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A helping hand to carve new careers

Garden City Management CEO Kelvin Low (left) hired 57-year-old Mr Kenneth Lee, who has a degree in business administration and is also a qualified fire safety manager, as he had the relevant skills.
Garden City Management CEO Kelvin Low (left) hired 57-year-old Mr Kenneth Lee, who has a degree in business administration and is also a qualified fire safety manager, as he had the relevant skills.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A new series brought to you by the Ministry of Manpower showcases employment support programmes for workers affected by restructuring. These consider the needs and aspirations of our workforce when matching them to employers. Training, wage and placement support aim to minimise job mismatches, while a slew of onsite and virtual career fairs organised by Workforce Singapore also help connect workers to employers quickly.

It was hardly a surprise to Mr Kenneth Lee when he became jobless last August, after the firm he was with had to let people go owing to tough circumstances.

After all, the former dormitory supervisor had experienced it before when he chose voluntary retrenchment in 2004.

"I was heading the corporate events department at Jurong Bird Park - been there 15 years - when there was restructuring and we had a choice to stay or leave. I wanted to move on. I was in my 40s and things were changing," Mr Lee, 57, recalls.

"It wasn't a good thing to stay in a company too long then. You had to be willing to embrace new challenges so I thought I'd learn to swim in the rough currents, rather than wait till much later in my 50s."

Despite a successful career switch to become a dormitory manager in his 40s - not without difficulty - he had to relive unemployment again last year.

  • SUPPORT FOR PMETS

  • From April 1, the Career Support Programme (CSP) will be enhanced.

    The CSP provides wage support to encourage employers to hire mid-career PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians). Employers can receive salary support of up to $42,000 over 18 months for each eligible Singapore citizen PMET they hire (see table).

    This will help defray a portion of their salary bill as employers tap the pool of experienced and skilled PMETs.

    Call WSG Career Centres on 6883-5885 or NTUC's e2i on 6474-0606 to find out how to claim for the CSP, or visit www.wsg.gov.sg for more information.

However, shortly after signing up with Workforce Singapore (WSG) and joining the Career Support Programme for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) - which will offer added salary subsidies from next month, especially to employers who hire Singaporeans out of work for at least a year - Mr Lee was given another chance.

He joined property management firm Garden City Management as an operations manager. His former boss from Multigroup Enterprise knew Mr Lee had the skills the firm was looking for, and told Garden City chief executive Kelvin Low.

Mr Lee, who was in the dormitory industry for 10 years, says with a laugh: "They were good friends and perhaps the stories Mr Low heard about me were not all bad. He approached me about being considered for an opening. "

Garden City 's Mr Low knew Mr Lee had the basic pre-requisites for the role, "as it's still about managing accommodation" and age was not an issue. "I believe anybody willing to be trained can be trained regardless of age. There's a saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks but I'm out to prove that wrong."

However, Mr Low, 46, has encountered a common scenario when he meets older job applicants. "Sometimes they've the mentality that they are very experienced in work and life. When we try to communicate with them or give instructions, we've to be careful about the way the message is delivered," he says.

"If the employer feels that makes things more difficult, he is less likely to employ them," notes Mr Low, who adds that salaries are not a major concern when hiring such workers, as there is help from schemes like the Career Support Programme.

WSG career coach Geraldine Chua agrees that issues like whether the candidate is willing to learn or to take instructions from younger supervisors are real, and other factors include fitting in.

Mr Low has also noticed some mature PMETs fear technology and stresses that "the world is changing so they must stay relevant" or risk being taken over by the young ones.

Employers and PMETs need to have open minds and realistic expectations. "Most of the PMETs have positive attitudes, and are willing to take advice. However, when they get demoralised or anxious in their job search, their attitude will be easily affected," says Ms Chua. "The employers also need to be willing to give opportunities to let them learn."

Garden City makes sure to tap government schemes to employ Singaporeans and send them for training. Mr Lee wanted to deepen his skills so his firm sponsored his property management diploma from Kaplan Higher Education Academy.

Garden City believes in lifelong learning and there is no excuse to avoid sending employees for training as they need relevant skills. "If Kenneth goes for a course and the company can't function without him, my firm deserves to go under. We can't send everyone at one go, but we schedule work such that life goes on even if someone has to take time off. Work disruptions are always there, we just have to manage them," says Mr Low.••

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 26, 2017, with the headline 'A helping hand to carve new careers'. Print Edition | Subscribe