Thomas came in to see me all perspiring after visiting Caliberlink at Brash Basah Road two hours earlier.
He also has to return to work at 2.15pm for the second shift of his 3-month-old technician job with a MNC. The second shift ends at 11pm but Thomas is not complaining.
It was something that he desperately took up as he didn’t want to go jobless for too long after he was retrenched from a lucrative $60,000/year IT engineering position earlier this year.
He has worked there for six years and was fortunate to come out with a reasonable severance package.
However, his wife is a home maker and it would be disastrous for two adult family members to go unemployed at the same time.
He has two primary school-going boys and it was a challenge to make ends meet if there is no income for a prolonged period - to him the technician position was a God-sent.
“It was also something that kept me going even though the pay is 1/3 of what I earned,” he told me when I offered him a drink and tissue to wipe off his perspiration.
Its true that jobless PMETs who continue working at lower-end jobs after retrenchment often feel energised and positive than those who simply apply for jobs and wait at home for the phone calls.
Looking younger than his mid-40s age, Thomas earned his engineering degree from NTU and life was rosy then as the lucrative semi-con industry has just took off and work was plentiful.
Nevertheless, all good things have to come to an end and he was soon retrenched from his engineering job early this year.
He has sent out numerous job applications as an angineer but none came back favourably so when the employment agent advertised for a technician position at $1600/month, he jumped at the offer even though the entry level is only a diploma.
“Its more like a production operator job and even below that of a diploma holder,” Thomas told me.
How long do you want to continue in the job? I asked.
“As long as I am still looking for a a permanent enginnering position,” he replied.
He knew that his biggest competitiors are cheap thrid-world engineers from India, Philippines and India who will flock to our country for as little as $2000/month.
His current company also hires many technicians but they are all permanent residents – mostly from India, Philippines and PRC China. They all earn around $1600 and below.
There are also many local diploma holders who just served out their national service working there but the turn over is high as the job is monotonous and does not require much technical skills.
Thomas has tried to request for upgrading courses from a few government aid bodies in the nursing and therapist profession but when he was told that the starting entry pay is not more than $1500, he hesitated.
“I wanted to switch to another line but it has got to be viable,” Thomas told me.
After studying full time for more than a year, the entry pay for many niche in-demand fields such as nursing is not attractive enough to convince past high-income engineers like Thomas to make the switch.
He will continue to look for engineering jobs but so far the response has being discouraging. as he has being rather selective in the positions that he applied for.
After speaking with Thomas for about an hour, I must say that I was inspired by his zeal to survive even though he could onlty take home less than $1200 for his efforts.
Transitioning has seen close to 500 clients of which at least half are with engineering background.
Some ended up driving cabs or become property agents even though they have engineering degrees from our prestigious local universities.
The semi-con shut down has truly affected the rice bowls of many of our engineers who took the cue from our government two decades ago to study engineering courses.
Now, they face the onslaught of competition from many cheap young engineers hailed from third world countries who could ply their trade here due to the ease in getting them work permits.
Looking at Thomas case, I feel that it will be a tall order for him to secure any engineering job despite his qualification and years of relevant experience and even if he manages to find one, the pay will not be anywhere near to his previous salary before he was retrenched.
Unless the government drastically reduces foreign talents soon, we will see more Thomas running around – jobless and desperate.
We will also see more undergraduates opting to study the arts and social sciences in universities as this is the best way to gain entry to the secured civil service sector.
Singapore will in future face the unpleasant situation of not having enough local experienced engineers as currently most of the engineering positions are occupied by foreigners.
The profession may also be cheapened by foreign hirings who may one day take their experience with them to other developed countries who will treasure their skills more.
Written by: Gilbert Goh