We recently conducted an email interview with a jobless engineer and here is his reply:-
How long were you jobless?
I have been jobless for 20 months as of Oct 2010.
What is your past profession and qualification? Your last drawn salary?
I was a semiconductor Process and Equipment Manager working with a multinational company. I have 2nd Upper honours degree in engineering from a reputable UK university. My annual pay is around 100K. My boss and boss’s boss are all foreigners. My boss has 4 years of working experience whereas I have over 13 years in this field of work. He is definitely not a ‘talent’ in mine and my colleagues’ opinion.
What problems did you face while searching for jobs? Was age always the problem or are there other reasons?
Age is one of the stumbling block for me – even though I have accumulated over 10 good years of working experience and another 20+ years to go in my working life according to the government retirement age.
There is just no opportunity given to people like me who has crossed 40, even if I am willing to lower my pay by 20-30%.
Another obstacle is the hiring manager – most of them who conducted the interview are ‘FT”. Personally, I feel that they are gathering information (pay range and knowledge from me), and likely to give preference to their own ‘kind’ (race) or other ‘FT”.
Even if the hiring manager is a local, there is no guarantee that they will hire a local simply because there is no incentive to hire a local or any quota to adhere to.
To make it worse, we locals have to fulfil many obligations like reservist training and have to leave office on time or not too late to take care of other family matters like our young children. Where as in the ‘FT’ case, they do not have Reservist disruption and most of their family are back in their country. They can afford to even ‘camp’ in office or stay until midnight.
You can say that we are not hungry enough to go to that extend. But these FTs normally would stay for 3-5 years and then move on to other better paying jobs in other countries. But we are not likely to do so.
I have tried to lower my expectations by applying for an engineer’s role – many times the employer would just say they will keep me posted. After a few rounds, I probed further and they told me that with my qualifications and experience I should be looking for a job of a higher level and give other people a chance to apply for lower level jobs. But the question is who is going to give me that chance!
How did your family cope while you stay jobless?
My wife is now the sole breadwinner for the family now. I was very depressed at the beginning because I had worked so hard and made many sacrifices to reach this level. Now I just have to accept my predicament and move on, I strongly believed that no one is going to help me if I do not stand on my own feet. So, I just have to find my own way to make money to provide for my family.
Are there financial problems now?
Yes, we have financial problems too. We just have to adjust our finances to cope with our situation. We have to make do with what we get every month and try to reduce our expenses to carry on living our life. One way is to look for cheaper alternative for those daily necessities and buy more during discounts and promotions.
How do you think the government can help this huge pool of jobless PMETs?
1. The government should restrict the number of foreigners into the country and also set a quota for the number of foreigners for each company, like 25 percent or something. We invite MNCs to invest in Singapore to give us job, not to give jobs to foreigner or act as a training center. This might be a myopic view, but if we cannot feed ourselves do you think we should be concerned about providing jobs for other people?
2. We should amend our retrenchment laws, regulate the retrenchment compensation and benefits BY providing higher payout to discourage retrenchment exercise and continue medical coverage until we secure the next employment. The current laws are too lax and it doesn’t offer sufficient protection for the PME group.
3. A possible solution is for the company to reduce the number of working days to ride out any future downturn than retrenching staff quickly because there will always be downturn. Moreover, nowadays, the business cycle is getting shorter and more frequent. The economy also fortunately recovers faster after every downturn. For example, my ex-company after laying us off, was hiring again within 6 months after retrenching staff.
4. On top of that, restrict HDB ownership to Singaporeans only. If our PRs want to buy properties they should go to private properties. If not, the cost of basic housing in Singapore will go up due to the demand from PRs. The HDB housing is meant for Singaporeans but now the foreigners are pushing up prices with their purchases. With higher housing price, can we afford to live with a lower salary? We have 30 years of housing instalment to pay and it is so difficult to get a job nowadays despite all our qualification and experience!
Lastly, I hope that the government will seriously look into helping this huge group of highly-educated experienced jobless professionals.
James (not his real name)
PS: James is contemplating starting a small engineering business on his own – Gilbert