Covid-19 Crisis: Retrenchment, $10k Hospital Bills & the Passing of A Loved One — Here’s How This Jobseeker Pulled Through

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MoneySmart editorial guidelinesWhile our shopping malls, eateries, public transport and places of interest are now back to being crowded, daily new Covid-19 cases are down to single digits, and there’s been a relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions — that doesn’t mean our economy is out of the woods.

Retrenchment has been like a cloud hanging heavy over our heads since the onset of the Covid-19 outbreak.

From April to June 2020, there were 8,130 retrenchments, more than twice the number of retrenchments from January to March 2020, which was 3,220. This means, from January to June this year, the total number of retrenchments is even higher than that during the SARS period… yikes

And this figure does not yet include the large-scale layoffs by Resorts World Sentosa in July and Singapore Airlines Group (about 4,000) in September.

The fear of being retrenched is still very real. And for those who were affected, the wounds are still raw.

Retrenchment is a result of companies downsizing, having budget issues, the slowing economy or demand, or the complete closure of businesses — especially during this challenging period.

This adds to the pool of jobseekers who have been sending out copies of their resume daily; but as many firms struggle to survive, hiring is no longer a priority.

Here’s one woman’s story:

Covid-19 triple crisis

For Janice Wong, 37, losing her job during the Covid-19 outbreak was “scary”. Together with her husband, she was then supporting their 2 young children, aged 7 and 12, and her ill mother-in-law who needed the care of a helper.

“It was so sudden,” she recalled of her retrenchment. “As it happened during the Circuit Breaker when we were at home, I simply received an email informing me of the news. It was so unexpected and I was scared. My colleagues, too, messaged me; and everyone was panicking.”

The F&B arm of the company that Janice was in shuttered around mid-April. For the firm’s main business, 50% of the staff were let go, she says.

Crisis after crisis
Janice shared that her husband’s mother had suffered from a stroke a few years ago. She then moved into their Choa Chu Kang HDB resale flat in 2019. As both of them worked full-time, they engaged a helper to look after her.

During Covid-19, after Janice lost her job, her ailing mother-in-law took a turn for the worse and had to be warded twice in the hospital.

“We couldn’t visit her due to the strict Covid-19 restrictions. None of us knew what was going on and we felt helpless. In addition, the hospital bills amounted to over $10k and it was extremely stressful as it felt everything was coming at us at the worst possible time,” she said.

And within that period, worse news followed. Sadly, her mother-in-law passed away.

Financial struggle
When Janice was retrenched, her family’s household expenses were $6k each month. This included her helper’s fees/allowance, bills and car expenses. Her husband, while still employed, was left to shoulder this on his own. Meanwhile, Janice had to dig into her hard-earned savings to pay for her insurance and other miscellaneous fees (about $1k+ a month).

“I tried to appeal to get retrenchment benefits, but as I only worked there for about a year, I didn’t meet the company’s 2-year employment criteria, so I only received my notice pay,” she said.

Hence, the first order of the day was to apply for all the eligible government grants, such as the Covid-19 Support Grant. The couple also decided to sell the family car to cut down on their expenses.

She said: “As it was during Circuit Breaker, there wasn’t much activity anyway. I also saved money by cooking meals at home — there was no money for extras. Thankfully, my kids also understood the situation. I told them we ‘couldn’t anyhow buy things’, and they said okay.”

After her mother-in-law passed away, though grieving, Janice quickly terminated the services of her helper and eventually lowered their household expenses to $4k+ a month. This also included the money saved from cooking meals at home, car expenses (now sold), toys for her kids and medical bills.

Restarting her career
After Janice was notified of her retrenchment, the accounts executive quickly took action and started applying for suitable jobs on a daily basis. However, as the Covid-19 situation wore on, some companies that had initially offered her an opportunity retracted their offer, while others went silent.

