Monday, November 13, 2006

Providing a Safety Net

I can’t help but feel I have been misunderstood to a certain extent about my article, “Future of Singapore”. I would thus like to set the record straight.

I mentioned how far our neighbours have come over the past decade. And the competency level of their skilled labour forces are by no means less than ours. They are less expensive too. This resulted in much heated debate on the influx of foreign talents. Honestly, in a cosmopolitan city like Singapore, it is inevitable foreign talents exist. It is NO fault of the government, rather, market forces dictate. What I was trying to imply was whatever Singapore can offer in terms of human resource capability, our neighbours can too. On top of that, they have cost & land advantages. In view of these pulling factors, multinational firms are very much tempted to relocate to reduce operational costs; if Singapore continues to be “too expensive”. Where we used to think the problem of unemployment was on the unskilled. Now the threat of unemployment applies also to our skilled labour force. Jobs lost may never be replaced again.

Those who bear the brunt of the threat are sadly in their 40s & above. I must hasten to add that education, skills upgrading & experience are key to competition in this knowledge economy. Supposedly, these are the people who have the education, the right training & carry with them loads of experience. However, a cloud of PREJUDICE hovers over them because of their AGE. While some may get re-employed in no time due to certain circumstances, the majority may take ages. Not only do they have to deal with the emotional trauma of being unemployed, they also have to cope with the burden & stress of living costs. What can be done then to help these people? Again, I am NOT advocating a welfare state.

While I jolly well understand the virtue of teaching a man how to fish, the issue is not about giving handouts. It is about coming up with measures to cushion the impact of income loss of this group while they are actively seeking employment during their unemployment period. I thought deep & hard. I would like to share my suggestion.

The government may consider allowing them to tap into their CPF with “terms & conditions apply” of course. Firstly, when one has lost his job, he must register himself with the WDA. This will allow the WDA to do a job match while he is also actively seeking employment at the same time. In the first 6 months of his unemployment, he cannot withdraw from his CPF. After 6 months & still unsuccessful in the job market, he may draw up to 50% of his last drawn pay from his CPF or a stipulated cap amount. Firstly, this is not a freebie as CPF money belongs to each individual & more importantly, the money will certainly come in handy to meet monthly living expenses. Imagine how relieved these people & their families will be after draining six months of their savings to meet costs of living. Once WDA has successfully done a job match or when one has finally found a job, he will not be allowed to withdraw from the CPF anymore. Individuals who reject match by WDA will also not be allowed to continue withdrawing from his CPF. In fact, the government may stipulate a re-payment scheme for those who have withdrawn from their CPF during their unemployment. Re-payment commences once an individual starts to contribute to his CPF again.

Some may argue about abuse of the system. There will be those who choose not to work & living comfortably off their withdrawal. However, this will not be possible. They have to register with the WDA & withdrawal will cease to be allowed once WDA has done a job match.

On the issue of job matching, WDA should take into consideration one’s experience, education & expertise. There have been cases of skilled professionals rejecting job offers as cleaners. They were labelled as choosy. But to expect one who had invested in education & filled with experience to perform such jobs is not job matching. It’s simply filling in vacancies for the sake of filling in vacancies. Job motivation is important.

I would like to reiterate the root of the problem is really age discrimination. While I really wish age discrimination may be a thing of the past, until then it can only be wishful thinking. We can’t pass legislation. It’s not something the Government would consider wise to do. I don’t second that either. On the flip side of the coin, a Safety Net in place would mean a lot to these unfortunate ones to keep up with living whilst genuinely looking for work to bring the bread home.

Monday, October 30, 2006

My Comments

To be honest, I am no avid blogger. So to those who are actually looking forward to more write-ups from me, I am sorry I may have to disappoint you. As to how this blog came about then, well this was what happened.

I was on a flight, full of thoughts about the current society, age discrimination & where Singapore is heading to (our future). I wrote it down & sent it to the Forum Page. Unfortunately or fortunately, it was rejected. Due to space constraint, they said. I was encouraged by those who have read my article to post it on the Net for alternative mass readership.

It’s barely a month since I posted my article & it’s beyond my wildest imagination that my commentary has created such a furore. It has even sparked off a lively debate which otherwise would not have been possible on traditional print media.

I have written to the Forum Page before on "insignificant" issues & ironically they were published. Many have told me it's really the press readership control that my commentary was rejected this time. I still would love to give credit to the Forum Page & think otherwise.

Nonetheless, I want to thank all who have visited my blog. Either you agree or disagree with me, I still want to thank you for the very fact that you shown interest in my personal opinion.

Some may be wondering how I feel about the whole episode. Well, my objective was to create an AWARENESS of the plight of people in their 40s. Looking at the numbers who have visited my blog & the “accidental” limelight as a result of a “visit from the elite”, I should be happy some level of awareness has been achieved indeed. Although this is not new, but at least people are taking a step back to reflect. It’s also about time our government face the “brutal truth”; about the feelings of the post 65 generation.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Future of Singapore

When I read the Straits Times article (dated 24 Sep) on PM Lee calling the young to be committed and make a difference to Singapore, I have so much thought about the issue.

I am 35 years old, graduated from University and gainfully employed in a multinational company. But I cannot help but feel insecure over the future of Singapore. Lets face it, it’s not uncommon to hear, “when you are above 40, you are over the hill”. The government has been stressing on re-training, skills upgrading and re-adapt. The fact is, no matter how well qualified or adaptable one is, once you hit the magical 40, employers will say, “you are simply too old”.

We have been focusing our resources and problem solving on low unskilled labour. But in reality, our managerial positions and skilled labour force are actually fast losing its competitiveness. I travel around the region frequently for the past 10 years. It didn’t take me long to realise how far our neighbours have come over the past decade. They have quality skilled workers, and are less expensive. When I work with them, their analytical skills are equally good, if not better than us.

It’s not new anymore. Taxi drivers are fast becoming “too early to retire, too old to work” segment of the society. I like to talk to taxi drivers whenever I am heading for the airport. There was this driver. Eloquent and well read. He was an export manager for 12 years with an MNC. Retrenched at 40 years old. He had been searching for a job since his retrenchment. Although he was willing to lower his pay expectations, employers were not willing to lower their prejudice. He was deem too old. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have another No. 1; having the most highly educated taxi drivers in the world.

On PM Lee calling the young to be committed and make a difference. Look around us. How dedicated can we be to Singapore when we can visualise what’s in store for us after we turned 40? Then again, how committed are employers to us? But we can’t blame them. They have bottom lines & shareholders’ gain to answer to. Onus is really on the government to revamp the society. A society that is not a pressure cooker. A society that does not mirror so perfectly, what survival of the fittest is. But a society, where it’s people can be committed, do their best and not having to fear whether they will still wake up employed tomorrow. Sadly, Singapore does not offer such luxuries and security anymore.

On the issue of babies. The government encourage us to pro-create. The next generation is essential in sustaining our competitive edge. Then again, the current market condition is such that our future has become uncertain. There is no more joy in having babies anymore; they have become more of a liability. It’s really a chicken and egg issue.

Many of my peers, bright and well educated have packed up and left. It’s what MM Goh called “quitters”. It’s sad but true, Singapore no longer is a place where one can hope to work hard their lives and retire graciously. It’s really the push factor. A future is something we sweat it out, build and call our own. Unfortunately, people like me, mid 30’s going on 40’s, staying put by choice or otherwise, we can’t help but feel what lies ahead is really a gamble.

To PM Lee and the Ministers, we are on a different platform. Until you truly understand our insecurity, the future of Singapore to me remains a question mark.