April 28, 2017

Tags Posts tagged with "jobs"


by Abraham Lee

WHILE the old saying goes, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life”, it’s almost unrealistic to assume that you’ll continue to love your job like the first time you were exposed to it. The lucky ones among us might, but certainly not every worker.

Moreover, although we often glorify the career paths of those who followed their dreams to do what they want like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, life doesn’t always go according to plan. No wonder the old saying has since been ‘updated’ to read, “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day of your life… Because that field isn’t hiring”.

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Nevertheless, having a plan for what you want to do is a good place to start when deciding which university or higher learning course to pursue. At the same time, it’s also good to be realistic – to understand the need to also love what you eventually do and keep an open mind about your career prospects as you plan for the future.


Doing what you love

If you don’t yet know what you actually love doing, a good place to begin is to think about your own strengths and interests. This will help to narrow down the industry or field you want to enter. For example, if you’re especially good at analysing and handling numbers, and interested in insurance, finance and risk management, you may want to consider a career in actuarial science.

Or if you love kids, have a passion for a certain subject and teaching that subject, you may prefer becoming a teacher. To help you find the job you’re most suited for, you can apply for internships or temporary jobs in the field of your interest, gain the opportunity to meet new people you may not otherwise have met, and valuable experience towards crafting a career that you’re actually passionate about.

With the emphasis on embracing the challenges of the digital age on innovation, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is organising networking sessions to bring together people from different industries to share and receive insights. The future of the economy lies in this cross-pollination of ideas, and companies are increasingly looking for problem-solvers with skills spanning across different fields. It’s relevant for students planning for their futures to look forward and keep an open mind about how their various strengths and interests can fit into these trends.

For example, through design thinking, an increasingly popular problem-solving methodology, designers can combine their technical expertise with their deep knowledge of their product or company to tweak processes and improve user experiences. While traditional problem-solving processes start by defining the business goal first and working to deliver the user experience that matches these goals, design innovation involves defining the desired user experience and designing the delivery system for the experience after that.

Ms Agnes Kwek, Executive Director of DesignSingapore Council, said that the industry needs “people who are ambidextrous”. That is, “designers who can code-switch between the creative sense and the pragmatic sense and know what can be reasonably implemented, as well as how to navigate the stakeholder environment”. To get started in design thinking, you can consider a design diploma and degree programme, and building a portfolio of projects that implement what you learn.


Loving what you do

A 2014 study found that 46 per cent of Singaporeans didn’t like their jobs. We placed second in the Asia Pacific region – only behind Japanese workers, 56 per cent of whom didn’t like their jobs. But as important as it is to know what you want to do, so is learning to love what you do.

While we have ideal career paths in fields we are passionate about, our lives don’t always pan out the way we plan them to in reality. Even if we end up in our dream jobs, we may not always do what we like within that role. A large part of succeeding at what you do lies in putting more time and dedication than other people, and this requires love for the job, especially for jobs you aren’t naturally attracted to. Thus, it’s imperative to be able to learn to love what you do.

We can learn a thing or two from those dedicated to their crafts like Mr Jiro Ono, the 91-year-old sushi chef and owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a Tokyo sushi restaurant that has won three Michelin stars. In the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, he said that he entered the F&B business when his parents kicked him out at the age of seven. Yet, he also highlighted the importance of honing deep skills in becoming successful. He said, “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honourably.” He calls this work ethic as the shokunin spirit – loosely translated to mean ‘craftsman spirit’.


Remain flexible and open-minded

It’s also important to adjust your goals as you become exposed to other opportunities and ideas. Mr Lawrence Koh, founder of indoor skydiving company iFly Singapore, had always been interested in flying and skydiving since his secondary school days and “was looking at becoming a pilot or a Commando”. He enlisted with the Commandos and became an officer. Upon the completion of his Platoon Commander tour, he went on to get a degree in Avionics Systems Engineering at the University of Bristol to continue pursuing his love of flying.

It was during his time in the Commandos that he “developed the concept of skydiving simulation for freefall training… to bring the dream of flying to everyone”. At the end of his bond with the SAF, Mr Koh decided against staying on in what would’ve been a “comfortable and secure career”, and instead “stepped out of [his] comfort zone to do something that can change and influence [his] life and others greatly”.

There will always be thoughts of failure but if you don’t try it, you will never know the outcome. Of course, we cannot just make the decision recklessly. We have to plan and prepare for it so that even if we fail, we learn from it and aim to do it better next time.

He left the force in 2008 and became the first to bring a wind tunnel to Singapore when he set up iFly Singapore in 2011. During this time, he drew from his training in skydiving and the Commandos the keen understanding that there was only one chance and failure brought with it “devastating consequences”. Mr Koh said, “I also planned in advance for what I want to do and also contingency plans. This is to eliminate most uncertainties and likelihood of things failing. On execution, I will be pro-active in it so that we can react to the situation if anything unplanned happens.”

He is now planning to expand his business in Asia.

Mr Koh said, “[You] should pursue what [your] dreams are and set [your] minds to it. There will always be thoughts of failure but if you don’t try it, you will never know the outcome. Of course, we cannot just make the decision recklessly. We have to plan and prepare for it so that even if we fail, we learn from it and aim to do it better next time.”

So, to love what you do or do what you love? Why not both?


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:



by Lee Chin Wee

THE Labour Market Report 2016 released today (Mar 15) revealed that the annual average resident unemployment rate rose to 3.0 in 2016, after holding steady at 2.8 per cent for the last four years. This is the highest figure since 2010, when the resident unemployment rate was 3.1 per cent.

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Compared to data from 2015, residents aged 30 – 39 (2.3 per cent unemployed, up from 1.9 per cent), and 50 & over (2.7 per cent unemployed, up from 2.4 per cent) were particularly affected, while those aged 29 & below saw the unemployment rate decrease from 5.1 per cent to 5.0 per cent.


Taken from Labour Market Report 2016, Ministry of Manpower


Part of the high unemployment rate can be explained by seasonal and frictional unemployment due to the cyclical nature of the global economy. Singapore tends to be buffeted by forces outside our control. The manufacturing sector, for instance, shed 15,500 jobs in 2016 because of flagging global demand for products. This figure would have been far worse, had it not been for the manufacturing sector unexpectedly expanding by 6.4 per cent in Q4 2016. Plunging oil prices have also badly affected the offshore marine industry, with retrenchments picking up in 2015-16. One would expect unemployment figures to improve as the global economy recovers.

However, the unemployment rate can also be attributed to structural unemployment: As Singapore adjusts to the disruptive impacts of new technology on traditional businesses, people’s skills no longer match up to market demand. Singapore’s continued economic transformation, therefore, may lead to underskilled or wrongly-skilled workers left by the wayside. As firms reorganise and restructure to become manpower-lean, longstanding jobs like accounting and secretarial work may be cut, while new business interests – financial technologies, for instance – are developed.

There are now 17,000 long-term resident unemployed (refers to those unemployed for more than 25 weeks), compared to 12,700 in 2015. This figure is the highest since 2009, when the 2008 Financial Crisis led to thousands of Singaporeans losing their jobs.


