Paul Heng, For The Straits Times

My Singapore dream of career resilience

Singaporeans should strive to be the first in career resilience too. --PHOTO: STFILE
Singaporeans should strive to be the first in career resilience too. --PHOTO: STFILE

My daughter's marriage solemnisation ceremony earlier this month started a new chapter in our lives. With two children, my responsibility as a parent is half accomplished - at least in the Asian context of parents having fulfilled their responsibilities after their child is married.

Reflecting on my children's growing up years in Hong Kong and then Singapore, the one thing that struck me was that both Singapore and Hong Kong have changed much over the last two decades. Singapore will soon celebrate her 50th year of independence.

Turning my thoughts to the future of my children, and in the not-too-distant future, my grandchildren, I began to wonder what Singapore would be like in the next 50 years. As a career coach, my thoughts naturally drifted to the topic of jobs and the employment scene.

Sustaining our livelihood and sanity

AT THE end of June, Singapore's total population of citizens and permanent residents was 3.8 million. Our median age rose from 38.9 last year to 39.3 this year. By 2020, about 40 per cent of our total population will be above 50 years of age.

Singapore's birth rate continues to decline. Early last year, it was reported that Singapore would aim for a fertility rate of 1.4 to 1.5, up from 1.28. The score line at the end of that year was 1.19.

The bottom line is that, increasingly, there will be more matured workers in our workforce. Whether they are economically productive is a separate issue.

Given this backdrop, it seems incredulous to me that many employers continue to practise hiring discrimination, given that they will continue to need human resources to drive the business.

Many job-seekers who are in their 40s, and older, face challenges on re-entering the corporate world, or remain unemployed. The physically challenged are not having it easy too. Many Singaporeans, in the meantime, continue to vent their frustrations on foreign professionals taking away their rice bowl. The fact remains that Singapore needs global business mindsets to continue to thrive - foreign professionals complement our talent pool.

I foresee that the Government will have to resort to legislation to keep matured workers in the workforce. This does not auger well for Singapore as we would ideally want to maintain our international status as a free market.

Without natural resources, we have to continue to introduce new industries and build on existing ones to be able to maintain our current low unemployment rate. At 1.9 per cent (Q3, 2014), it is probably one of the lowest in a developed country. We need to work hard to keep it at bay.

This is going to be a perennial challenge. While the Government is doing its part to help, more working Singaporeans would do well to come to the realisation that they also have to do their part. The Ministry of Manpower and its associated branches, the Workforce Development Agency, Caliberlink and so on, are doing a great job in providing support, not just for the unemployed, but also professionals, managers and executives who are gainfully employed. We cannot leave it to them, though. Workers have to invest in their own development to mitigate the risks of becoming irrelevant to the business world.

One set of skills is no longer sufficient. People have to acquire a portfolio of skills and knowledge base so that they are versatile and can switch industries and jobs when the inevitable changes happen.

The era of self-directing careers and portfolio careers - that is, being self-employed, having a diversified set of skills and doing different things with different clients to have a more sustaining livelihood - is already upon us.

Workers will have to manage their own careers and be responsible for maintaining their own employability. They have to continually acquire new knowledge, learn, re-learn and unlearn so that they are always up-to-date and remain relevant to the business world. Jobs will continue to disappear - mostly due to technology.

Gender equality

WE MUST have more women in our workforce, regardless of whether they are self-employed, in business, welfare organisations or politics.

As a matter of fact, we need to have a mindset shift that sees talent as just that - no differentiation between genders. There will be no more talk about the glass ceiling, (lack of) women in senior leadership positions and in the boardroom, and so on. In other words, gender equality.

On the home front, societal norms predominantly still see the male partner of the family as the head of the family, whose key task is to put food on the table, and the female partner as the family carer. The reality, however, is that there is an increasing number of families where the female partner brings home a larger piece of bacon.

My wish is to see a quicker evolution of gender equality - where both parents partake (equally) in the bringing up of the young ones, and also the minding of the older ones. As a society that claims to be progressive, both parents should share equal responsibilities, on both the financial and non-financial fronts. This joint responsibility is independent of one's earning power. This will encourage and enable more mothers to return to the workforce, alleviating the challenges of an ageing workforce.

Singaporeans must work towards becoming a much more resilient, forward-thinking and forward-acting workforce, one where people are capable of taking care of their own careers. Some help from the Government is fine, but not excessive amounts. That will go a long way to ensure they continue to contribute to Singapore's success for as long as they are healthy - independent of age.

Singaporeans have always strived to be among the best in class in everything they do. Why not be among the first to achieve life-long career resilience?

The writer is founder and MD of the NeXT Career Consulting Group.