Helping mid-career workers stay relevant amid pandemic

More support being made available for these workers to find new jobs and reskill

Over 72 per cent of locals who were retrenched last year were aged 40 and above, according to Ministry of Manpower data.
Over 72 per cent of locals who were retrenched last year were aged 40 and above, according to Ministry of Manpower data.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Helping mid-career workers stay employable has been a key task of late, one made more significant as they could be more vulnerable to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the job market.

Workers in their 40s and 50s face a tougher time in the job market because their existing skills and paper qualifications are often no longer as valued by employers, some human resources experts told The Straits Times.

"They may be less savvy at marketing themselves and also perceived as less adaptable to employers' demands compared with younger workers," said Institute for Human Resource Professionals chief executive Mayank Parekh.

Career coach Adora Wang said that although some older job seekers are willing to take a significant pay cut or apply for a lower-ranked position, companies also worry that they may be using the position as a stepping stone and will move on after a short period.

She said some job seekers in their 40s and 50s who get help from her have not written a resume for 20 years and do not know the latest resume template or even what roles they can apply for.

Ms Wang, who works at government agency Workforce Singapore's (WSG) Careers Connect and also facilitates workshops to boost job seekers' confidence and job search skills, recalled how even a high-flying 49-year-old senior executive from an IT multinational was retrenched last year even though he did well in his job.

Over 72 per cent of locals who were retrenched last year were aged 40 and above, according to Ministry of Manpower data.

A spokesman for WSG also said that since 2016, more than 60 per cent of the 27,000 or so job seekers its career coaches have worked with each year have been aged 40 and above.

More help has been made available recently for these workers to find new jobs and reskill.

Measures include the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package, which has an additional $500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up for workers in their 40s and 50s, on top of the $500 that all Singaporeans aged 25 and above will receive this year, as well as a wage subsidy for companies that hire new local workers aged 40 and above through certain reskilling programmes.

The Government aims to double the placements of mid-career workers into new jobs through reskilling programmes such as professional conversion programmes to around 5,500, by 2025.

The National Trades Union Congress also announced it will pilot a Job Security Council to find new jobs for workers being laid off before they are displaced.

  • >72%

    Proportion of locals retrenched last year who were aged 40 and above. 

    >60%

    Proportion of the 27,000 or so job seekers whom Workforce Singapore career coaches have worked with each year since 2016 who are aged 40 and above.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat and other ministers have also said a second stimulus package, set to be announced tomorrow, will aim to help workers keep their jobs, and support those who are retrenched amid the Covid-19 pandemic. This is on top of the $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package rolled out in the Budget statement last month.

Experts say that while more should be done to counter ageism among employers, mid-career workers can also help themselves by being flexible about job preferences, learning to brand themselves effectively and having a positive mindset.

Companies can remove personal information such as age on resumes to eliminate any unconscious bias during the interview process, said Ms Jaya Dass, recruitment firm Randstad's managing director for Singapore and Malaysia.

ManpowerGroup Singapore country manager Linda Teo suggested that beyond cash incentives, the SkillsFuture Credit scheme could incorporate some compulsory time off for employees to attend external courses to stay relevant.

WSG principal career coach Cheng Hing Nan said it is important for middle-aged job seekers to know what principles and values set them apart and allow them to add value to potential employers.

  • Training PMETs for new roles

  • Financial services, general manufacturing, education, infocommunications technology and logistics are the top sectors where professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) have entered new roles through professional conversion programmes (PCPs) over the last four years.

    Placements in these sectors accounted for about half of the 13,000 mid-career PMETs placed through the scheme since 2016, said a spokesman from Workforce Singapore, the agency that runs the scheme.

    Career conversion programmes were introduced in 2003 and have been expanded since 2016 with the launch of the industry transformation maps across 23 key industries.

    PCPs aim to help Singaporeans find work in growth areas, said the spokesman. To keep the programmes relevant to employers and job seekers, the focus is now more on training on the job instead of mainly by external training providers.

    More PCPs have been created in emerging areas such as data analytics and user experience/user interface design, while training places have been added to existing PCPs in growth areas like manufacturing and air transport.

    Joanna Seow

"They should also be very well aware of their own expertise and skills and understand not only how they can contribute to the hiring company, but also what kind of jobs or domains they are suited for."

Ms Wang said clients of hers who found new jobs easily tend to have very positive mindsets. "They are more receptive to coaching and taking actions to improve their job search strategies... they're always speaking to friends, former bosses for job opportunities. Maybe when they talk to friends or go for job interviews, it shows," she said.

Mr Jonathan Wong, a senior executive in the media industry who is in his early 50s, landed a new job last year, nine months after being retrenched, with the help of his career coach, Mr Cheng.

He said: "I was able to get more insights on the market, what the market wants, (whether I should) stay in the media industry or move.

"When I applied for a job or went for an interview, we could talk about how to best position myself for that context."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 25, 2020, with the headline 'Helping mid-career workers stay relevant amid pandemic'. Subscribe