Taken from Labour Market Report 2016, Ministry of Manpower


Most worryingly, the long-term unemployment rate for degree holders rose to 1.0 per cent in 2016, the highest since 2004. Does this mean that more university graduates now hold paper qualifications that are ill-suited for the modern economy? Possibly. A bachelor’s degree in programming or software engineering received 10 years ago, for instance, may bear little relevance to the sought-after skills of today. Without a constant push for skills upgrading and on-the-job training, many graduates will find themselves either underemployed, or out of work.

As the economy becomes more complex, the need for specialised skills has soared. This has challenged the traditional view that higher education guarantees a stable career, as demand for specialised skills can change overnight with the introduction of new technology or sudden industry transformation. Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) formed 75 per cent of all residents made redundant in 4Q 2016 – a disproportionate figure.

Statistics seem to suggest that there is a growing mismatch between employee skills and job requirements; especially at white-collar managerial and technical levels. And even when tertiary-level education does meet market demand, the rapidly-evolving jobs landscape means that employees must be willing to continually upgrade themselves. Given this context, policies to help workers gain new skills or encourage businesses to leverage new technology are extremely important.

Whether Singapore will be able to bounce back stronger from this period of slowing growth and higher unemployment depends on how well we can react to technological disruption. If our workers and businesses do not stay ahead of the curve, one should be prepared for more grim news ahead.


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by Suhaile Md

DIGITAL jobs like software, web, and multimedia developers are the third most in-demand jobs according to a report released by the Manpower Ministry on Tuesday (Feb 7). Clearly, technical skills like coding and data analysis will put candidates in a good position for these jobs.

But it would be a mistake to think coding is all that matters. Soft skills play an integral role in career progression as well.

The idea of the “lone wolf” who does not get along well with others, but writes brilliant code, is a thing of the past, said Mr Sheng Yunzhou, a software engineer.

“Like any other job, domain skills alone are not enough,” he said. Other skills like resilience, ability to learn, teamwork, and communication, are important, added Mr Sheng. The 29-year-old develops apps for private banking clients at a major international bank.

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In the past, coding used to be “product or project centric”. So when a project came along, various people were pulled together to work on it, only to be disbanded once completed. But now, it’s about “nurturing a strong team, keeping them together”, to work on successive projects said Mr Sheng.

A team “has to become an entity itself… so that it can move quickly” to solve problems.

Mr Sheng recalled the time his team had a developer whose coding was good but his inability to work with others created problems. For example, the team would have two weeks of the project planned out but the developer’s tendency to do things his own way would throw the plans off. Time, and hence money, was lost due to a lack of cooperation from the developer.

Learning how to work well with people is a skill that can be picked up.

For example, understanding what motivates others, or why they act a certain way, goes far in making one an effective team player. The Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) course “Winning with difficult people” is a course you can take. Singaporeans can use their SkillsFuture credit to pay for the course. 



The “biggest problem” with many developers, Mr Sheng found, is their inability to “communicate ideas clearly” even to their fellow coders.

Bad communication can hamper the quality of work. After all, developers basically “teach computers to do things that people can use”. If developers do not learn how to listen, to talk to people to find out what problems users are facing, or to hold a conversation exploring different ideas, how can they create a product that people find useful?

Courses that teach skills like how to structure a conversation such that you draw out the relevant information, understand the various communication styles people have, and craft clear messages, are available. For example, the “interpersonal communication skills” course by the British Council.



Coding is hard, even for developers, said Mr Sheng. The field changes so fast, “it’s a must to keep on learning new things, all the time”. New jargon crop up every time there’s a development.

So anyone who wishes to progress in this field needs to “instil the habit of deliberate practise”.

It’s the “most valuable asset”.

Coders need to practise harder codes and different programming languages in their downtime, over the weekends and so on. Or other developers will take their place.

The challenge of continual learning and deliberate practise is that failing is part of the process, which can be “really daunting,” he added. Without resilience, effective learning in this field is difficult.

It’s a sentiment shared by Mr Tan Choon Ngee, CEO of aZaaS, a Singapore-based Information Technology firm with subsidiaries in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China.

“Positive nature and grit” is what Mr Tan looks out for in his new hires. Otherwise they would not be able to keep up with the industry as it “experiences high rates of change”, said the 42-year-old.

At the end of the day, as Mr Sheng said, while coding is a must-have primary skill in his field, without communication skills, team work, and resilience, your career would be stunted.

His advice, regardless of which industry you’re in: “Keep learning, don’t stop.”


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:


Featured image by Pixabay user Tumisu. (CC0 1.0)

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Citizen timepiece with clock hands pointing at 8:30
Citizen timepiece shows 8:30

THE price of water will go up this year after 17 years, and the hike will pay for Singapore’s increased reliance on more expensive sources of water like desalination plants and NEWater, which make up about 25 per cent of supply. Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli framed the new pricing as a way to boost Singapore’s water security.

Cheaper water sources – local catchment and water from Johor – have not been able to supply all of Singapore’s 430 million gallon per day consumption, especially when weather patterns are erratic. A price hike will better represent the current cost of consumption.

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By 2060, about the time our water deal with Malaysia ends, Singapore will rely on desalination and NEWater for 85 per cent of its supply, and total consumption is expected to be double what it is today. Guess water will be even more costly then.

Will higher prices make us more mindful of how much we use? The current average consumption per person per day is about 151 litres, and PUB hopes to reduce this to 147 litres per day by 2020, and 140 litres per day by 2030. Someone’s got to show me where all of that 151 litres goes.

Have you served your National Service? To mark 50 years of NS, more than a million Singaporeans who have ever served or are currently serving NS will get $100 worth of vouchers and one year’s free membership to Safra or HomeTeamNS. You’ll get your vouchers in the mail.

The goodies are part of a year-long celebration of NS and those who served, so expect a series of events to mark the occasion, including an NS50 Week, to be held from Aug 1 to 10.

Service to the nation will start again for the nine Terrex Infantry Carriers that returned to Singapore last week after being seized by Hong Kong for two months. Inspections of the vehicles have concluded and they will be put back into action.

Finally, on the job front, Minister of Manpower Lim Swee Say spoke out against Surbana Jurong’s labelling of terminated workers as “poor performers”. He answered questions in Parliament about the case, which were mostly clarifications on process and standards pertaining to terminations and performance appraisals. The option to file an appeal with MOM is open to any worker who believes he has been unfairly dismissed.



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by Iffah Nadhirah Osman, Jonathan Leong, Li Shan Teo and Vanessa Wu

FINDING a job is hard. It’s even worse when there are more job-seekers than the number of jobs. With the growing gig economy, could working in this line be the next big thing?

From Uber drivers to photographers as well as various freelance jobs, these jobs are readily available for all, although these workers may not receive the same benefits that full-time employees do.

One of the concerns that these workers share is not being able to contribute to their CPF. Mr Alan Wu, 52, Uber driver, said he has to save consciously since he doesn’t have CPF savings as a safety net.

TMG asked 50 individuals on the best and worst part about working in the gig economy. Here’s what they said:

Ms Marion Ngo, 21, ad-hoc worker

“The best part of working customer service jobs is finding meaning in helping others with their queries, and making sure their problems are adequately and accurately resolved. It might be tiring, but it’s nice knowing that you’ve made someone’s experience a pleasant one at the end of the day.

