After seeing more than 500 jobless PMETs over a 4-year period, I have managed to piece out a few standard profiles of these PMETs whom I have the honour of talking to during a very difficult part of their life’s journey.
Suffice to say, most of them are unsure, insecure and some even depressive.
Women tend to be emotionally affected and a few have cried at my office.
Men took it more stoically but some of them were betrayed by their pained countenances when they came to see me to talk things over.
I became a very good listener over time – a virtue that does not come naturally due to my impatience.
I learnt alot from my clients as I shared in their personal life’s journey.
Unemployment is no respector of education, age and experience – it affects the well-educated or the uneducated.
For many, a job represents livelihood but more importantly self respect and esteem.
Take work out of a man and you strip him of his ego and self confidence.
Prolonged unemployment destroys a man’s self esteem and confidence
That is probably why the unemployed faced a torrid time of self evaluation and depreciation as he questions his own self worth and dignity.
The seriously affected will even ponder on taking his own life to end the misery.
I am however glad to report that 80% of these jobless PMETs whom I saw have already found work - some in less senior positions whereas others are in what we now commonly termed under-employed positions.
I have always advocate that the jobless take on any job just to get by and be out in the job market. It is far better than staying at home all alone and waiting for that elusive right job to come by.
I did that almost ten years ago for 18 months and regretted that decision when I evaluated my situation later.
If I could re-work the clock back to the period that I was jobless, I would gladly take on any job just to get by and move on.
Not only have I lost my family due to the horrible 18 months of unemployment back then but I have lost a large chunk of self confidence and dignity in the process.
Of course, I have recovered alot by now and managing Transitioning full time with a new zeal and mission to help those who are displaced by prolonged unemployment.
That is probably the best outcome of that horrendous period.
On another note, a few of the jobless engineers I known have gone on to become cabbies and so far none has given up yet. We lunched at times and they seemed contented and resigned to their fate.
Under employment – common nowadays
The newly-converted cabbies’ age range is in their late 30s to late 40s category and none of them took on driving cabs willingly but they have no choice after going on a year-long fruitless search for engineering jobs in the difficult manufacturing sector.
After the demise of the sunset semi-con industry in 2008/9, thousands of engineers were left in a lurch and could not get back similar jobs with the same kind of pay check.
Many engineers diversfied to other fields or left to work abroad in third world countries which still have thriving semi-con industries.
Most jobless PMETs came to see me because they wanted me to assist them to find suitable jobs.
However, surprisingly, many who saw me also wanted a listening ear as so far there isn’t a viable channel for them to voice out their unemployment-related frustrations and concerns.
Our CDCs or Caliberlink merely take down the jobless PMETs’ particulars and may guide them abit on their resume writing but most of these career counsellors are not trained counsellors and thus unable to provide the much-needed emotional counselling for our weary-ladened unemployed PMETs.
For the seriously depressed clients, I have known of some who saw a psychatrist as they could not function normally after staying jobless for a prolonged period.
They are often perscribed medication to help them in their painful journey.
So far, on my call fortunately, none of our clients have attempted suicide and died.
Indeed, prolonged unemployment could wreck a person’s life and well being especially if you have a family to take care of and home mortgage to pay.
I have experienced the awful consequences of prolonged unemployment for 18 months and do not want to under-estimate its’ destructive effects.
Most jobless PMETs expect to go back to the work force again after been laid off or retrenched.
Our jobless PMETs are rather clueless what to do next when they are been laid off except to look for another job.
They just want to move on as smoothly as possible but I must warn here that the journey can be ardous and tough.
Unemployment has no dead line and often the unemployed could not see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
Many actually ended up stopping their job search altogether after six months or more as their patience wore off. That is the beginning of a very serious rot for them as they may get used to staying jobless at home.
Nevertheless, many PMETs who found work later on told me that they became stronger emotionally and tougher on the inside after experiencing unemployment for a period.
Many don’t mind a pay cut – they just want to get back to the work force again and even a job switch is viable if it is within their comfort zone.
Some even went on to take a master’s degree in the hope of landing a good job but sad to say in today’s economy, getting another degree won’t get you anywhere.
Our PMETs are unable to create an income for themselves even if a good idea is presented to them. Most of our jobless PMETs are unenterprising, uncreative and mostly risk-averse.
Singaporeans not entrepreneurial enough?
The same could not be said of our Indonesian or Malaysian Chinese counterparts who tend to be more entreprenurial and risk-taking.
Maybe its their cultural environment which forces them to be more adventurous in order to make a living for themselves and their families. In other words, they have no choice but to make it in business or else they will suffer.
So far, unfortunately, I have seen less than 1% of this jobless group trying to be innovative and entrepreneurial – and even less so for those who have make it.
There are those who tried a business venture unsuccessfully, stopped their business dream altogether and tried to get back to the work force after that.
There is always no appetite for another venture especially if the first one bombed badly.
Call it once bitten twice very shy!
They always expected the first business venture to make it…and will pour all their resources to making it work as the risk for failure is very thin here.
The fear of another business failure, loss of more money and family resistance ensure that our well educated PMETs will not take another entrepreneurial plunge again – however enterprising the next business venture may be if the first foray has failed miserably.
PMET bombed in fish farm business venture
Transitioning has spoken to some who dared to take the plunge but sad to say after one serious plunder, they have all chickened out and went back to looking for a job again.
For example, there is this 49-year-old IT manager I knew who lost almost $100,000 trying his hand at a fish farm.
Not only is he unsure of the fish farm business and moreover all along he has been working for big MNCs with a stable pay check and thus lack the all-important business acumen.