“Whatever job that seemed suitable, I would apply. Every single day. There weren’t many positions that suited me, in terms of salary, job scope and location… I must have applied for almost 100 jobs,” she recalled.

In July, she came across information on Workforce Singapore’s career matching service online. Almost immediately, she was put in touch with a career coach from Maximus who offered helpful tips on resume writing, interview skills and even attire, identified her strengths and weaknesses, checked regularly on her progress, and more.

“My career coach at Maximus pointed out that I could brush up on my English language skills to boost my employability and to perform better in interviews. It’s good advice, and I’m working on it,” she said.

Shortly after, through her career coach at Maximus, she landed an interview with a company in the health and sciences sector — a resilient industry to be in especially during such uncertain times, her career coach told her. After going through 2 rounds of interviews and a test, she was finally hired. Janice started work on 1 September 2020, 4 months after she was retrenched.

“The company suggested by my career coach is a good match and my colleagues are friendly. Although the salary is slightly lower than my last-drawn pay, it’s understandable as we are in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak,” she noted. “I’m just happy to be able to earn my keep and not have to continue relying on my savings — in a job that satisfies all of my requirements,” she added.

Janice added: “It’s not so much of a struggle at home now, and I feel more reassured as I don’t need to dip into my savings. But we are still keeping to our tight budget as anything can happen during this Covid-19 time.”

In addition, with the skills gleaned from her career coach such as resume crafting and interview preparation, she is better equipped for her future career endeavours.

“I have recommended WSG’s career-matching services to my friends — sometimes we need a helping hand when what we’re doing on our own doesn’t seem to work,” she said.

Retrenched or looking for a job? Here’s what you can do

If you were retrenched like Janice, unemployed and job searching, here are some tips to boost your job search.

1. Attend virtual career fairs or career events
Face-to-face career fairs may be more restrictive currently due to safe distancing measures. However, thanks to technology, we still have access to the Internet and all its glory. Enter the SGUnited Jobs Virtual Career Fairs. You can also head to the MyCareersFuture portal  to find jobs in Singapore that match your skills, sign up for job preparation workshops, walk-in interviews and other career events organised by WSG for Singaporeans.

2. Speak to a WSG Career Coach
Even before you’re at your wit’s end, know that WSG is here for you with its career-matching services. As Janice experienced, this can increase your chances of landing a suitable job. Through WSG’s Career Coaching services, talk to an expert to identify your strengths and weaknesses. They can also suggest suitable career options and give you pointed advice on how to dazzle your future employer or stand out from the crowd by honing the right skills.

3. Load up on knowledge to improve your resume and career-seeking skills
Make use of this downtime to skill up instead of feeling down. Start by reading self-improvement articles that help you take an active step to enhance your employability. For example, Workforce Singapore’s (WSG) MyCareersFuture content site is packed with tips, tricks and helpful resources — yes, there are even answer suggestions for that question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. If you have been retrenched, head over to the Career Restarter page where specially curated resources and online courses are available for you. 

4. Consider a career change
If you felt jaded in your previous job, perhaps it’s time for a change of scene. Did you have a passion that you didn’t have the chance to pursue? Do you have an unrealised talent or skill that might put you in good stead in a different industry? Consider WSG’s Professional Conversion Programmes or choose the Career Trial route if you’re still sitting on the fence and don’t know if you’d enjoy the switch.

5. Make use of your network
Your network isn’t just for socialising, sharing funny posts or asking if anyone would like to adopt your dog’s new litter of puppies. If you’ve been working for awhile, chances are, some of your ex-colleagues and clients are in your social circle as well. You can reach out to your network to see if there are any positions available, or ask for a recommendation from a close contact. Check out further jobsearch tips from WSG’s career coaches here.

If you are retrenched or unemployed, and in need of help, fill up this form to receive an e-information package on resources available and register for an appointment with a WSG Career Coach now. This service is complimentary for Singaporeans and PRs.

*Top image for illustration purposes only