There really isn’t anything that I find bad about my job. It can be tiring but that comes with all jobs. To be honest, I wouldn’t do that job if I don’t find it enjoyable.”

Ms Priscilla Poh, 24, makeup artist

“I think one of the best parts of the job is being able to meet very passionate and talented individuals that I won’t get to meet otherwise.

I guess the difficult part is the logistics of my job, sometimes figuring out how to get from place A to place B with a heavy makeup kit is troublesome! Also, I have to ship in quite a few of supplies myself.”

Mr Renney Rashid, 27, stylist and makeup artist

“Being a freelancer allows me to develop myself at a pace that I’m comfortable with, with minimal pressure to outdo others, vying for a spot for promotion in the corporate ladder. I’m also able to have more rapport building time with my clients such as going down to their level to understand their expectations and do more to achieve their desired looks and outcome. This creates a better working environment for me which in turn allows me to fully showcase my artistry in the fashion and makeup industry.

The hardest thing is to be disciplined – to plan, manage, and execute in the creative artistry. Another negative aspect has to be our product value. To some, it’s just assembling a look, grabbing a couple of dresses and accessories, and putting on make up for people – and that should not cost much because after all it’s just assembling a look. But the real deal is the preparation and detailing. It takes a little explanation and convincing before the client can understand the true value of what they’re paying for.”

Mr Ali Nuri, 19, UberEATS rider

“This job pays me weekly. The hourly rates are high during peak hours and can go up to $25/hour. In just a few hours, I can earn up to $70 – $100 plus incentives if I hit the requirement. For example, I hit 20 trips in a day or do trips while it’s raining to receive more incentives. There’s no need for me to schedule my work. If I feel the need to work then I only need to login in areas where there are a lot of food stalls or restaurants that need UberEats’ help with delivery.

The worst thing would be the unstable income. Every week or month the head of finance will change the payout scheme. It can go as low as $5/hour and per trip on non-peak hours. However, that depends on the number of orders received in the last month which the operations manager will look into. So it means our payout will defer depending on the previous month’s numbers.”

Ms Kayte Willis, 29, dance teacher and choreographer

“The best thing about working as a freelancer is the freedom to choose your own jobs. You’re as busy as a full-time worker too, which is a good thing but can also be bad because the mentality of a freelancer at times is game as many jobs as possible. It’s a first-come-first-serve basis. You have a variety of opportunities and freedom of choice for your projects. You are your own boss!

The worst thing is wanting to have the best of everything. Too many choices can also lead to greed and if you take everything, you are bound to have a breakdown. Conflict of interest is another thing. Especially with people you choose to work with and are in the same industry. But as a freelancer, we have that freedom of choice. At times, people in the industry can take that as an offence so we also have to make sure our work ethics and integrity are good. We don’t want to step in anyone’s boundaries.”

Mr Benjamin Tan, 24, writer

“The fabled flexibility is certainly true, at least to a certain extent, as I’m free to plan my own schedule according to what suits me best, within the boundaries of the deadline. This leaves me with more time to pursue other ventures in life that taking a full-time job would otherwise not have allowed.

That said, one particular area of concern will have to be the terrible pay, with a depressing average of about $25/article, it does almost always ensure low quality work — I’m fairly certain the undervaluation of freelance work has contributed to the drastic drop in online literary standards. Alas, the only way to not weep when I look at my monthly income is to grab as many freelance opportunities as I can for different publications. I don’t know about other freelance industries, but as far as writing goes, it suffers a double whammy of both being undervalued and underappreciated; Singapore isn’t exactly a writer-friendly country now, is it?”

Mr Sam Chow, 43, photographer

“I’m a full-time freelance photographer. Mainly for actual day coverage for wedding couples. Good thing is that you got to be a part of an important celebration of a couple. The ambience and the positive energy flowing around on that day are so infectious that I can’t refuse or escape.

There is a need to sacrifice family/friend time and give priority to the deadline for the submission of the wedding photos. Which I can’t avoid. And not always wedding couples are happy couples. That can be a very challenging and awkward situation.”

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Mr Syarul Ezuan Mohammed Tajuddin, 23, dancer and choreographer

“As a freelance dancer/choreographer, I have more freedom in my time and schedule. I’m able to express, excel and focus more on the tasks/jobs given to me.

As a freelancer, the worst thing that may happen to us is over- scheduling ourselves without realising it. That will give us problems in managing the jobs handed to us due to the constraint of time. It may also affect our health due to the lack of sleep/rest.”


Mr Mohamad Rafiq Azhar, 21, Uber driver

“The best thing about working as an Uber driver is that I can make my own schedule. It’s very flexible and I can adjust my timings in case anything pops out or because of emergency. Being a driver also brings me good money.

The worst thing is that I work alone. There is no one to accompany me like my friends and no such thing as colleagues for me. It’s even worse for me that I don’t have any CPF contribution, and it would be very difficult for me in future. I foresee myself not working in this line in the years to come.”

Ms Amalina Zakaria, 27, web designer and developer

“One of the benefits of freelancing would be the feeling of working for yourself, and see your efforts translate directly into results. I feel a greater responsibility for my work and this has inspired me to put in extra effort into works that I can take pride in.

However, working freelance means periods of uncertainty at times, as we do not have a fixed monthly salary!”

Ms Lavanya Kannathass, 28, copywriter

“I’m able to choose the kind of work that I want to do and with whom.

The challenging part of being a freelancer would be the lack of understanding by people close to us. This is especially so because within my family, most are civil servants and they have been ingrained with the 9-5 mentality, which is understandable. However, every person’s path and work are different and we need to be able to understand and honour that.”


Ms Mindy Tan, 35, photographer

There is a lot of freedom when you’re working on your own and for yourself. You reap what you sow, no surprises at year-end appraisals and more or less a direct relationship to how much hard work you have put in.

Of course, you will have to bear any medical fees that may come your way and be in charge of your own financial planning more than being an employee where your health insurance is largely covered. But freedom of time to me is life. It’s a state of mind I wouldn’t trade for anything else.

Mr Wayne Chew, 30, emcee

“One good thing about freelance work is the flexibility of time. In the past when I was working full time, the timing of the work is pretty fixed and it affects my work life balance. For now, I can enjoy my life better and plan in advance if I want to travel overseas, without having to apply for leave.

The bad thing about being a freelancer is that there is no CPF and of course, the stability of the work. To counter this, simply be disciplined enough to put a certain percentage of my earnings into a fixed saving deposit and ta-da! I can withdraw the savings with the interest after many years and unlike CPF, there is no minimum sum, though the saving interest may not be as good as CPF’s.”

Mr Kwong Wai Keat, 26, photographer

“What I like: The flexibility to juggle other commitments like full-time studies at the same time while earning an income.

What I don’t like: Having to face the impression by members of the general public who have the impression that freelance work is of lower status than regular employment.”


Mr Muhammad Haiqal Abdulmutalib, 27, dance instructor and performer

“One of the best things about freelancing is the different kind of environments that I always work in on a project basis. I work with people from other countries and get to know how their own freelance industry work. As dance is a universal language, working hand in hand with the people from other countries makes me more aware of the similarities all of us have as freelancers. This makes it more fruitful that struggle is actually a good thing.

