Singapore's job market seems to have weathered the worst of the Covid-19 shockwaves. Unemployment among Singaporeans and Permanent Residents has been falling steadily since December last year. Retrenchments are down, thankfully, to pre-Covid-19 levels, at 2,270 in the first quarter of the year compared to 9,120 in Q3 last year.
But this may be of little consolation for people who have lost their jobs, especially mature workers in their 40s or 50s. With children and/or parents to care for and mortgages to pay, this cohort belongs to the "Sandwich Generation" who face tremendous pressure if they are let go.
Besides taking a financial hit, they also struggle with feelings of self-doubt and are worried about their ability to continue providing for their loved ones. Even if they are fortunate enough to be financially stable, being let go from or losing a position attained through years of hard work and dedication is likely to be a blow to anyone's sense of identity and pride.
Job seekers in their 40s and 50s have approached Workforce Singapore (WSG) to share their struggles in the current job landscape. Quite a few wonder if they'll still be able to find a good job - or any job. The fear of being passed over by employers for younger job seekers is a very real concern.
Some also question if they should settle for the first decent job to come their way, even if that means taking a significant pay cut and dampening their career prospects. Most are feeling stressed, traumatised and lost.
"Almost give up [sic] now as (I) guess due to my age, maybe no company wants a 55-year-old PMET," shares one dejected job seeker.
Another 40-something individual adds: "I'm not picky or afraid of hard work, but I worry that if I accept a job that pays significantly less than my previous one, it will affect my future career path and opportunities."
How to move on: Acknowledge your fears, take stock of your skill sets and don't lose hope
Even before Covid-19 decimated jobs across the world, a survey by the Institute of Policy Studies showed that 35 per cent of Singapore respondents aged 36 to 50 were "very much worried" about losing or not finding a job.
Losing a job is bad enough; losing it during a pandemic is worse.
If you are let go, the immediate thing to do is not to beat yourself up over something that was beyond your control, say career coaches from WSG. The future is what matters. You can, and will, find a job - by following the next steps.
First, take stock of your skill sets: What are the transferable and marketable skills that could make you stand out? Next, look for openings, on MyCareersFuture, for example, that best fit your profile or are supported by government initiatives such as the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.
If you've worked in an industry that was hit hard by Covid-19, such as tourism, try exploring opportunities in growth industries like healthcare or information and communications technology. Identify the gaps in your skill sets for those openings, and strive to fill those gaps by attending courses or through retraining.
Despite job seekers' concerns about ageism in the workplace, there are employers who see the value of hiring mature workers who have the desired competencies, skills, experiences and, more importantly, the right attitude.
Learn from others who've proved that age is just a number
One such mature job seeker was 47-year-old Mohd Nasir Ja'apar. The former senior quality engineer had worked for an oil and gas company for five-and-a-half years before he was let go last April.
"I vividly recall the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as if it happened yesterday… Being "unwanted" was how I felt, and my mind was desperately racing with thoughts on how I would face my family and friends," he shared.
Pulling himself together, Mr Nasir spent the next four months applying to more than 60 jobs in pharmaceutical, chemicals, semiconductor and other sectors. But replies were slow to come; if any did, it was to inform him that his application had been unsuccessful.
Concerned about whether he could re-enter the workforce, he sought help from WSG's Careers Connect. Career coaches there eventually matched Mr Nasir with 3D Metalforge, an SME specialising in additive manufacturing. He was offered a position as senior quality engineer and had to undergo a six-month professional conversion programme for his entry into a different industry.
"To those who are retrenched… don't give up hope," said Mr Nasir. "Opportunities that knock on your door might be outside your comfort zone, but be open-minded, it would be a waste to let them go."
Another middle-aged Singaporean, Ms June Bee Ling, 48, lost her job as a helpdesk officer in June last year. Fifty job applications and three interviews later, she was still drawing a blank. So, like Mr Nasir, she reached out to WSG as well as NTUC's Employment and Employability Institute (e2i).
In March, she started a new job as an implementation specialist for a workforce management software company.
Ms June doesn't feel that her age hampered her job hunt. Intense competition in the tight market was to blame, she noted, adding: "We must upgrade our skills to remain relevant and adapt to the jobs in the market."
Next topic: What does it take to start over in a brand new industry?
If you're keen to know how to get started in a new field or have advice to share with others on how you've successfully managed to do so, write in to WSG here.
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