with no plans.
On a macro level, the authorities have been coming up with initiatives in a bid to alleviate the financial difficulties of those who have been retrenched, or forced to take a pay cut. These include the COVID-19 Support Fund, the Temporary Relief Fund, and the Courage Fund.
Upskilling has also become a focal point, as the government has been encouraging Singaporeans to learn new skills to increase their employability. The SGUnited Traineeships Programme and the SGUnited Jobs Initiative was also created to create about 10,000 more jobs for the fresh graduates and the unemployed.
So yes, there are definitely resources out there for those who need it, but an individual’s employability is also affected by a plethora of other factors, such as gender, age, prior experience and qualification… the list goes on.
How is it like trying to search for a job in the midst of a pandemic?
“It was like begging people for a bowl of hot rice.”
Mark*, 34, was previously working as an engineering assistant, but was retrenched as his company had to cut costs. After searching for about 4 months, he was able to land a position as an deskside engineer. One of the challenges he faced during the search was that he was unable to find a position that could match his last drawn salary.
After he was offered his current job, he still struggled learning the ropes. He had also fallen sick two weeks into the role, which further affected his performance. After his recovery, he was placed under the guidance of a more experienced colleague. While he is still trying to adjust, Mark is positive that things will improve, and hopes to return to his former industry, where he feels more comfortable.
“Do not make hasty decisions.”
Working as a Donor Relations Officer in a nonprofit organisation, Jason*, 29, began considering the prospect of switching jobs in May, as he had experienced a 30 per cent pay cut. Aside from tightened purse strings, he also felt that he wanted to explore other options outside the nonprofit and charity sector.
His job-hunting process took about six months, where he went for multiple interviews with different organisations. He was initially offered a six-month contract with another company, but decided to wait for more opportunities as he felt that it was too risky to take it up.
“I felt insecure, because I’ve heard rumours about how it’s harder to find jobs now since the economy is really bad. On the other hand, I also realised that one of the reasons why I was unable to find a suitable role was because I had to learn other skills on top of my prior work experience.”
Jason has currently received another offer in a marketing role, and intends to switch jobs at the end of the year.
“Family support is very important.”
Jennifer*, 50, was working as an associate manager in the tourism sector, when she received news of her retrenchment in May. She was told that her last day of work would be at the end of June.
She describes her job search experience as “worrying and stressful”, as she was unsure of how to go about looking for a new job. Making use of government platforms such as Workforce Singapore and E2i also yielded few results.
Another challenge that Jennifer faced was competition from younger applicants who were vying for the same position. She stated that age was a huge disadvantage for her. “Employers are still biased against older workers,” she says.
Her month-long job search eventually paid off, and she was offered a position as a Senior Patient Associate in healthcare — a completely different industry. Because of how new she was, her first three months were filled with “alot of uncertainty”, and “plenty of things to learn… [such as the different] process and procedures and IT systems”. Despite all this, she says that she has no plans to go back into her old industry, and believes that “things [will] only get better in [the] months to come”.
She also credits her family and her faith as her largest pillars of support. “My family never pressurised me to get a job quickly, they were supportive and encouraged me to give myself more time, and asked me to take up training courses if I needed to.”
Words of wisdom
Although Mark, Jason and Jennifer eventually found their happy endings, the fact remains that there are many others out there who are still the midst of searching for a job. To encourage those who may feel that their job search is going nowhere, I asked them to provide some words of wisdom:
“Just relax and wait for the [right] time. It soon will be better.” — Johnathan
“Be still and do not make hasty decisions, find something that you think you will like and trust that you will find joy in your new job.” — Jason
“Be positive and be open to trying new openings, do not restrict yourself to just one industry (or your previous industry). Be prepared to start from the bottom or all over again.” — Jennifer
*not real names