One of the worst thing about freelancing is definitely scheduling. There aren’t any off days unless you don’t have any projects at all which means you will not be earning money so it’s a bit ironic. You have to miss out on important days such as weddings or birthdays. I’ve been working on my birthday for the past 6 years and at times, I do feel I want a day off on my birthday. Being sick is never an excuse in my line of work unless I’m severely injured. So the struggle is real but as mentioned before the struggle will be a fruitful thing at the end of the day.”

Ms Athirah Zalikha Mohd Ramli, 26, camp instructor

“The best thing is being able to meet different people every time. Different colleagues and different students. What strikes me the most is that sometimes even though we take the students for three days only, five years later, they still remember us. They will call out to us when they bump into us.

The worst thing is the hours definitely. The long hours really take a toll on your body. Mostly adventure camps have their lights out at 11pm. We will have our trainers debrief till 12am. And then wash up and head to bed by 1am. And then we have to be up by 6am. It’s really taxing but the passion keeps us going.”

Mr Randy Wu, 52, graphic designer

“I’m not a social animal. When I was working as a manager for an organisation, I hated going to meetings with stakeholders and managing my team players. Freelancing gave me the opportunity to work as an individual with almost no interactions with other people. It was a very pleasant change for me. As a freelance graphic designer, my work is solely what I love to do! Unlike in an office environment where you are dumped with all sorts of tasks that you don’t like and some that you are not even trained to do.

There are months when 2-3 clients approach you with projects with conflicting deadlines. In such instances, I rarely ever turn my clients down. The reason is simple, if you let your clients slip away to other service providers, they may never come back to you again. In such times, the stress level really builds up. Freelancing also gives me no buffer against irate clients and unreasonable demands.”

Mrs Patricia Lorenz, 49, adjunct lecturer of 10 years

“To me, the most thrilling part of lecturing is every minute in the classroom. An added bonus in working as an adjunct, or freelance lecturer, is, that you have the opportunity to teach in different fields, which suits broad-spectrum people like myself.

The most boring part of the job is marking, and the biggest downside of freelancing is the risk of getting too few classes whenever enrolments are low. This is why most freelancers actually work for two or three schools, in order to have a higher level of financial security.”

Ms Jia Liang, 20, honestbee shopper

“Flexibility, because we actually choose our own shifts, so we plan our own schedules by ourselves. On every Wednesday, next week’s schedule will be up. All the shifts are uploaded [to an app], so you grab the job.

The pay, there are ups and downs. They generally like to change stuff without telling us. So we just have to accept what we are given. Sometimes it’s good news and sometimes it’s bad. You just need to get used to it. If they tell you that they are doubling your pay, then you’ll be like, yay. If they tell you that they are dropping your pay, then you’ll just be, ok. It’s not like they are forcing you to accept it. If you don’t want, you can not work, but to stop work because of a 10 per cent pay cut is a bit too much. So we’ll just continue in the end.”

Ms Melanie Lee, 37, writer

“There are several good things actually: A varied work scope which gives you a broader view of the world. Avoiding peak-hour traffic/public transport for the most part. The space to pursue creative projects. The flexibility to hang out with my kid during kid-appropriate hours.

The general public perception that as a freelancer you’re probably free and lazy. But for many freelancers, we’re constantly hustling because of the uncertain income flow.”


Mr Nurikhwan Sahri, 34, graphic designer and tutor

“Basically you are your own boss over your work but payment wise depends on your luck (or skills).

The cons really outweigh the pros unless you already build up or have your client base and network.”


Mr Nurasyraf Sahri, 27, multimedia freelancer

“Freelancing is fun as you get to choose your own projects.

But payment is the risky part. Once I had a client that went missing with my work and no payment.”

Mr Nigel Ng, 25, music performer and instructor

“Well, to me freelancing would provide more flexibility in your schedule, but your job won’t be secure.”


Ms Anesa Dharosam, 25, artist

“One important advantage is the fact that you can choose what you want to do or not. If this project doesn’t appeal to me, at least I can turn it down and look for other projects instead.

The worst thing about the gig economy is the lack of security and stability.”


Ms Nasita Nasrul, 23, artiste

“The advantage of freelancing for me being a young mother of two daughters is that I get to spend more time with my family. I get to plan my own schedule and choose my own assignments.

The disadvantage, of course, is I don’t get a fixed daily, weekly or monthly pay.”


Mr Pavan J Singh, 37, actor

“The advantages of freelancing are working on your own time, personal time management, no boss, and the freedom to be as creative as you want.

But the disadvantages are having no financial security, it’s risky, you must have a lot of willpower, and there are no benefits.”


Ms Nur Shakinah Mohamed Ansari, 22, designer

“Freelance work allows me to have a flexible schedule and a less mundane life. The lack of routine is pretty exciting to me!

But the pay isn’t fixed so it’s all a matter of luck, according to when a client needs my service. Also, working with different clients means having different bosses and different expectations of the service I provide. What looks great to one may disgust another.”


Mr Muhammad Syahrul ‘Afif Mashkur, 30, trainer and director

“It’s good because the timing is flexible, and you can choose whether or not to take a project. You are also able to go on holidays during off-peak periods, and for me, I’m able to earn more than salaried pay.

The disadvantages are that there is no fixed salary or CPF, and no employee benefits.”

Mr Hafeez Hassan, 33, personal trainer and performing artiste

“I’m a freelance personal trainer and the very best thing is you can be flexible with your schedule. You set your own terms and conditions with what you want to achieve plus you get to plan your holidays anytime you want! It’s difficult to start but if you commit yourself with consistency, things will fall into place.

Actually, I used to be fearful of its instability, but only to realise that it’s all about having a good mindset. I don’t mind the inconsistent income just as long as I get to experience different environments, meet new people and enjoy the luxury of my own freedom!”

Mr Jayden Chen, 25, kids party planner

“The good thing about being a freelancer is that we can manage our own free time. Freelancer is considered as self-employed, and we can plan our time freely!

The bad thing about being a freelancer is that we are solo or so called one man show. Be it rain or shine, as long as there’s booking we have to go. Even when we are sick, we have to be there because customer booked us.”

Mr Ken Lee, 32, Uber driver

“Being a freelancer, the advantage is the time flexibility, and the disadvantage is the income instability.”

Ms Sng Yu Han, 26, music teacher

“I get to decide on my off days and I work with people who are passionate about music. Colleagues in the same industry are all like-minded people who are willing to share their expertise (P.S. No office politics).

Being a freelance music teacher means having odd working hours – working when family and friends are off work. Income and schedules are less stable; pay cuts whenever students leave and I’m left wandering the streets whenever students cancel their classes last minute.”

Mr Sakxay Seng Aloun, 22, motivational speaker

“Diversity, yet it always surprises me how much people keep to themselves. I’m not a therapist, but I’m always glad when people start opening up to me.

A middle-aged man once told me I was too young to be giving advice. I agreed with him and patiently listened to what he had to say. I held my tongue and did my best to understand his perspective. After a long conversation, he eventually asked me… “So, what do you think I should do next?” I smiled. Sometimes we forget that the true purpose of listening is to understand, not to respond.

I don’t like when older adults keep telling me I’m too young, I love it when they realise it ain’t about the age since age doesn’t always equal wisdom.”

