Mid-career switch: Challenges remain

Despite more help being made available, they still face difficulties such as skills mismatch

Older workers now have more help to make a mid-career switch, but many still face negative stereotypes and challenges from the growing gig economy.

For some, a mismatch of skills remains despite having taken courses aimed at helping them make a smooth switch, said hiring experts.

Mr Stephen Tan, director of talent management at Hudson Asia, said: "One of the major changes we've seen is the rise of the contingent workforce and the gig economy. While we've seen millennial workers grow rapidly in this sector, Gen X-ers and baby boomers are lagging behind."

One reason is that this older demographic typically has more obligations, like home and car loans, or children in university. "Therefore, they tend to look for permanent employment and a stable source of income - contract and ad hoc work does not provide the certainty," he added.

These challenges remain despite more courses this year to help those making a mid-career switch.

Last month, Second Manpower Minister Josephine Teo revealed that the number of people attending the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) has more than doubled to 1,500 in the first half of this year, compared with 600 in the same period last year.

The PCP caters to professionals, managers, executives and technicians, including mid-career staff. Mrs Teo said this was partly due to the rise in number of PCPs available. Today, there are 87 programmes across 34 sectors, compared with 37 in 18 sectors a year ago.

The proportion of mature PMETs taking part in the PCP has also increased from 20 per cent last year to 30 per cent this year.

Even so, reskilling does not guarantee a well-paying job, noted Mr Paul Heng, managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group.

He said few workers aged between 40 and 60 look for a fresh start in a new industry. "In most cases, it is not economically viable as they have to take a pay cut."

Mr Alvin Ang, director of talent acquisition at Quantum Leap Career Consultancy, said: "For every success case of a mid-career switcher, there are many more who become unemployed because the skills they offer are no longer relevant to their employers.

"For many, even if they train themselves in a different skill set, they are competing with a fresh graduate with a similar skill set but who might ask for only half the pay."

Bank tellers might be affected, he said, as companies automate processes, while repetitive jobs like packing and sorting in the manufacturing sector have already begun to be replaced by technology.

Yet another barrier is the poor impression some firms have of older workers. "Employers may harbour the perception that older workers may be slower to pick up new skills and less productive than younger workers," said managing director of Hays Singapore Lynne Roeder.

While much attention has been placed on worker upgrading, companies should also relook their hiring practices, suggested experts.

Mr Ian Grundy, head of marketing and communications for Asia-Pacific at The Adecco Group, said the recruitment firm, which places a few thousand people in new jobs each year, does not record the candidates' ages on the belief that is it "not important to their ability to perform a job or function".

On the bright side, Mr Heng said he has observed some hiring managers become more accepting of mature workers. They are more open to granting job interviews than before.

Ms Grace Chua, 43, who joined an IT solutions firm as an account and project manager in February after taking a 15-year break to take care of her children, believes that it takes two hands to clap.

"Sometimes, older workers should be more realistic and adaptable, and not be so stubborn, while employers should also give them a chance."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2017, with the headline Mid-career switch: Challenges remain. Subscribe