I saw Jeffrey again this week and never failed to recognise the lethargy displayed on his face.
I always thought that he is older than me slightly and was shocked to realise that our birthday is only a few days apart when we exchanged information on our age…
Having only worked for around ten months in a 5-year period it is not difficult to visualise how prolonged unemployment has played tricks on both the mind and body.
The person who is working tend to be quicker in his walking pace and seems assured of himself.
I wanted to see him earlier but he has changed the appointment - anyway its always good to be able to see your clients again – hopefully in happier circumstances.
My kind of work is tricky as you don’t want to see your customers twice – it means that the person is still not working. Nevertheless, I always try to keep tabs on those who are difficult to be rehired i.e who are above 50 years old and with little transferable skills.
Engineers and IT specialists have the more difficult-to-place skills as not only are they deem obselete but the region is flushed with cheaper and younger third world engineers keen to work here for a quarter of their pay.
Its a lose-lose situation for our jobless over-the-hill engineers and IT managers.
Jeffrey and I talked a little about the warm weather and his coughing which I detected is still there when I met him three months ago.
He is also a IT helpdesk specialist and attained his programming degree in the mid 2000 from SIM.
Jeffrey never fails to amaze me as he is always upgrading himself – he told me that e2i has sent him something on a IT helpdesk upgrading course costing $7000 but after all the subsidy he only pays around $1000.
“Its a good deal isn’t it,” he said encouragingly. “It’s a train-and-place programme and after the one-month course I will be able to be placed with a software company.
How much will the pay be? I asked curiously.
“It should be about $1200.”
I tried not to be too discouraging here and told him that he should go for it as these might be baby steps to something better.
I always encouraged the jobless I seen – almost on a daily basis now, to take sbaby teps to get out of their bottomless pit.
It could be a part-time job or a course as the activities generated tend to lift the miserable spirits out of the jobless community. Once you are on the move, the brain starts to click together and psychology will play its part.
Simply staying at home and wait for the ideal job will be the last thing you want to do – especially if you have being doing that for the past 6 to 9 months.
How about the family? Do they view you as lazy and incompetent? I asked.
I always felt that prolonged joblessness will not only hurt your pocket but also the family.
After staying jobless for 18 months during the 2001/02 crisis, I knew how staying off work for a prolonged period could impair relationship with your family members.
We have seen at least 20% of jobless clients experiencing marital difficulties as a result of prolonged unemployment. Some have even divorced and experienced severe trauma as they have lost the biggest support during a very tough period of their life.
In our Asian context, the man is still seen as the breadwinner even though our women here have excel much in the work force.
Jeffrey has confided in me that currently for the past five years, his wife has being paying for most of the household expenses.
It is fortunate that Jeffrey and his wife have shared their finances together all this while and that his wife allows him to use her money.
I told him that for many families here, the wives tend to keep their own money but the husband’s account is shared.
“Are you acting like a house husband? I asked him as he sipped his cup of ice cold water gingerly with both hands.
“You can say that,” he replied nonchantly.
“I get up at around 6am every morning and fetch my daughter and wife to school and work respectively.”
“I then park the car at my mum’s place till around 1 pm and fetch the daughter back from school later in the afternoon. I pick my wife back from the office at around 7 pm later.” His daughter is in primary school still.
It was a ferrying routine that he has performed for the past few years while he was unemployed and more importantly he felt useful.
When he was working for ten months two years ago, he has to pack them off in a park nearby the school and it was still dark as he has to rush off to work by 8am.
I asked if he enjoyed the house-husband role as it meant that he couldn’t earn his own keep and probably lost the respect of his family members.
“It’s already lost long time ago,” he told me matter-of-factly.
He told me that he nearly couldn’t make it to a holiday trip recently during the June school holiday with his family as they didn’t want to include him.
I could feel his sadness as he spoke as I experienced the same kind of exclusion during the period while I was jobless in 2001/02. It was the deepest stab to one’s heart and I couldn’t imagine how your own family could do this to another family member.
He told me how his older son didn’t respect him many years ago when he started to stay at home and let his wife be the main bread winner.
“Maybe I should go back to work and gain back his respect for me as a father,” he told me.
Yet, he also worried that once he starts to return to work, his wife and daughter will have to wait at the park nearby the school as he could not ferry them there later.
I told him that his daughter can take the school bus and learn to be a bit more independent.
He stared into space silently as his thoughts raced by at the decisions he have to make to keep his house in order.
Is it too late already as none of his family members give him the respect that he so cherish all this while.
It will be sad if he loses his family in the near future if things remain the way it is.
As Singapore continues to grabble with age discimination in the work place, there are really very few statistics that connect unemployment to broken family ties.
According to my working experience with Transitioning these few years, my take is that prolonged unemployment severely cripples the strong family ties that individuals have always wanted.
Perhaps, our Asian society is still not ready to accept our women folks becoming the main bread winner with the father staying at home to be the house husband.
Men, who are more egoistic here, also prefers to work and not stay at home – even though the wages earned may be meagre.
Many European countries have long embrace this social norm in their countries as women tend to be able to get rehired easily compared to men.
However, with many of our well-educated women rising up the social ladder at the work place and our older men being routinely displaced by cheaper younger foreign executives, this phenomenon may be getting more common in the near future.
The big question is – are we ready for this hierarchy change in our society?
Written by: Gilbert Goh