Mr Gico Flordeliza Babagay, 22, performer

“I grow up as a performer. Many opportunities came to me. The best part of my job is meeting new dancers, sharing stories and getting advice from the experienced. From their experiences, I could apply that in my dance too.

The worst part is that the income is not really stable. There are times when I don’t have any performance for the whole month(s). Those months I don’t earn any money.”

Mr Max Yin, 39, Uber driver

[Speaking in Chinese] “The benefits of being a freelancer is that I’m free to plan my time, free to set my income target to earn enough to support my family.

However, in Singapore, without proper employment or a registered company or CPF, it’s hard to get things processed.”


Ms Sharifah Shafiah, 36, educator

“Freelancing is good because I can choose to do what I want and when I want. But I have to do everything on my own from scratch, and if I slack, my salary is affected.”

Mr Tan Kuan Soon, 38, Uber driver

“The good thing about being a freelancer is, time is flexible. You can manage at your own pace and how much you want to earn also depends on your own decision.

The bad thing is the income is not as stable as those with a proper job. Also for the contribution to CPF, you have to contribute on your own, you have no employer to help you to contribute the extra 20 per cent.”


Madam Maidin Ammal Kadap Maidin Sultan, 67, caterer

“The advantage is that you get to be your own boss and you get to control your working hours. The bad thing is that there is no fixed income.”

Mr John Ang, 54, Uber driver

[Speaking in Chinese] “There are pros and cons to being a freelancer. The working hours are flexible and you can possibly have a high income.

However, it’s possible to have low income as well. Freelancers also miss out on employee benefits like CPF contributions, medical leave, annual leave and bonus which we would get if we were employees or doing a different line of work.”


Mr Said Omar Abdullah, 40, investor

“The best part of my job is having the freedom to decide on my availability. I only answer to myself and don’t have to feel guilty for mistakes made.

But the worst thing about my job is the income instability, and being cheated by partners and clients.”


Ms Justina Lim, 22, designer

“The best part of freelancing is being able to take on a variety of projects from editorial designing to branding, sometimes even copywriting.

But one of the biggest challenges of the freelance industry is being underpaid by clients who maybe undervalue the design profession.”


Ms Yeo Kai Jun, 22, artist

“One of the advantages of being an aspiring freelancer is that you have the freedom to be involved in side projects or collaborations. The opportunities are endless. That is where you gain knowledge and learn about what other artists are involved in. Sometimes, it’s not always about the certificate. To me, as long as you are passionate about the arts and keen to learn, all you need is the discipline to do research and educate yourself on the arts.

It’s sometimes hard to make ends meet as a freelancer. You probably have to get a part-time job to support yourself financially and to purchase art supplies. Trust me, art supplies are not cheap.”

Mr Alan Wu, 52, Uber driver

“The good thing about freelancing is that it allows me to manage my own time and targets. I don’t need someone to approve my leave if I have something urgent to attend to. There is also quite a bit of control in the level of income you want to achieve. If you work long and hard enough, you are able to hit the wage ceiling in this line.

However, one must consciously save up as there isn’t CPF to fall back on.”

Mr Kong Chong Yew, 30, photographer

“A good thing is that I have the freedom to manage my schedule. A bad thing, however, is that you don’t get paid on time, most of the time. There was once I had a payment that was overdue for close to a year.”

Mr Quek Kwan Zheng, 29, health consultant

“One of the best aspects of being a freelancer is being able to provide a personalised level of service quality and value to each customer as my main focus is the customer versus other constraints you normally encounter as an employee.

One of the issues that I don’t like about being a freelancer is that I represent myself versus an established brand or company, which often makes it harder to market or source for clients.”

Ms Lio Shu Yi Cheryl, 29, music trainer

“Flexibility of timing and scheduling, freedom of choice for just about anything – who to work for, what work to take up, where to work, why you want to take the work up, when you wish to work (should you need a long break or should you need no break at all).

Lack of any kind of remuneration, incentive, perks and, bonuses. MC and sick days called on MC are unpaid for. Not working literally means no money. Next worst thing would be not fitting into the social norm or stereotyped ‘normal regular job’. People tend to think the job mean nothing.”


Ms Lea Edwards, 24, soft toy designer

“I’m doing a creative type of job, which is great for boosting my design techniques and improving my crafting skills.

But it gets really difficult to negotiate with clients when they don’t seem to understand the limits of what can and cannot be done physically, and there’s no other colleague or boss I can call on for help.”

Mr Linus Lim, 25, graphic designer

“Being able to work on ad-hoc and freelance projects has allowed me to earn some money on the side while gaining relevant industry experience in the field I wish to work in once I graduate. The work and hours are typically flexible and negotiable, and as a designer, I can work from almost anywhere. This really gives me the freedom to manage my time between multiple commitments.

On the other hand, there is always a lot of uncertainty revolving such work. Although I’m fortunate in not having experienced defaulting clients or contractors, at times there have been projects that have dragged on far longer than I expected and making it difficult to manage my commitments. Another issue is that you never really know when work will start or stop. It’s not a constant flow, so it’s difficult to make financial commitments and decisions because one month you can have a lot of income and the next month nothing at all.”

Ms Cara Nicole Neo, 24, Singapore’s First Mermaid, and the Founder of the Singapore Mermaid School

“Best thing about freelancing: My tiring days are always fulfilling. As a mermaid, I occupy a blessed and privileged position from which I can share messages of self-love, positive self-esteem, and ocean conservation. I get to swim alongside new and wonderful people each time and sprinkle oodles of mermaid magic into their lives. It’s always amazing to see how people’s eyes light up when I make an appearance at their party or event, or to see my mermaid students blossom into beautiful, confident, graceful mermaids during class time.

Worst thing about freelancing: My fulfilling days are always tiring! Mermaiding looks glamorous from the outside, but there’s a lot of logistics, planning, and hard work that goes into it. From managing my emails and social media platforms to liaising with clients and media, to maintaining my equipment, to swimming in a 15kg tail, to opening my eyes in chlorinated water – there are a lot of tiny little difficult aspects that are all lesser-known facets of my mermaid life.”


Ms Nur Shahidah Mohamed Ansari, 19, actress

“The best thing about freelancing is the freedom. I’m able to choose which projects I’d like to work on, which also allows me a flexible schedule and therefore more time to spend with my family. But as much as freelancing is great, the uncertainty with regards to income can be daunting.”

This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

  1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters
  2. Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story 
  3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago
  4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success
  5. 5 skills employers want you to have in tomorrow’s job market
  6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career
  7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?
  8. Got an F in school? There are still ‘100 ways’ to be successful
  9. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: More skills, more agile, more resilient

Featured image a collation by Sean Chong.

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by Bertha Henson

THE Carrier man can. I can’t get the jingle out of my head even though it’s been so many years ago that Carrier was the air-conditioning of choice here. I suppose it has to do with US President-elect Donald Trump boasting about saving 1,100 jobs at the Carrier plant in Indianapolis from moving to Mexico.

It’s been an interesting duel between corporate interest and political inclination. In between are the unions and the workers.

It’s interesting because it has to do with the push and pulls of globalisation and also what this says about an attempt to transform the economy, which is what Singapore is doing.

