Employed, but staying ahead of the curve

Two Fridays ago, Ms Pauline Parimala was going from booth to booth at a career fair, chatting with potential employers and putting in job applications.

Unlike most of the others at the fair, the 38-year-old has a job - she works as an administrative manager for a company in the oil and gas sector.

But the company is restructuring and she expects to be let go. She intends to stay ahead of the curve and find a job in a new industry before it happens.

"The market is quite bad and I'm getting older, so I'm very worried," said the mother of three children aged three to 11.

"But I think I have skills that are suitable for other industries, like banking, and I'm willing to learn. I have to try and grab something different before it's too late."

READY FOR TOMORROW'S JOBS

We have to help the yet-to-be-displaced workers into tomorrow's jobs.

NATIONAL TRADES UNION CONGRESS (NTUC) SECRETARY-GENERAL CHAN CHUN SING, advising workers to think ahead even if they are employed now.

In the face of a sluggish labour market, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary- general Chan Chun Sing last Friday counselled workers like Ms Parimala to think ahead, even if they are currently employed.

"We have to help the yet-to- be-displaced workers into tomorrow's jobs," he said.

Workers should not think they are immune even if they have jobs now, said human resource experts and economists.

Mr Paul Heng, managing director of the NeXT Career Consulting Group, said: "It's a very common phenomenon that you're so engrossed in a job, you feel you are valued and untouchable."

Mr Heng, who was brought in to help workers laid off by restructuring firms, said most of the people he works with had never expected to be retrenched. "But as long as you are salaried, it could happen to you. You need to always be ready for the day to come when you are served with a pink slip."

He added that those holding technical jobs in fading sectors such as oil and gas are especially vulnerable because their skills will not be relevant to other industries. Those with more flexible skills, such as workers in the supply chain and logistics sector, might fare better.

Mr Chan said NTUC will work to identify, at least six months in advance, where new jobs might spring up, so it can help workers make informed choices on what kind of training to go for.

But SIM University labour economist Walter Theseira said that relying on forecasting might lead to disappointment for workers.

Instead, he said they should focus on developing transferable skills which are applicable in a variety of jobs, for instance, training to be a barista and coffee expert instead of learning to only make coffee using a specific company's coffee machine.

Workers should keep abreast of industry developments, he added.

"If you are in the transport or logistics business today, it's really impossible not to notice that all around us, driverless vehicles are going through road trials, with the obvious implication that market application will be within a decade or two.

"While disruption from lower- cost overseas competitors has always been a problem, technological disruption is more likely to take us by surprise."

Olivia Ho

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Employed, but staying ahead of the curve'. Print Edition | Subscribe