Singapore’s dog-eat-dog work environment brings to mind young office workers on the brink of burn-out, rushing to work on the MRT every day during rush hour, determined to work hard while they’re still young and able.
And it’s actually an accurate representation of the typical Singapore workplace, as employers here tend to focus on fresh grads and foreigners when hiring, according to this recent news report.
The reason, of course, is simple—such workers are cheaper to hire, even if they might not necessarily be more competent or more experienced, and have the reputation for being better able to work long, gruelling hours.
Where does that leave older PMETs, then? In a pretty bad place, it seems, as this group makes up 70% of those who have been retrenched and is suffering from increasing unemployment and underemployment.
So what can be done to make firms more willing to hire older PMETs?
The government has already put in place some schemes to boost employment of older PMETs, such as the Special Employment Credit which pays companies a percentage of their older employees’ wages, and the Career Support Programme which dishes out training grants to workers who need to obtain new skills.
The problem is that for most businesses, fresh grads and foreigners are still cheaper and let them get more bang for their buck.
Here are three measures that might be able to boost the hiring of mid-career PMETs.
Strengthen employee rights
A rookie fresh grad would probably be too scared to say no to staying at the office till 2am to rush an assignment, while a middle aged employee with three kids might feel differently.
The truth is, employee rights are very weak in Singapore. That’s because the government has always focused on creating a business-friendly environment, rather than an employee-friendly one.
Hiring and firing is very easy, and there are few rules guiding how much work an employer can pile on PMET employees, who are not protected by the rules governing number of hours worked, break times and overtime pay in the Employment Act.
This means that employers tend to go for the most exploitable workers.
Even if a middle aged PMET is willing to take a pay cut and earn the same salary as a fresh grad, or the government pays a portion of his wages, employers will still pick the fresh grad who’s viewed as better able to work long hours, or the foreigner who’s “hungrier”.
Make it illegal to ask personal questions about age and family situation at interviews
In some countries including the US, asking certain questions at interviews is illegal, such as those pertaining to age, race and marital status.
The rationale is that not being able to ask such questions makes it harder for an employer to discriminate based on the answers.
There is no reason why the Singapore government cannot similarly make it illegal to demand such information… especially when discrimination does happen a lot—just ask anyone in the recruitment business.
Other than older workers, employers are also reluctant to hire mothers of young children or married women who they perceive as likely to get pregnant.
Normalise internships for older workers
One thing students have going for them is their willingness to take on internships.
While they don’t get paid much, employers have the chance to get to know them and possibly retain them after a few months. The students can also treat the internship as an apprenticeship enabling them to pick up new skills and figure out how the job is done.
In fact, it is not unheard of for those in their late twenties or early thirties to take on an internship when making a career switch.
Out-of-work older PMETs whose skills have become obsolete might likewise benefit from being able to take on internships.
The Workforce Skills Qualifications system attempts to retrain workers and help them gain the experience they need to get hired. But there are employees in many industries who fall through the cracks.
Workforce Singapore (WSG) actually now runs a program called Work Trial, where employers offer a work trial opportunity for individuals, ranging from 16 hours to 480 hours, depending on the nature of work. Employers will need to submit to WSG the details of each Work Trial arrangement, including the duration, job scope and learning areas prior to the employer recruiting any employee under the Work Trial Programme.
Funding is provided by WSG, with Singapore Citizens getting $7.50 per hour, while PRs get $4.50 per hour. You can find out more about Work Trial here. the list of Work Trial jobs is updated weekly, and can be found under the link “List of Jobs” on the same page.
Internships are much easier to get than full-time jobs, and could help retrenched PMETs avoid having gaping holes in their CV.
This will offer deserving workers the opportunity to plug skills gaps while making an impression on an employer, rather than finding their resumes lost in a pile of CVs from younger or foreign hopefuls.
What can be done to encourage businesses to hire older PMETs? Tell us in the comments!