43-year-old manager yet to find work, 4 months on

People waiting to cross a road at the Central Business District in Singapore.
People waiting to cross a road at the Central Business District in Singapore. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

In the four months since she lost her job, Ms Shabnam Manan has applied to more than 700 organisations, including many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Four called her for interviews but she has yet to land a job. The 43- year-old, who was a manager in an international coaching firm, is among a growing pool of workers who were retrenched or had contracts aborted in the first half of this year.

The number of these redundant workers is at a seven-year high, the worst since the 2009 recession, according to Ministry of Manpower figures released yesterday.

A total of 9,510 workers were made redundant in the first half of this year, compared with 6,750 in the same period last year.

In the second quarter of this year, about 4,800 workers were laid off, 48 per cent more than the same period last year. Most, or 62 per cent, were in services.

Economist Selena Ling of OCBC Bank attributed the situation to companies restructuring and turning to automation to replace lower-wage workers. Also, price and cost pressures in such beleaguered sectors as oil and gas as well as manufacturing made matters worse, she added.

It is also getting more difficult for job seekers to find new work. The re-entry rate in the first half of the year plunged to a seven-year low.

Worst off are professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), whose re-entry rates fell from 43 per cent in March to 40 per cent in June. PMETs and those aged 40 or older, like Ms Manan, also form the majority of those laid off.

She was asked to go in May, in a "mutual decision". She said: "My employers thought I was not fitting in and I thought I needed more room to grow. I guess it was a mismatch."

She believes her age and lack of a university degree may have caused employers to overlook her 17 years of work experience. Her highest qualification is A-level education.

Ms Manan, who is divorced, is the breadwinner of her family, supporting her 16-year-old son and mother in her 80s. "I'm really worried about how we are going to move forward," she said, adding that she has applied to a Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) training mid-career professionals to switch industries.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo noted that many food and beverage outlets are closing down because of poor business or lack of manpower.

Labour MP Patrick Tay, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, sees layoffs persisting in the months ahead, especially for PMETs.He urged job seekers to tap schemes like SkillsFuture and the PCPs. "Workers must stay ready, relevant and resilient."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline '43-year-old manager yet to find work, 4 months on'. Print Edition | Subscribe