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So Mr Trump was elected on a platform of protecting American jobs, which is something every worker in danger of losing a pay check approves. He’s doing it with a combination of threats, like a 35 per cent tax on companies which intend to move out of the land of the free and, in the case of Carrier and its parent United Technologies (UTC), $7 million in tax breaks over 10 years.

Then there is the looming threat to the company’s current $6.7 billion worth of federal contracts. UTC chairman and CEO Greg Hayes alluded to this in an interview with CNBC: “I was born at night but not last night. I also know that about 10 per cent of our revenue comes from the U.S. government. And I know that a better regulatory environment, a lower tax rate can eventually help UTC of the long run. And so we weighed all of things in making the decision.”

But what exactly has been saved? The numbers are a bone of contention. It’s not 1,100 but 800, said union chief Chuck Jones, because the other 300 white-collar jobs were never in danger of being outsourced. Mr Trump, said Mr Jones, had “lied his a** -off.”

At least, there are 800 jobs saved right? Hurray!

But hear what the UTC chief has to say: “We’re going to make up US$16 million (S$22 million) investment in that factory in Indianapolis to automate to drive the cost down so that we can continue to be competitive. Now is it as cheap as moving to Mexico with lower cost labour? No. But we will make that plant competitive just because we’ll make the capital investments there.”

“But what that ultimately means is there will be fewer jobs.”

Then he said this, which sounded exactly like what the G or NTUC chief Chan Chun Sing would say: “The jobs are not jobs on assembly line that people really find all that attractive over the long term. I would tell you the key here, is not to be trained for the job today. Our focus is how do you train people for the jobs of tomorrow?”

The key is not to be trained for the job today. It’s for the jobs of tomorrow.

On that front, he claimed that UTC had spent $1.2 billion on training over the last 20 years.

“We’ve got 7,000 people currently enrolled in this programme. And the whole idea is to improve your own marketability. Improve your own skills. Because the skills that you have today are not the skills that are gonna get you through tomorrow.”

Of course, nobody wants to hear corporate types go on about justifying jobs and investments; everybody thinks that they are out only for their self-interest.

Headlines will be about the union’s outbursts, whether UTC was strong-armed, and Trump’s enraged tweets. They make for better reading. Why talk about how the workers were told three years ago about the move when the popular thing to do is to decry hard-headed business which couldn’t be bothered about breaking rice bowls and dinner plates?

In Singapore, Mr Hayes would have been praised for his training programme and for trying to transform his workplace by having more higher-value jobs.

And his company is doing this without any G handout! The workers would be told of their options and put through subsidised training programmes to “re-skill” – or for the more ambitious, to “upskill”. Some will use their SkillsFuture credits.

If this article sounds like a rah-rah piece praising the G’s foresight, it is. It’s tough to get people to look at the machinery powering the economy; we prefer to look at Man’s woes because we identify so much with their emotions.

America might have a new president promising to make the country great again by turning inward. Its private sector thinks differently. Mr Hayes’ parting shot during the interview was this: “It’s about life-long learning.”


Read the other pieces from our interview with Chan Chun Sing:

  1. Chan Chun Sing: Your job is NOT safe
  2. Chan Chun Sing: Making sure freelancers aren’t fleeced
  3. Chan Chun Sing: It’s working people; not working class


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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Photo By shawn Danker
8:30 Clock face

YET another e-biker met his end on the road yesterday, after being hit by a tipper truck and dragged along Cecil Street in the Central Business District.  Mr Heng Hock Kim, 62, a courier, died at the scene, the third such death in just a month involved such motorised bikes. Two young men, aged 18 and 25, died last month after a trailer hit them from behind.

Accidents involving e-bikers appear to be escalating. ST said fatalities went from one in 2013, to two the next year. Last year, there were five. There were also 22 accidents resulting in injuries last year, up from four in 2014 and five in 2013.

Doubtless, more needs to be done for both e-bikers and motorists beyond mandating a 25kmh speed limit for the bicycles and telling drivers of big vehicles to watch their “blind spot”. Earlier this month, laws were introduced in Parliament to crack down on sellers of non-compliant e-bikes.

At home, the focus is on jobs, especially after sobering news on plunging export numbers led to worries of a technical recession. Head of the labour movement Chan Chun Sing called on businesses to focus on the long-term fundamentals rather than obsess over short-term figures that are susceptible to changes. He promised G intervention if need be. How? He didn’t say but it’s worth remembering that the Committee on the Future Economy will be getting out its report early next year. One silver lining: 2,000 new skilled jobs are expected to be created in the food manufacturing industry by 2020.

The world is watching US president-elect Donald Trump’s every move, especially his appointment of people into key positions such as Attorney-General and head of the Central Intelligence Agency. Senator Jeff Sessions, a conservative from Alabama, is Mr Trump’s choice of top lawyer while Mr Mike Pompeo, a hawkish Republican from Kansas and a former army officer, is expected to be his chief spy.

The world is also seeking assurances that a Trump White House will not roll back its security and trade policies. US President Barack Obama was doing the assuring in Berlin where he met European leaders concerned about the future of the NATO security alliance. He is likely to do the same when he meets the Asia-Pacific leaders this weekend in Lima, Peru. Japan’s Shinzo Abe didn’t even wait. He went to New York to meet Mr Trump at Trump Tower and pronounced that Mr Trump is “a leader who can be trusted”.

Some practical advice: Don’t go to Kuala Lumpur today because a massive rally organised by Bersih is expected. If you’re already there, stay safe.


Featured image from TMG file.

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by Suhaile Md

We interviewed Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and head of the labour movement, on the profound changes affecting the job market and the NTUC’s role in the new economy. This is the second of three parts. Read the first part here.

JUNE is usually the month to look forward to for freelance netball coach, Mr Justin Teh. The month-long school holiday meant his charges could train without the worries of a classroom weighing them down. A golden opportunity for growth.

But there was that time when his plans for player development gave way to disappointment. The school cut his time from four weeks to two. He was lucky. Some coaches have their time trimmed to zero and their income for the month disappears.

Said Mr Teh: “This throws the freelancer off. Because you committed to certain expenditure, certain payments that you have and suddenly you’re robbed of an income that you thought you were going to have in the future.”

Factor in the year-end holidays plus exam periods and a 12-month contract for $12,000 could well be worth only $9,000. Trouble is, the terms of their contracts allow this. Schools are the primary sources of income for them, so freelance coaches have little say when thrashing out contractual terms.

Unlike the usual employer-employee relationship where a worker has one contract with one company, freelancers have to consider multiple contracts with multiple companies. For that one person, “where got time, where got energy, where got capacity,” asked Mr Chan Chun Sing. Basically, there’s an “asymmetry in the capability and resources,” he added.

Freelancers have to consider multiple contracts with multiple companies. For that one person, “where got time, where got energy, where got capacity,” asked Mr Chan Chun Sing.

Which is why the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) set up the Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit about two years back. It was around this time that Mr Teh decided to approach the NTUC to help set up the Sports Coaches Association (SCA). The SCA was officially registered in March 2015.

