Transitioning has seen close to 500 jobless clients by now and 75% of them are men. They are looking for counselling or coaching support from our volunteer team.
Even the woman PMET expressed surprise that she was the only female participant as she thought that there would be more women in transition who needed support.
This gender trend followed many of our events held throughout these four years while we are in operation.
So do employers prefer to hire women over our male jobless counterparts or are there some other more complex industrial reasons unknown to many of us?
Unlike other western countries. many jobless fathers have turned into house husbands and some even receive an allowance from their working wives. Our Asian men will shy away from being house husbands as culturally we are looked upon as providers.
Failing to do so have caused many men to either abandon their families in shame or withdraw from the family emotionally. Its difficult to look into the eyes of your child when you are staying at home the whole day whereas your wife is out in the corporate world bringing in the bacon.
Thus, our men who are facing prolonged unemployment also encounter relationship issues with their wives especially when there are financial problems at home. Transitioning has seen at least 20% of these cases with marital problems and some marriages have even broken up as a result.
It does not help that half of these jobless male PMETs we have seen are engineers by profession in sunset semi-con industries and some of them even have MBAs. Their last drawn salaries are in the high four figures and the better ones even commanded five figure pay scale.
Most of them have high-sounding titles before such as senior engineer, department head or regional manager – sadly these past attributes do not help them one bit to get rehired.
In fact, hiring department heads tend to shun local engineers who have solid qualifications and experiences for fear that one day they will over-take them. They prefer to hire fresh inexperienced engineers from abroad.
Dilemma of middle aged male jobless PMETs
For now, employers can hire engineers for less than $2000 from Philippines, India or Myarmar using the S-Pass work permit - further complicating the employment opportunities for our middle aged male engineering PMETs.
Employment agents I spoken to informed me that unless high-powered engineers are willing to take at least a 40% cut in their pay scale, they will be left on the shelf.
Most of these positions also require them to travel extensively or even a outright posting to some forsaken third world country.
Its still a mystery why local engineers are still so much sought after by foreign countries whereas our own employers opted for talents from third world countries with suspicious degrees. I reckon its due to the cost factor.
Local engineers and IT specialists are also the ones that are unemployed for a longer period – an average of between 8 to 12 months compared to our women folks who usually are rehired within 3 months or less on average.
A lot of this engineering group drops to the prolonged unemployment category – reserved for those who are jobless for more than 26 weeks and not surprisingly they are mostly men at the wrong age group.
Our women folks seem to be more fortunate when it comes to being rehired – even if they are in their 40s.
Females – wanted in administrative and financial sector
A female single PMET in her late 30s, who has worked in the adminstrative and secretarial sector for almost 15 years, was rehired within two months after she was retrenched from her job recently.
Though her pay was reduced by 20% from $2900 to $2300 she was glad that the unemployment period was not any longer. She is single and self sufficent as both her parents have passed on. She only obtained a private secretarial certificate many years ago while starting out and has no other formal qualification.
Strangely, her pay equals that of our local graduates with a few years of work experience – an ominous sign that indeed the foreign influx has led to a downward spiral of our wages here especially for our female graduates.
So is it right to assume that though it is easier for our women graduates to get rehired, their pay package is usually smaller than our male counterparts? All sign point to this fact as for example in the civil service, male fresh recruits are given a double increment in recognition of their national service contribution.
It is thus not surprising if the private sector will do the same thing i.e. give our male fresh graduates a better head-start over our female graduates for similar positions.
To reiterate that female graduates can get rehired easier - another local female graduate I knew who is in her late 20s was offered an administrative position with a salary of $2000 and there is a high chance that she will go for it even though her degree is in finance and the pay range is not within her expectation.
She was looking more for finance-related positions and expected a pay check of $2500 at least.
Better to be working than wait for the right job on the sidelines.
Many now are working and looking and I wondered how that will help companies resolve our local job hopping bad habit.
All this only benefits employment agents who charge sky-high fees for companies looking for talents. Some I heard even charge exorbitant rates of almost 30% of the annual salary of successful candidates for providing manpower sourcing.
