I have been in the banking industry for the past 15 years mainly in corporate/wholesale banking function (front office).
What was your last occupation and you have told us that you were unemployed for a few months, can you tell us more about this and also your job search experience?
I was working in Hong Kong for a branch of a foreign bank. My role was a regional coverage function (Asia wide) in the transaction banking space. I left without a job to return to Singapore due to pressing family reasons. My job search experience has not been easy to say the least.
You have told me that you are currently jobless for more than six months, what did you do in order to survive? Did you also approach the CDC for assistance?
Thankfully my wife is working and we have some savings (it is important to save up for rainy days). At this moment, I have not approached CDC for assistance. To be honest, I have not really taken the effort to find out more about the government assistance measures other than using the JobsBank website (although the website sorely needs an improvement).
Did you attend any interviews during the past few months and why do you think you are unsuccessful so far?
I did a rough count recently and realised I applied (both on my own and via search firms) to about 40 financial institutions and a few companies. Only had 6 interviews so far. I believe that the high rejection rate could be due to mainly to my seniority, the rest could be attributed to my profile not fitting to the job requirements while there were a few instances where the institution have a last minute change of mind and put the hiring on hold.
Tell us abit more about what you have learnt from your jobless experience and how it has impacted your family.
The hiring process has certainly lengthened across the board. This was also feedback that I got from other search firms assisting me. I have initially assumed that it would be 1-2 months max but now the norm is 4-6 months or more. On hindsight I should have planned my time to take into account this process. Thankfully I have a family who is really understanding and they have not put pressure on me. We have also cut down costs on vacations and other big ticket items. My wife and I have also been honest to our kids (they are in Pri and Sec school) about my situation and they have also been a great source of comfort. Besides, we are a Christian family and we also draw strength from our religion.
What do you think you could have done to shorten the unemployment period?
By starting the search process earlier or not be too rash to make a decision to leave so quickly.
Do you think that Singapore is now a more difficult place to make a living?
Yes and No. For entrepreneurs who are building startups, the government has provided quite a lot of assistance in this regard. So in terms of making a living from that perspective, it is not difficult. But from the perspective of a salaried worker, it is not easy given the current economic headwinds and also abundance of foreigners clamoring to work in Singapore at a fraction of the Singaporean wage demands. Coupled with that we have the usual high cost of living etc.
What do you think the government can do to alleviate the current employment situation?
So far, the government has been doing a good job in rolling out job training programmes and skillsfuture initiatives and having big brainstorming sessions with industry leaders. In all honesty, it does not really help though (but makes good propaganda).
From the perspective of banking industry perhaps what the government could do is not to make it too easy for such institutions to come and go at every economic cycle and institute measures such as:
1) Exit tax – While MAS has provided many tax incentives and other attractive concessions to encourage the foreign banks to set up shop in Singapore, they should also include disincentives when they decide to pull out or shut down in Singapore.
2) Upgrading incentives – There are many representative offices of foreign banks that have been operating in Singapore for many years. Perhaps MAS could use a carrot and stick approach to get these rep offices to upgrade into branches or increase their level of business activity in Singapore so as to ensure a firmer commitment by these banks.
Other measures on the manpower angle could be:
1) Restriction of influx of FTs – Government should really make an effort in restricting the easy influx of FTs. For example, impose a minimum waiting period (maybe 8-12 months or more) if companies wish to apply for FTs for PMET positions. Fast track allowed in special instances of special skillsets or language requirements (e.g. Japanese or Korean banks).
2) Strict immigration measures – Expatriates to exit the country within a short period once they leave their employment. For those expats who are planning to switch jobs, they have to exit the country and be away for a minimum period before being re-employed (although I am not sure whether such a system is already in place).
3) Partial early withdrawal of CPF monies – Allow, under special circumstances, jobless individuals (Singaporeans) to partially withdraw their CPF monies early to support their daily livelihood during difficult times.
Many people have blame foreigners for competing jobs with us, what is your view on this?
My personal view is that blaming foreigners is a simplistic way of looking at the problem. If the FTs are really contributing to the organisation then I think it is a good thing. However, most of the complaints are that the FTs who come are not really competent and are here either because of some affiliation with the hiring managers or because they are cheaper to hire. Many also complain of unfair treatment between foreigners and locals. We just need to weed out such HR malpractices and perhaps to codify such malpractices into the Employment Act (it sorely needs a makeover) or empower TAFEP to have more bite.
Lets also not forget that a recent survey showed that a majority of workers (my guess a significant number are Singaporeans) are unhappy with their current jobs. Hence, they are also actively looking at switching jobs. So, this has created an oversupply situation and has also affected those who are unemployed and seeking employment (although I guess many will disagree with me on this point).
Lastly, what’s your advice for those who are still jobless and feeling down?
Try to be positive rather than wallow in depression. For those who have a religion, now’s a good time to turn to it to seek solace. Simply blaming the 70% who voted PAP, the influx of FTs and lack of government support is not really doing you any good. One need to step out of the cycle of negativity and look at the problem in another perspective.
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