Singapore: On the lookout for opportunities amid anxieties

Finding ways to stay relevant in tough job market

Master of ceremonies Elson Leong had to turn to other jobs during the pandemic. Far left: For Ms Nur Sakinah Mohd Noor, the job hunt since May has been challenging, as she had to compete not just with fellow graduates, but also with workers who were
Ms Tan Hui Lin, who had been managing beauty pageants in her family business, was among those who had to grapple with newfound uncertainty or find extra sources of income. She started a floral arrangement business and a pork slider bun business.PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
For Ms Nur Sakinah Mohd Noor, the job hunt since May has been challenging, as she had to compete not just with fellow graduates, but also with workers who were retrenched.
For Ms Nur Sakinah Mohd Noor, the job hunt since May has been challenging, as she had to compete not just with fellow graduates, but also with workers who were retrenched.PHOTO: COURTESY OF NUR SAKINAH MOHD NOOR
Master of ceremonies Elson Leong had to turn to other jobs during the pandemic. Far left: For Ms Nur Sakinah Mohd Noor, the job hunt since May has been challenging, as she had to compete not just with fellow graduates, but also with workers who were
Master of ceremonies Elson Leong had to turn to other jobs during the pandemic. PHOTO: COURTESY OF ELSON LEONG

Finding a job and starting a career should be a thrilling time for young people, but with the pandemic strangling the job market, the experience has been daunting and anxiety-inducing instead.

Some graduates had job offers withdrawn, while others had their internships cut short. Some began new jobs only to end up having to switch to other paths when things did not work out.

But there is something about the resilience and optimism of youth that is seeing them through.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) business graduate Rachel Tsang, 23, who had some job offers withdrawn, says: "I was emotionally affected by my circumstances, although I knew it was not my fault since the economy was not doing well and it was not within my control."

Like this year's crop of fresh graduates, she officially left school in July.

She decided to look for learning opportunities and the chance to gain transferable skills. She is now a trainee in a role aligned with her interests in sustainability.

NTU engineering undergraduate Lim Xuan Zheng, 25, found his six-month internship with Israeli construction start-up CivDrone cut short when the Government recalled overseas students.

He says: "Finding an internship placement was particularly difficult when I came back to Singapore."

Although he had planned to apply for product management roles ahead of his graduation next May, he said he might look for a more technical job instead, which could be less competitive.

NTU business student Muhammad Irfanullah Mohamed Kasim Amanullah, 24, had his internship in Ethiopia cancelled. The internship had come with a scholarship and the chance to be converted to a full-time job.

"As long as I am willing to learn and adapt to the changing environment, I believe I will be able to secure a job in the future," he says.

"To help me stay relevant in the job market, I have been taking courses on (online education platform) Coursera. By upskilling myself during this period, I believe I will be able to pursue my career aspirations even if Covid-19 is around for the next few years."

The Ministry of Manpower estimates that about 41,300 residents below 30 years old were unemployed in June, according to preliminary figures. The seasonally adjusted resident unemployment rate for those below 30 stood at 7.3 per cent in June, higher than the 6.8 per cent in March this year and the 6 per cent in June last year.

Arts management graduate from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Priscilla Wee, 23, says the search since May for jobs such as gallery assistant or arts programmer has been tough.

She says: "I am slowly starting to think about expanding my search to other companies or maybe try a marketing job. It's not been easy... and I've had to change my expectations for not just salary but also job security."

Singapore Management University (SMU) business student Victoria Neo, 23, says she may expand her options from jobs in marketing and branding to entrepreneurship in the online space.

She says: "I think it really puts what I want to do in the future into perspective. It's so uncertain."

Some young people are opting for traineeships in the meantime to gain experience.

SMU law student Gwee Jia Wei, 23, who is a trainee at the Centre for Research On Successful Ageing, says: "I think taking on internships would definitely help, as (it) proves you have exposure and some training."

Fellow trainee and economics graduate Yew Jee Yuen, 27, still hopes to find a research-related job when things improve.

"While the emergence of the pandemic made it difficult to secure full-time opportunities, and may have temporarily disrupted my career plans, I still aspire to do what I had originally set out to do."

National University of Singapore Associate Professor Ho Kong Chong says: "Young people want to find short-term safe harbours, but they haven't given up on their dream jobs. In the meantime, they're trying for something short term until opportunities open up again."

Republic Polytechnic graduate Nur Sakinah Mohd Noor, 21, says the job hunt since May has been challenging, as she had to compete not just with fellow graduates, but also with workers who were retrenched.

So, she decided to take a traineeship as a sales administrator with manufacturer 3D Metalforge.

"I couldn't afford to wait until I landed a full-time job. I felt like I was wasting a valuable opportunity if I did not sign up for such a programme," she says.

"This will also mean I can polish my resume by including the skills I have acquired during the traineeship. Aside from getting skills and knowledge and a boosted resume, the company may convert trainees to a full-time position. I believe there is nothing to lose."

Berklee College of Music graduate Cherie Rui Min's plans of a music career in Los Angeles also went up in smoke. Instead, the 24-year-old came home, and launched music school Vine Music Studio this year. She also organised an online charity concert to help underprivileged women.

"We have to adapt and find ways to pursue our passions while making a living," she says.

But even those who had jobs had to grapple with newfound uncertainty or find extra sources of income.

Ms Tan Hui Lin, 23, worked in the family business, managing beauty pageants with her mother.

She says: "Events were the main source of our family's income and the pandemic caused a significant impact as everything was held up."

So Ms Tan tapped her entrepreneurial vein, creating floral arrangement business Blooms & Buds SG and a home-based pork slider bun business called Kiap It. She is also exploring jewellery sales online.

She is not the only one.

Master of ceremonies and sports coach developer Elson Leong, 30, conducted online training, delivered parcels and managed swab testing sites when the pandemic put a stop to physical events.

He says: "I have taken an optimistic attitude towards all that has happened. I am open to exploring more options if opportunities arise."

Some juggle work and school, like SMU economics undergraduate Jarrod Wong, 23, who is also working with IPP Financial Advisers. "I think that financial advisory will always be in demand and is perhaps even more important when the economy is volatile and uncertain," he says.

Paradoxically, the pandemic has instilled flexibility and adaptability in this generation, say experts.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo says: "The pandemic may have also prompted some to re-evaluate their career plans, with some deciding to switch to jobs that help them gain a greater purpose in life or industries with more growth opportunities."

NTU Associate Professor Trevor Yu says: "The challenging conditions of the job market may suggest that people may be more willing to explore different types of career paths, compared with the traditional climbing of corporate ladders, and non-standard work arrangements, such as contract-based or part-time work and apprenticeships."

And all is not lost, as the pandemic has expanded the realm of possibilities, for instance by allowing people to work remotely for overseas firms, says SMU Professor Paulin Straughan.

"It has shifted us to imagine a little bit more. In the past, graduates were very traditional and stuck to big firms, but now, they look around and see which companies have risen from this."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2020, with the headline 'Finding ways to stay relevant in tough job market'. Print Edition | Subscribe