Nevertheless, by offering a salary that does not renumerate well with the candidate’s educational qualifications and skillsets, the company runs the risk of hiring someone who is disheartened and on the look out for better paying jobs.
Administrative positions also favour female jobseekers and are always in the market. If the person fits the bill one can get an administrative job easily, almost within the same month if she is not choosy.
Moreover, many employers prefer women to fill in for administration vacancies.
How often have you heard of a guy performing the role of an adminstrator?
A local company I visited recently told me that they prefer a woman candidate to fill in for the position of purchaser assistant – reason being woman is known to be neater, tidier and more detailed than man!
Though I have to agree with her selection bias, subconsciously, I couldn’t help but realised that many of our local employers are rather discriminatory in nature - sometimes without them even knowing it!
Most of the women who have written in to us to seek support have degrees in mass communication, finance, marketing, arts and social sciences.
It is also a well known fact that women tend to dominate in enrolment for places in tertiary insititutions. Being more disciplined and focused when it comes to paper-chasing, they tend to outshine our male counterparts in the educational pursuit for a better future.
More than 60% of our tertiary places go to our women folks and in this new-age globalised economy, if you job search without a degree its like going around with a gun without a bullet.
The explosion of the financial industry here also means that our women folks studying finance-related degrees are hotly sought after especially in the consumer banking sector. Private bankers are also mostly women and male employees are a rare sight in this lucrative industry.
Large international offshore banks have relocated to Singapore recently and the hiring has being anything but aggressive. Sad to say, many of the employment benefits foreign talents especially for those who specialise in the IT industry.
Nevertheless, the consumer banking sector understandably hires mainly female financial consultants as it is mostly a service job which needs alot of soft skills.
Rich wealthy men with millions to invest also prefer to be served by a young female advisor.
I knew about this hiring phenomenon when someone from the finance industry, who is in his early 30s and still struggling with unemployment, related to me that a charming female ex colleague of his was rehired within the same month when they resigned together from a local bank.
As for him, he attended several interviews and rejection calls of ”You are over-qualified” or “Your salary expectation is too high”, resonated so regularly that he has decided to look at the emigration route out of his misery.
Reservist duty liability of men
I have also heard that employers preferred to hire women due to the reservist liabilities of our male workers.
Every male in Singapore has to serve a 13-year reservist cycle of which five have to be high-key attachment i.e. more than 14-days continuous liability and may involve overseas exercise.
I remembered I was posted to Taiwan thrice for exercises when I was serving as a reservist and though I was a civil servant then I could imagine the mayhew it would have cause for many if they are high up in their corporate responsibility ladder.
Though employers have to deal with the 4-month maternity leave enjoyed by our women folks when they give birth, the low birth rate here means that it is an uncoommon inconvenience which employers will have to weigh the risk with when they hire women workers.
As Singapore continues to generate more work in the service industry, this will benefit the women workers immensely as most office-related service jobs are taken up by women.
Moreover, women usually do not take on the role of breadwinners as men do and they can accept a lower salary offer than men.
Employers also realise that if they offer $2000 to a male graduate who is married, he will most likely reject the offer but the female candidate may bite at it as she works more for her own needs and do not have to really provide as much to the household than her husband.
That is probably why I heard of many female graduates working for ridiculously low pay of between $1700 to $2500 and some are local graduates.
Sunset semi-con industry hits our male engineers badly
The fact that many of our men belonged to the sunset industry of the once-lucrative semi-con business also contributed to this employment mismatch. How can you retrain and upgrade the skills of an ex-engineer and still manage to help him get a job in a new industry that pays close to $5000?
Its an impossible situation that no government in the world can do well with.
Many semi-con companies have either packed their bags to somewhere else cheaper or closed down altogether due to the intense competition and low price margin.
Of course, some of our male engineers will follow where the semi-con industry goes to but not many people want to pay the price of relocation as it means a long distance relationship with their family members which carry a high chance of disintegration due to the temptation factor.
Most men I know also studied engineering in schools a decade ago and thousands of them are retrenced during the recent 2008 global financial crisis.