There were only 10 members at the start. Now there are 200. The vast majority (70 per cent) earn at least 80 per cent of their income through freelancing. Membership fees are relatively low – $117 a year – for the benefits: Death and permanent disability insurance coverage and discounts at medical clinics among other things. Besides these benefits, SCA also arranges for members to attend workshops like income tax filing, and sports-related legal education.

It is “tough” to grow the membership base, said Mr Teh. Freelance coaches “don’t even know we exist”. Those who do know, are “skeptical” about a young association. Some don’t even see the need for the SCA. Well, not until they run into problems themselves at least.

Freelancing covers an endless spectrum of services, from bookkeeping to writing, photography, and driving to name a few. The freedom to pick up jobs as and when, and to do it within a person’s free time is appealing to many. Some pick up extra income while others do this full-time. Full-time freelancers keen to accumulate as many contracts as possible might pass over the benefits applicable to those in a normal employment structure, such as medical benefits.

But Mr Chan wondered if they could answer questions like what would be the competitive rate for service? Or what terms and conditions should be attached to a contract.

For example, is insurance covered? Who’s liable to what extent on matters of safety? Different clients can have different contracts with different terms. “One pay me if I sprain my [right] ankle, the other one pay me only if I sprain my left ankle… very difficult,” he said.

Furthermore they “must know what are some of the basic things” to plan for in the long term, like retirement, medical and insurance.

A relatively new phenomenon has entered the picture: the rise of the gig or share economy which has resulted in an overturning of the employer-employee relationship. Should someone doing courier/delivery service for an online platform or driving an Uber taxi be defined under a contract of service or contract for service?

The United Kingdom “recently passed rules that uber must treat [drivers] as employees” and Canada ruled that while Uber drivers were not employees, they “must pay some equivalent social security” to its drivers. This is so that Uber as a company does not “externalise the social cost,” said Mr Chan.

This concern of externality echoed Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam’s view at a forum last month. He said that while it provided jobs, such a model “serves the interest of the company because they’re really pushing risk onto the contract worker” and it was not a good social model. Read more about the pros and cons of the gig economy here. 

Some Uber drivers, Mr Chan found out, did not realise that Uber pegs its prices to supply and demand. So a drivers income would vary week to week. But they “lock themselves into a fixed price [car] rental” at the start because they did not realise it before hand.

Like freelancers, those who are part of the share economy do not come under the protection of the Employment Act – they are not employees. So they have no health or retirement benefits.

“There’s nothing wrong with the gig economy so long as you’re disciplined enough to take care of yourself, your retirement,” he said. But the fact remains that plying their trade outside the cocoon of an organisation have little protection and not everyone is disciplined. “So you assume that most people can ka ki kor ka ki (be self-sufficient) but there will be some that society has to chip in and support.”

 “So you assume that most people can ka ki kor ka ki (be self-sufficient) but there will be some that society has to chip in and support.”

In the United States and Europe, between 20 and 30 per cent of workers do some form of freelance work according to a McKinsey report this year. In Singapore, 14 per cent of all resident workers are self-employed, said Manpower Minister Mr Lim Swee Say in Parliament on Feb 29.

Over half of the self-employed operate their own business or trade without any paid staff. While the world grapples with such changes, Mr Chan thinks that two steps must first be taken.

First is to get freelancers to come together and “share the information… where are the opportunities, what are the things to look out for,” what to do or not to do, said Mr Chan. The kinds of things they can take of care by themselves first. Educate each other on their legal rights, financial considerations and so on.

The second step can then come into play, where they can attend NTUC organised conferences, and seminars to “keep abreast” of issues as well as upgrade themselves. The NTUC’s Freelance and Self-Employed unit is already looking into this.

For Mr Teh, it is clear that the collective voice is louder than the lone shout. Mr Teh did not go anywhere with MOE when he aired his concerns to officials as a freelancer. But with the organisational clout of 200 coaches, the SCA is now in talks with MOE to address the issues and technicalities on freelance coach contracts.

Naturally, having a larger pool of members would be better. Added Mr Teh: “The hope is that coaches will come together, because there has been and there will be competition among coaches… but by coming together we can actually make the community better and make sports more vibrant.”


Read the other pieces from our interview with Chan Chun Sing:

1. Chan Chun Sing: Your job is NOT safe

3. Chan Chun Sing: It’s working people; not working class



Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

by Elvin Ong

SINGAPORE appears to be entering into a prolonged period of economic stagnation with its eyes wide open. As said by Mr Manu Bhaskaran and Mr Donald Low in a recent article, recent domestic and global developments mean that “all the main engines of growth seem to have stalled”.

So what should the G do?

The two esteemed economists argue that the G should provide fiscal counter-cyclical support within the overall context of Singapore’s declining cost competitiveness. They suggest a series of one-off discretionary measures, such as the front-loading of construction contracts, cash transfers to households, and one-off rental and income tax rebates.

They also suggest developing stronger “automatic stabilisers”, such as unemployment insurance, although that point was justified only briefly at the end of the very long article.

Another recent article published by The Middle Ground suggested other forms of short-term counter-cyclical support. The author suggested easing the current restrictions on foreign labour entry, wage freezes, and even cutting the employer’s CPF contribution rates.

Unfortunately, a few key questions regarding these recommendations are left unanswered.

For instance, if a government only has finite resources (monetary, intellectual, and bureaucratic capacity) to expend, which type of counter-cyclical measures should they prioritise?

Moreover, which type of counter-cyclical measure would actually be better for the future economy? The answers to these questions are strongly contingent on one’s view of who the measures actually benefit.


Jobs, but at what cost?

Let us first look at what the G did in response to previous economic recessions. In response to the 2008-2009 financial crisis, it introduced a $20.5 billion Resilience Package. The core component was a jobs credit scheme which subsidised the wages of Singaporean workers, thus promoting job retention.

The response to the 1998 Asian financial crisis was similar. Wage cuts, CPF cuts, and tax rebates of all sorts to promote job retention. All short-term one-off discretionary measures for companies.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is obvious that these measures benefited companies more than they did for workers.

Ostensibly to promote “job retention”, these subsidies and cost cutting measures provided a safety net for companies to buffer them from the creative-destructive forces of capitalism. Low-productivity and incompetent firms thrived from such subsidies and chugged along, safe from the winds of change with their G-sponsored safety bubbles.

To be sure, Singaporean workers kept their jobs. But they kept their jobs in firms that would not have survived in the absence of G intervention. The present quagmire of Singapore’s productivity stagnation is partly attributable to low-productivity firms that continue to thrive. The easiest place to do business in the world means that low-productivity firms continue to find it easy to do business.


People first

Rather than implementing textbook remedies to subsidise businesses in order to “retain jobs”, the G should let failing firms fail, and direct their attention towards helping unemployed workers. There are generally two forms of unemployment measures – passive and active.

Passive unemployment measures include “automatic stabilisers” like unemployment insurance. The argument for unemployment insurance is not just that they are counter-cyclical or immune to political cycles as Mr Bhaskaran and Mr Low rightly pointed out, they are also necessary for allowing workers to buy time to find the right jobs for their skills.

If 20-year-olds find it difficult to learn coding, how many 50-year-olds can you convince to do the same?

Contrary to popular belief that “any job is a good job”, and that one should not be too picky about their jobs, persistent underemployment (the phenomena where one is overqualified for a job) fuels an education arm race with little corresponding increase in wages and productivity.

