First of all, thanks for allowing us to interview you online Steven and can you provide us with some background information on yourself?
I was working as a junior executive in publishing for about a year – right after graduation from university in 2001.
In 2002, I went to graduate school at the National University of Singapore to pursue further postgraduate studies. I graduated around December 2004, and was hunting around for a job in 2005, in between working on contract and sometimes tutoring where necessary.
I went to do my PhD in 2006 in Canada on a scholarship programme and came back only in 2010.
What was your last occupation and you have told me that you were unemployed for a year, can you tell us more about this and also your job search experience?
I used to work as an executive (editor) in a publishing firm prior to graduate studies. After finishing my Master’s, I did not have much success on the job search front during the first few months.
Part of it, as I admit, probably has to do with me not being able to handle some of the interview questions which constantly revolved around my graduate degree and why I did not consider certain jobs like the Ministry of Education as a teacher.
Teaching children or teenagers was not really my interest or ability right through to the end. I went on to do my PhD, where I did research and also advanced lecturing to adult learners as a teaching assistant during the few years that I was in the PhD program in Canada.
I cannot comment much on the job search experience fully, especially since I have just came back only around January and was approved for final graduation only in February this year. My job search has been for 3 months or so, and nearly half of the searches involved sending CVs and cover letters to overseas universities.
As of now in May 2011, I have been offered a lecturing position on a contractual basis in southern China and I have decided to take it up starting in September 2011.
As for the non-academic jobs based here in Singapore, I have not heard from most of them. I was wondering if it has to do with the lack of relevant experience, or the ‘over-qualification’ and their fear of hiring a candidate whom they have to pay a lot for owing to his degrees, or whether it has to do with my resume which looked outdated.
I have sent my resume to a friend who works in hiring to check for comments. My unemployment has technically been for 1 year and a half between the period of 2005 to 2006, prior to my PhD studies, and my current state is as one still searching for employment.
You have told me that you are currently jobless for more than a year, what did you do in order to survive? Did you also approach the CDC for assistance?
I can’t answer this question as I didn’t approach CDC for any assistance.
Did you attend any interviews during the past 12 months, and why do you think you are unsuccessful so far?
I have attended 2 rounds of a statutory board’s selection process. Since I did not get past to the final interview round, I can only assume that the job did not suit me and I was not really the kind of candidate they were looking for.
Tell us a bit more about what you have learnt from your jobless experience and how it has impacted your family.
It has definitely affected my mood in more way than one. When a person is not bringing home the bacon, or working to earn money, he feels depressed indirectly because he feels as if his meaning is partially derived from being able to work and contribute to society and family income.
My parents have not technically pressurized me to find a job, and I know the main pressure still comes from within me as I want to find a job that I can develop and do well in.
My parents – who come from the low to middle income groups – have been working very hard from their 20’s to 60’s, have increasingly come to say to me that if I need to move out and enlarge my options, they are not against it, but they want me to be sure that I have a job somewhere and can develop in it instead of going through contractual appointments.
What do you think you could have done to shorten the unemployment period?
I am not sure if I know how to predict or ensure that I get employment immediately within a set period of time. Goals are goals, and outcomes are outcomes. As far as I can, I set a time frame in which I want this and that to be done, think of ways on how to achieve it, such as when to finish sending a resume or CV and then plan out what to do next.
Do you think that Singapore is now a more difficult place to make a living?
I would agree so. Living costs prior to 2006 have been very much lower and yet the wages have not been in any visible means increasing to help people to cope with the rising costs.
As a guy who has done his National Service, and has a university degree at least, the average graduate’s pay is supposedly around the range of $2000 to $2400. However, I have heard that many university graduates are given salaries lower than that, at around $1,500 to $1,700, not counting in the CPF deductions. With stagnating or lowered wages, alongside ever rising costs of living which I have witnessed over the years even from a distance in Canada, it is a heavy burden on citizens regardless of their background.
Competition for jobs is actually stiffer now too. When I last applied for a job in 2005 as a research assistant in one of the universities here, I was pitted against not only Singaporeans, but in fact, foreigners (mainland Chinese) who were actually affiliated with and knew the professors working in that institute. Some of the professors were mainland Chinese themselves who had been working with the institute for a short while, and were also on the hiring committee. Tell me if this is not biased!