Plunging in with both eyes closed mysteriously, he sunk in $20, 000 initially that would have make him the larger share holder eventually.
After sinking in almost $100, 000 in total over a one-year nightmarish period, he realised that he may be ploughing money on a loss-making venture and decided to end the misery.
Now jobless for almost a year, he is $100,000 poorer with no fish farm and totally down on his self confidence.
Successful entrepreneuers will testify that normally they only make it after trying out on the third or even fourth attempt.
Each failed attempt allows the person to garner more experience which will hopefully smoothen the journey for another more successful venture.
Steve Jobs only made it on his second attempt when he was re-hired back to head Apple.
To expect a business venture to take off if it’s your first attempt is really asking too much of yourself.
Personal experience – never give up on your dream
Personally, I have started a non profit organisation five years ago and it was covered in the local papers when we launched it.
Called Support for Men anf Familes (SMF) - it is supposed to be a collaboration between a ex colleague and myself and we intend to reach out to men who are struggling at the family front.
However, before we could even list down the appointment holders after calling in volunteers to help out, there was a serious dispute between my friend and I.
Both of us dropped out later on after a committee was set up but I learnt valuable painful lessons out of that aborted collaborative effort.
I learnt to manage volunteers better, be confident to call the shots on my own unassisted if necessary and plan well ahead before every event.
I was lacking confidence when I started the SMF NGO earlier and relied on my friend alot as he has a degree in social work and the necessary experience in that field.
Now, I never let my lack of qualifications and experience deter me from venturing out on my own. I just need to research more and if possible call in like-minded people to take the plunge with me together.
Though armed with just a diploma in counselling, I have many volunteer counsellors with master’s degree helping me out. I would love to go on a master’s degree in counselling programme but the high cost has deterred me from pursuing it.
I started Transitioning a year later after the initial first NGO setback – drawing alot of lessons learned from the failed first social outreach attempt.
I tried not to make the same mistakes twice and to have more self confidence in things that I pursue nowadays.
I realised that passion and belief in your own mission can carry you a long way and people actually respect you if you don’t give up easily.
I also attempt new things and properly evaluate each venture but never to let initial failures deter me from the adventure of experimenting.
If the venture fails on the first attempt, it does not mean that it will fail again on the second try.
I usually give up easily before but now will try to work on a venture at least three to four times before calling it quits.
Rarely do entrepreneurs make it on the first attempt and that is sadly what most local Singaporeans will expect if they dare to venture out on a business endeavour.
Not only are they impatient on result but they seldom make another foray into a new venture if they fail on their first attempt.
PMET successful on second business attempt
However, I am proud to announce that there was one jobless PMET who make it after he was retrenched a few years ago – on his second business venture.
After retrenchment, he tried out a battery charging business working at home during a one-year period.
The business bombed and he lost $30, 000 in that venture.
Fortunately, he didn’t give up and started a totally new venture – IT firm specialising in providing solutions to small companies.
His second venture took off and the company generated handsome profits after he managed to secure business from a big MNC. He owns a condominium now and seems successful.
He also volunteered with Transitioning and spoke to our jobless PMETs before in our entrepreneurial event.
I hope that such story is being replicated often but unfortunately this is not the case.
Many PMETs who are entrepreneurial seldom dare to take the plunge and they count the cost too much to do so.
I met this jobless 50-year-old jobless PMET who could stay at home with his family without working as he has managed to generate enough cash return from his stock picking expertise.
He told me that he is long keen on starting a food retail business but would want to study all the angles before taking the plunge.
We spoke for many hours and every time his conclusion would be: “Let me study more on this first.”
It is ironical that foreigners are attracted by our ease in doing business here and many companies were started by foreign entities with our locals working for them.
I have met a employment agency firm staffed mainly by freelance locals working for the Malaysian boss who is a permanent resident for a long time.
I am still amazed why none of the successful local employment agents started their own company but continued to work for this Malaysian PR who owns a solid thriving business.
As he didn’t pay them any basis salary but uses an attractive commission reward system, he incurs very low cost and earns whenever the local agent brings in a client for the company as they need to use his license to book the sales.
Perhaps, we lack the self belief that we can do it when we start our own business.
Our foreign friends, being more risk-taking and adventurous, tend to be more daring in business venture.
More importantly, they believe in themselves – an element that is very crucial in any business venture.
Why Singaporean PMETs don’t believe in themselves
It could be due to our destructive meritocratic educational system as we are often told that we are not good enough while growing up - unless you score straight A’s or become a scholar.
Our own parents pour more oil into the burning furnace when they compare us with this cousin, neighbour and worse another sibling – often complaining that we are not good enough even if we bring in 99/100 report card.
Where is that missing one mark that would bring you a perfect score?
The mushrooming tuition culture here also does not help us one bit as we packed off young children to be academically better at tuition centres.
Some bright kids I spoke to thought that going to tuition centres mean that they suck at their studies when actually it’s not the case. The real problem is with their kiausu parents.
When we enter society and join the work force, we are again written down during assessment reporting that we are not good enough compared to the Tom, Dick or Jerry working besides us.
Our government also complaints that we are not faster, younger or better than the neighbouring countries’ workers who are deem to be more hardworking and efficient than us.
So in come hundreds of thousands of foreign workers competing with us for work. Even our own local employers favour foreign workers over us!
The ones who dare to strike it out on his own in future and make it will probably rule the world from now on.
However, with so much negative feedback about our capability, it is no wonder that well educated Singaporeans will continue to think like a worker and help our foreign bosses to make more money.
Written by: Gilbert Goh