The extra time bought by passive unemployment measures also neatly complement active unemployment measures, such as training programmes to up-skill or re-skill workers.

Unemployed workers need to undergo at least a few months of training to fit their new jobs in higher-productivity firms. The higher the value of the new job, the higher the value of skill needed, the longer and more intensive the training regime required. Moreover, the more different the job, the more time required to get adjusted too.

Arguably, the current puzzle of the mismatch between jobs and skills in the local economy reflects the very long time lag needed to retrain workers for jobs in different industries, or for higher value jobs. If a significant proportion of 20-year-olds find it difficult to learn how to code, how many 50-year-olds can you convince to stay in the course to learn coding?


Help needed

To be fair, the G currently has numerous programmes for the training and re-skilling of workers such as Adapt and Grow programme. But the vast range of schemes available makes it very difficult for an ordinary worker to navigate, much like how the “many helping hands” system of social assistance schemes make it difficult for poor Singaporeans to understand.

Just like how we currently have Social Service Offices dotted throughout the country to coordinate assistant schemes to help low-income Singaporeans, perhaps we need more physical e2i offices to coordinate outreach to unemployed workers.

Another dead horse needs further flogging – better coordination between G agencies.

For example, the recently launched 2020 Healthcare Manpower Plan says that we need 30,000 more healthcare workers by 2020. That means about 10,000 more healthcare workers per year. While the fancy press release outlines the various schemes that are available to reach the target, it provides next to no information about how to access such schemes.

The details for mid-career entrants contains one single weblink on Page 36, to the generic website that redirects back to the Workforce Singapore website. No ownership and coordination by MOH.


Learning from failure

Upgrading an economy is no easy feat. It requires governments to build institutions to bring together self-interested actors that do not often see eye-to-eye. These governments need to be backed by broad societal consensus that short-term restructuring pains will bring long-term benefits.

That is why Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has taken time to try to explain to both companies and workers why restructuring is a messy and long-term endeavour that cannot be treated with short-term medication.

Taking Strepsils for a sore throat is the wrong treatment for someone whose addiction to cigarettes can cause lung cancer.

Governments committed to upgrading also need to resist the temptation to adopt easy textbook solutions that can be implemented at the stroke of a pen. Taking Strepsils to provide temporary relief to sore throats is the wrong treatment for one’s addiction to cigarettes that causes lung cancer and persistent smoker’s cough.

Likewise, it is time to do away with short-term one-off discretionary counter-cyclical measures that subsidise low productivity companies.

Forget about cutting costs. Let failing firms fail. Let capitalism work. Invest in Singaporean workers for the long-term. Surely the G, with its much lauded longtime horizons, can see the logic of that?


Elvin Ong is a PhD candidate in Political Science at Emory University. He can be reached at https://sites.google.com/site/jyelvinong/


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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by Suhaile Md

TEN years ago, a cloud was just a cloud. Today, the word is used as part of a skill set employers can’t do without. Cloud-computing, along with search engine optimisation, marketing campaign management, data mining, and information security were among the skills most sought after by employers, said LinkedIn. The professional networking platform analysed recruitment activities on its portal and published the results on Oct 19.

It’s a foregone conclusion these days that workers need to adapt and upgrade. And displaced workers need to “let old jobs go and get into new jobs”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at a labour movement leaders dialogue on Tuesday (Nov 1). That’s because “technology and markets are moving fast and Singapore cannot fight this change”. The dialogue was held at the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) headquarters.

But if you’re unsure about which skills to develop, you may want to consider those identified by LinkedIn.

No one becomes an expert in a few days, but the introductory courses listed below give a head start. You can then decide if it’s something you wish to pursue further.

And the good news: You can use your SkillsFuture credits. If a course is subsidised, the credits can be used on top of the subsidy.


1. Cloud and distributed computing

Simply put, cloud computing is about storing your data and computer programmes online. Storing your pictures on sites like Flickr, documents on Google Drive or Office Online by Microsoft, the Apple iCloud, Dropbox, and so on, are examples of cloud computing services.

It’s a growing field. According to PC Magazine, an American computer magazine, the global market for cloud computing was US$100 billion ($122 billion) in 2012. By 2020, it’s expected to be worth US$270 billion.


Cloud computing concepts, Coursera.
Duration: 32.5 hours, part-time, online.
Cost: $49.

Legal and Regulatory consideration in Cloud computing, National University of Singapore.
Duration: three days, full time.
Cost: $3,000. $900 after subsidy.


2. SEO marketing

In 1994, there were 3,000 websites. By 2014, there were over a billion websites. That’s a 33 million per cent increase. If you have a business, how do you make it visible to customers online?

That’s where search engine optimisation, or SEO, comes in. It makes websites more visible on search engines like Google. You may sell the cutest pet clothing online for example. But if someone googles “pet clothing” and your website does not appear on the search results, he’s not going to see what you have to offer. Much less buy them. SEO skills will help surmount that challenge.


SEO marketing training, Marketing Institute of Singapore.
Duration: two days, full-time.
Cost: $1,200.

Essential SEO training for successful web marketing, Udemy.
Duration: nine hours, part-time, online.
Cost: $60.


3. Statistical analysis and data mining

What do people buy and when do they do so? Is there a pattern to when most people come down with the flu? What do people surf online at eight in the morning? How different is that to eight at night?

Every time the cashier scans what you bought, or when you register at the polyclinic, or clicked that link on Facebook, data is captured. Data mining and statistical analysis is about organising and analysing that data. This can reveal useful patterns and relationships which help to answer questions like those above.


Business intelligence analytics, National University of Singapore.
Duration: three days, full time.
Cost: $3,000. $900 after subsidy.

Fundamentals of data mining, SIM University.
Duration: 36 hours, part-time.
Cost: $1,180.


4. Marketing campaign management

Marketeers help businesses win over and retain customers. And a marketing campaign is a series of activities that help a marketeer do just that. It requires an understanding of how customers behave, the needs that you’re trying to fulfil, the features that would attract them and so on.


Develop digital marketing campaign, Singapore Institute of Retail Studies.
Duration: three days, full time.
Cost: $2,150. $645 after subsidy.

Marketing management, SIM University.
Duration: 36 hours, part-time.
Cost: $1,180.


5. Network and information security

The private information of over half a million people were leaked online thanks to a security breach at the Australian Red Cross. The leak came to light last Friday (Oct 28). Besides addresses, the information breached also included personal details like whether or not someone had engaged in sex work, gay sex or had taken drugs.

Closer to home, karaoke company, K Box, was hacked two years ago. Over 300,000 customers had their identification numbers, addresses and mobile numbers published online. The role of an information security expert is to guard against such attacks and keep data safe from prying eyes.


Learning network technology and security, Udemy.
Duration: Nine hours, part-time, online.
Cost: $60.

Information security management, SIM University.
Duration: 36 hours, part-time.
Cost: $1,180.


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:

1. Poly vs Private degrees: It’s not the money that matters

2. Private degrees: data needs to tell a fuller skills story 

3. 5 new jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago

4. SMACK IN THE MIDDLE: Keys to success

6. Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ in your career

7. 50 Faces: What is success to you?



Featured image Central Business District by Flickr user Jan. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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