To many old folks in Singapore, the road to a good life used to be to study hard, get a nice, cushy PMET job and then live out the rest of your days in an office building in Shenton Way.
But now, many of their offspring who followed that tried and tested path to become PMETs have found that things have not exactly panned out the way they thought they would.
Increased retrenchment this year has shown just how vulnerable PMETs are in times of economic trouble, and the horror stories of former bank managers turning to taxi driving after being retrenched are pretty disturbing.
It’s gotten so bad that the government has set aside $14 million to help PMETs start new careers. Former PMETs will receive training to become retail store managers, restaurant managers, assistant chefs and more. Well, apparently that’s better than driving a taxi, or at least that’s what the initiative is indirectly telling us.
For young Singaporeans embarking on new careers, that’s pretty unsettling. Are they supposed to assiduously climb the career ladder for 10 to 20 years in prestigious MNCs, only to end up working at Fish & Co? Here’s how you can prevent that early on in your career.
Never quit a job without acquiring as many skills as possible
Maybe your job is something a monkey could do, your boss is Satan personified or you’ve realised the only way to move up in the company is to marry the boss’s son/daughter.
All those are legit reasons for leaving. But you have the power to decide when you quit. And for the sake of your career, it’s best you don’t do so until you’ve learnt everything you can on the job.
That doesn’t mean you stay there for the next 10 years, taking your time to learn everything there is to know before moving on. It means you accelerate your learning, and take the initiative to find out how to do stuff, so you can get out of there sooner.
That could include acquiring skills that are out of your job scope, like my friend Larry did to make the transition from web designer to project manager
If you don’t prioritise skills acquisition, you’re on the road to becoming obsolete a decade or two down the road.
In the early years of your career, it’s not that hard to find someone who’s willing to pay you a little more to do the exact same job, since the labour market is tight.
The danger of changing jobs solely for the salary is that you can keep going for a while, but at some point your pay is going to exceed your skills, and that’s when you become a prime candidate for retrenchment.
Have a longer term perspective of your new career
When evaluating a job offer, we tend to think only about how nice it sounds right now—and most of the time, if a job pays an attractive salary, it’s nice enough for most.
That’s why you have so many young people becoming taxi drivers these days. If you can earn over $3,000 driving a taxi, why bother getting an entry-level office job that pays less?
The irony is that taxi drivers have a more recession-proof ricebowl than PMETs these days.
So before you embark on a new professional career, take a step back and ask yourself how your job prospects look in the long run.
Certain industries, most notably manufacturing, are in decline. On the other hand, jobs in digital and software are on the rise, so it’s a safer bet to look for a career in such industries.
You might be done with your university education, and it might be too late to turn yourself into a data scientist or lawyer at this point.
But even within your desired field you have the leeway to pick and industry an a specialisation that have potential for growth in the long term.
For instance, if you’re looking for a job in marketing, you can take your pick from almost any industry. But it would probably be a good idea to build a strong foundation in digital, and to avoid old school companies whose marketing strategies consist of distributing flyers at trade shows.
Look beyond your job scope
Like it or not, no matter how awesome your skills are, you’re useless as an employee if you’re not able to justify your presence in a company.
Most people just blindly do their jobs because that’s what their bosses tell them to do. The problem is that these bosses may someday realise it’s cheaper to outsource these jobs, or to automate them using technology. Where does that leave you, then?
When evaluating your career, ask yourself not how well you’ve done your job, but how important your contributions have been to the organisation.
If your job scope is narrow and doesn’t add much value, that’s a sign you need to start asking for more responsibilities, try to expand the range of tasks given to you, or look for a new job where you’re able to better contribute.
For instance, many entry-level bank operations employees start out doing KYC (Know Your Customer), which at its most basic level is just glorified admin work. They go through client profiles against a checklist of requirements, and that’s about it.
Sure, it would be totally possible to continue doing that for the rest of your life, and get paid decently to do it. But those who are really serious about their career will look for ways to expand their skillsets, such as by doing Know Your Customer (KYC) exercises for live accounts, obtaining compliance certifications and moving on to more challenging projects.
As their expertise grows and they become better able to deal with a wider range of clients and situations, they become more indispensable to the bank.
Those who resist new responsibilities risk becoming the first to be cut in a crisis, since pretty much any fresh grad can be plucked off the streets and taught to do an entry level operations job.
So don’t congratulate yourself on being paid tons of money to do something your dog could do, or be happy that you’re being paid to surf Facebook all day.
If your job scope is really that lame, it’s up to you to expand it. And yes, we’re afraid that entails asking for more work, or going above and beyond what you’re being paid to do.
Do you think young Singaporeans these days are taking a long-term view of their careers? Share your views in the comments!