I did not know why I was rejected and since I could only gather later on from secondary sources (the administration) that the mainland Chinese were employed as research associates, I gathered that my status as a local educated with a Master’s did not help much and that they preferred hiring cheaper foreigners as research associates.
Whether it has to do with cronyism, or favoritism, or even just merely preference for cheaper workers, I cannot say, since I was informed very late into the process about months into the interview when I was already doing other stuff.
I think though that my experiences with competing with cheaper foreign workers might not be specific only to me, insofar as I have friends working in various sectors, including university graduates going onto fields like childhood education, who tell me that cheaper mainland Chinese teachers are employed in the name of “native speakers” and if not, even customer service jobs are taken up by Filipinos and mainland Chinese(even those who cannot speak English at all) in most places such as the mall or post office.
In this economy, I somehow believe that education with degrees, stellar academic performance or good references from university professors are no longer as important to the job search, as making yourself look really attractive to potential employers – some of which might actually require you to be bold enough to show off what you are good at, and to hide your weaknesses, and even if possible, embellish some of your strengths and experiences.
What do you think the government can do to alleviate the current employment situation?
The government has to realize that its promise to create jobs has not materialized, because the jobs created via the Resort World and the Integrated Resorts and casinos simply draw on the work of foreigners.
There are jobs lost out in the private sector to cheaper foreign labourers, and workers, and also, suggesting to people who are in their 30’s, 40’s and beyond to retrain, without any absolute guarantee that their retraining can find them a job in their field, adds to the sense of uncertainty and frustration.
The foreign labour tax levy does not technically discourage any massive influx of foreign labour, but technically serves as a form of revenue earning method. It is wise of the government to allow for more jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans by creating more visible job options for PMETs and experienced executives in various spheres of work here, especially beyond the public sector.
There is also an element of age-ism or age discrimination that plays around here in our culture. When pitted against those who are in the later parts of their lives e.g. past 40, it is potentially disadvantageous, because we face competition from foreign workers who are purportedly younger but without much working experience.
Companies still choose to practice this preference for younger and cheaper workers. In this bit, the government probably cannot help, since it really is an aspect of the work culture here, which has been deeply ingrained, and it might take more than just national level education for people to change their mindsets.
Many people have blamed foreigners for competing jobs with us, what is your view on this?
I personally do not dislike foreigners, but the floodgates are simply opened from 2000-2006 onwards without visible restraint.
In fact, what I think is simply that the process for granting citizenship or even just permanent residency to some foreigners is far too easy, insofar as it takes up only 3 to 4 months or less for a foreigner to apply for it.
In developed countries like Canada, it takes at least a year to obtain the clearance to get the PR and also, the credentials of the person are verified through various avenues such as his or her degree and its origins, a point system including the languages they can speak (English for example), through certain internationally recognized certificates, actual work experience and living experience in the country of intended permanent residency.
Singapore’s policies towards immigration are way too liberal, in that a person does not even have to be educated or have credentials that are backed up for them to come here.
Foreign companies located here literally uproot the whole team of specialists from their own countries of origins here and then settle them down at wages which are either very high(higher than locals’ wages), and if not, acceptably reasonable without CPF deductions and so on, often create a problem for Singaporeans who are trying to find work within these companies, but are technically obsolete since the whole team has already been supplanted from other countries.
Some of these foreigners who come here are contracted via their firms, and with their passes, as well as the whole pre-conception that they have of not needing to assimilate and that they are entitled to a lot of things. Needless to say, they have not been the best in contributing to our social fabric.
Lastly, what’s your advice for those who are still jobless and feeling down?
Find a support network through church, family, friends, or even a counselor to talk about it. Even a career counselor can help you to find out your strengths and weaknesses, and work towards your goals.
Try doing part-time jobs or freelance assignments where possible, so as to make some money to get by, and also keep positive by other activities like praying, exercise, reading, and taking classes (at night) in some language, or some course to upgrade (provided that it is affordable).
Lastly, believe in yourself and your abilities. If nobody believes in you, then there is no better time to do so than now.
End of interview