In an ideal world, anyone with the will to work hard in any full-time job would earn enough money to maintain a decent standard of living.
Unfortunately, in Singapore, that isn’t always true. If you’re stuck in an entry-level job in certain industries, you could find yourself struggling to survive for the rest of your life.
Service industry folks, security guards and beauty industry workers, just to name a few, can find themselves earning well under $2,000 a month before CPF cuts, with few prospects of promotion or salary increments.
If your job isn’t paying you enough to survive, you need to learn how to get yourself out of that entry-level bracket and into a more lucrative job—or on a more sustainable career path. Here are some tips.
Accept that you might have to change your career track
When you were a student, you believed that if you just stuck at a certain job long enough, you would eventually rise up in the ranks and start earning a decent salary.
Unfortunately, that is not true of all jobs in Singapore. The wages of low-wage workers have a history of remaining stagnant even as the economy grows and inflation raises the price of virtually everything else. This means that the longer you stay in a low wage job, the weaker your purchasing power becomes. You’re literally becoming poorer by the day.
If that sounds like you, you might have to accept that changes must be made to your career track in order to boost your earning power.
For instance, nurses in Singapore earn depressingly low salaries, often as low as $1,500 a month for 6 days of work a week, and even at the most senior levels their salary is pretty much capped at $4,000+.
It’s a sad fact that many employees quit their jobs in order to try their luck as insurance agents, headhunters or bank employees because of low salaries. There is a reason many of my friends who studied arts subjects at universities are now working in banks.
But if you’ve got bills to pay or a family to support and can’t find a way to live within your means, do what you have to do.
Pick up new skills
Perhaps you didn’t get a diploma or degree when you were younger, and you’re now facing the dreaded glass ceiling that dictates that no matter how hard you work, you’ll always be left behind.
It’s never too late to pick up new skills, so bite the bullet and enrol yourself in a course that will help you get ahead. If you never went to university, that could mean enrolling in a part-time degree course.
You might also find that your lack of knowledge in certain areas is pigeonholing you into certain roles with limited room for growth and lousy pay. Don’t expect your boss to spoonfeed you with the skills you’ll need to grow—many local bosses want to keep you in a low paying role for as long as they can.
For instance, if you’re a graphic designer but are unsatisfied with your pay, picking up some coding skills will enable you to make the transition to becoming a full-fledged web designer, giving you a big raise in the process.
For a start, use your SkillsFuture credit to take a course or two that can help you to start upgrading your skills.
Educate yourself about the opportunities available
While at school the various options open to you might have been clear—JC, poly or ITE—but things aren’t quite so straightforward in the working world.
I’m always amazed at how many people let their bosses give them the short end of the stick simply because they are too ignorant of the fact that there are better opportunities out there.
Unfortunately, nobody’s written a manual that can spoonfeed you with the information you need. You’ll have to actually—gasp!—talk to real people, both in and outside your industry.
For instance, Larry, who was featured in a previous article, started out his career as a web designer but later transitioned to becoming a project manager. He became aware of the fact that this career path was an option by speaking with his seniors at previous jobs and keeping his eyes open to what was going on in the office.
Ask for more
If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. And many Singaporean employers rely on the fact that their employees are too meek to ask for anything more.
For instance, this guy reportedly worked as an intern earning $500 a month for 2.5 years, not only being severely underpaid for working full-time, but also physically abused by his scumbag boss.
Many people I know complain about being underpaid but never think of asking their bosses for a raise. Instead, they plot to quit and get new jobs.
Even if you intend to leave your job, it’s in your best interests to raise your salary before doing so. Succeed and your perceived market value immediately rises in the eyes of your next employer. Fail and, well, you’ve got nothing to lose anyway.
Are you satisfied with your current salary? Tell us why or why not in the comments.
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