I remembered back in my school days when students entering polytechnic to study engineering was considered the cream of the crop.
It was like serving national service to be an engineer then as Singapore was becoming a manufacturing hub in the 1970s.
They were all hustled into one elite class and given the best resources so that they can make it to polytechnics.
Those of us in the arts stream was also placed in one lousy class but we always envied as walked past the elite class in awe and admiration at their prowess. The special elite class strangely was taken up mostly by guys – I could only count less than five females in the class.
Of course, many of them belonging to this class did well enough to take up further studies at polytechnics and some later studied at our local universities or moved on to overseas studies.
Our women folks on the other hand took up arts and social sciences in tertiary education and many entered the teaching, health or government sector – areas that do not face employment turbulence easily.
Civil service – led mostly by women
At least 70% of our 100,000-strong civil service comprised of women and more than 80% of our teachers are also women.
In most corporate offices that I visited, women formed the bulk of the workforce whereas men are usually hired in blue-collared jobs such as security guards, construction foremen, taxi drivers, manufacturing supervisors, property agents among others.
I have also seen many women taking on traditionally male-dominated industries such as sales and marketing and regional HQ positions.
For example, I spoke to a 30-something female local graduate who recently job-hopped to another company with a slightly better package - less than two months after she started to job search.
She was also hired after just one interview.
She is a very pleasant and soft-spoken lady with extrememly good soft skills and certainly cut-out for the sales and marketing division of any company. Her degree in science major also helps alot as she specialises in the pharmacetical industry.
As Singapore struggles with a record number of high-end middle-aged PMETs, who are usually men, let us hope that the government will take a fresh look at the needs of this group.
Upgrading will only do so much good to this well educated experienced group who is sidelined because of their age and obselete skillsets.
Even if upgrading works, they could not survive on the low pay package that normally plagues new entry position holders.
At the tender age of mid 40s, many jobless PMETs still have financial obligation to fulfill with their familes and it will be a potential social time bomb if their needs are not properly well addressed in this rapidly ageing society.
Perhaps, the government should limit employers from hiring foreign talents easily so that our middle-aged male PMETs could have a shot at jobs in the new economy.
Fixed quota to hire only locals – PRs not included
Most employers also prefer to hire younger PRs over locals as they can be cheaper and more willing to work longer hours for the sake of their PRs.
It is perhaps for this reason that 95% of our PRs are gainfully employed and this group totals half a million – almost 25 percent of the total workforce here.
The government also allows PRs to be grouped together with locals when they chart their unemployment statistics and this is probably why not many people believe that our unemployment figure is a mere 2%. The statistics of our jobless local PMETs are clouded out by the heavily-employed PR population here.
A walk in the central business district during lunch last month at Marina brought forth much worries as I witnessed many young foreigners queuing up for food at the many eateries dotted over there. Many are known to be from India, Philippines. PRC China and Myarmar.
Visits to some companies last month also make me realised that a worker above 40 years old is a rare find these days. I could even spot out a young pretty ang moh receptionist in one of the local SME!
My 3-year stay in Sydney has make me realised also how strict employment legislation has enabled many matured workers to stay gainfully employed over there.
In fact, in some companies that I have visited, many are filled up with matured workers especially if these are from the healthcare or social work industries.
In Australia, it is an offence to state your name, race, religion, gender and only your skills and educational qualifications are required on your resume. No photo is also to be attached on the resume as it is deemed discriminatory.
To resolve the problem of this enraged group of male jobless middle aged PMETs, our labour legislation needs to be improved and hopefully when Minister of State Tan Chuan Jit relooks the Employment Act for tweaking soon, he will look into this aspect.
Its frankly pointless also to have a good-looking legislation on record when companies continue to flout the employment act without any repercussion other than a verbal warning.
They should instead be shamed in public for deterrance purposes and even penalised heavily so that others will toe the line.
If not, the bitter cries of this large group of middle-aged educated jobseekers will one day endanger the social fabric of this wonderful country.
Written by: Gilbert Goh