Preparing workers for future economy

Recharger to boost chances of 'M&M' workforce

Mr Andrew Er and his team at Workforce Singapore started the Career Recharger programme last year. It is a structured system that provides job seekers facing emotional stress with more targeted counselling. Sometimes, job seekers need more than just
Mr Andrew Er and his team at Workforce Singapore started the Career Recharger programme last year. It is a structured system that provides job seekers facing emotional stress with more targeted counselling. Sometimes, job seekers need more than just technical help.ST PHOTO: LEE JIA WEN

Counselling helps middle-aged and middle-wage job seekers who are more vulnerable in tough times

Since becoming a career coach at Workforce Singapore (WSG) six years ago, Mr Andrew Er, 30, has not just linked job seekers with suitable opportunities - he has been consoling those who are in tears and helping others identify the emotions they are experiencing.

While he used to serve more rank-and-file workers, more professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are coming forward for help. The past few years have been especially hard on this group, he notes.

He recalls one business development manager - the sole breadwinner of his family - who, after 23 years in his first and only job at a lighting manufacturer, was retrenched. The man said he felt useless.

"I felt the pain of his job loss as he shared with me that he was at the lowest moment of his life," says Mr Er.

Statistics show that PMETs make up a growing share of the resident workforce, and they also make up more of those retrenched. Nearly six in 10 people who lost their jobs in the first nine months of last year were PMETs.

Similarly, middle-aged and middle-wage workers are one of the main groups that Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing is concerned about.

Calling them the "M&M" group, he says they face greater competition from workers overseas now that the Internet has made markets more connected.

This is in contrast to workers in some lower-wage, or very localised, jobs such as hairdressers or hawkers who do not have to compete with counterparts overseas for now, he says, adding: "You cannot e-char kway teow yet."

Many white-collar jobs do not have this geographical insulation - even basic engineering services can be transacted over the Internet. That is why this M&M group very much needs to retool to remain competitive and adapt to new forms of work, says Mr Chan.

There are several government programmes to help PMETs move into new jobs, such as through place-and-train schemes in growth industries or wage subsidies for employers who hire older retrenched PMETS.

Sometimes, job seekers need more than just technical help.

The emotional struggle can become a major obstacle, says Mr Er, who completed a master's in counselling two years ago.

He noticed that some clients would miss out keywords in resumes or forget to customise them, avoid networking, or dwell on the past during mock interviews.

"If a person is feeling very down at home, it affects his productivity and job search," he says.

Last year, he started discussing this challenge with colleagues at monthly meetings. They agreed that a structured system to "triage" job seekers would allow them to offer more targeted help.

They raised this with the management team, who gave them the go-ahead to run a pilot programme from March to May last year with a few clients at the three WSG career centres in Paya Lebar, Woodlands and Tampines.

 

The Career Recharger programme was officially launched in July. Coaches identify clients with emotional or psychological struggles through a series of questions, then use counselling techniques to help them cope. On how the name came about, Mr Er says: "Job seekers' batteries may be running low, so we want to give them a boost so they have more hope and energy."

Between July and December, Career Recharger and two other new targeted programmes helped more than 1,000 job seekers, says WSG chief executive Tan Choon Shian. The programmes are for all types of workers.

For Mr Er, one client stood out - a middle manager who had searched unsuccessfully for a job for about five months and found himself sinking into depression.

The coaches encouraged him to establish a daily routine of heading out to the career centre or library, and to identify a support network among friends and relatives.

A couple of months and several interviews later, he landed a job. "He came here in person to share the good news and take a photo with us," says Mr Er. "It really made our day."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 11, 2018, with the headline 'Recharger to boost chances of 'M&M' workforce '. Print Edition | Subscribe