“Do well for your studies and you will enjoy a good, stable career when you grow up.”
That’s what many of us have been repeatedly told by our parents from a young age.
While our parents may have had good intentions giving us this advice, the truth is that their well-intended narrative may not be entirely accurate in the world we work in today.
In fact, this advice can sometimes do more harm than good, as it sets unrealistic expectations that a good education will give us a desirable and fulfilling career.
Here are four more career decisions young Singaporeans have to consider today that the generation before us (i.e. our parents) may not be able to fully relate to.
#1 People Don’t Usually Stay In 1 or 2 Jobs Today. Be Prepared To Make Multiple Job Or Career Changes.
In the past, it was relatively common for workers to work their entire careers in one single company – rising up through the ranks to achieve healthy career progression.
This no longer applies today. In fact, our career paths may be more fragmented with gaps below.
What the above graphics spell out is that unlike in the past, we can no longer assume that we will just have one or two jobs throughout our careers. Rather, we should be prepared for multiple career changes.
If you look closely at your circle of friends, you may notice people who are already in their third or more jobs. Some may have even switched careers altogether.
Like it or not, we can’t just become comfortable in our current jobs thinking that is what we will be doing for the rest of our working lives. In the fast evolving landscape we live in today, companies, even the biggest ones, are not immune from market disruptions.
Affected companies will downsize their headcount through retrenchment exercises when required or close down offices and outlets if necessary.
What You Can Do:
If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being retrenched, consider turning to unions in Singapore, as they can help you get back on track.
For example, if you work in the financial sector, you can turn to unions such as the Singapore Bank Officers’ Association (SBOA), Singapore Bank Employees’ Union (SBEU) and DBS Staff Union (DBSSU).
These 3 unions can also refer affected workers to the Financial Industry Career Advisory Centre (FiCAC) for job opportunities in the financial sector, and the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) for employment assistance.
e2i also organizes job fairs for specific industries, with employability coaches helping jobseekers improve their chances of landing a job.
Always keep yourself ahead of the employment curve. Remind yourself that standing still in today’s employment market is the same as moving backwards.
Just as the employment market and our careers are being disrupted, the Labour Movement is also disrupting itself to evolve so it can take care of more people with integrated services at every life stage.
#2 A Stellar Education Is No Longer Enough. You Need To Know How To Widen Your Network and Sell Your Skills
Here’s something we don’t think gets discussed often enough, both at home and in schools. In today’s offices, your network matters a whole lot, and you need to think about how to widen your social and work circle. This may sometimes be even more important than your grades or entire formal education itself.
During our parents’ time, paper qualifications were usually sufficient to land them good jobs. Some of our parents may have even seen their peers get ahead of them because they themselves lacked paper qualifications. This would have given them the impression that a great education is critical for a successful career.
The world today is no longer what it used to be. While some jobs are being phased out due to automation, others have moved out to lower cost nations such as China, India and even parts of Europe. The job market has become much more competitive and good education, on its own, is no longer enough.
Instead, what has become increasingly important is an individual’s network and skills. Many successful job placements these days come through referrals and recommendations, with your portfolio of skills being one of your most important assets.
What You Can Do: You can’t just be a networking freak who turns up at every event with an agenda to cosy up to the bigwigs or talk your way into a job. You may as well not do anything than do this as people will be able to see through your intentions.
Rather, invest your time into developing genuine relationships with people who you care about.
This could be during an internship, where you get to know and understand your colleagues and what they do. Don’t feign interest. Rather, take it as a paid opportunity to understand what everyone else in your company is doing, and which parts of the business you are most keen on. Interact with your colleagues and identify what you may be interested to pursue after you graduate.
Don’t forget your friends at school. These include your study buddies, your CCA mates as well as people in your lecture class. They may be fellow students today, but in the future, some of them would become hiring managers, or know someone who is a hiring manager. By leaving a good impression during the course of your studies, they will be more willing to provide a referral for you down the line.
Joining the Labour Movement’s expanded network also opens the possibility of networking with different groups of working people, whether you’re a PME, or the boss of your new startup, or work for an SME.
To give yourself the best chance to choose the career you want, constantly find ways to learn new things and to upgrade yourself.
#3 We No Longer Enjoy Straight-Line Increments In Our Salary. Consider Accepting A Lower Pay To Move Ahead.
For some reason, there is still a stigma to overcome whenever a person decides to takes a salary cut in order to join another company or industry.
In the past, a higher salary has always been closely associated with career progression. When a person earns more, everyone else assumes the individual is doing well.
When a person takes a salary cut, it’s assumed he or she is moving backwards in their careers, even if the salary cut was a deliberate choice to switch career paths, join a startup or work shorter hours in a less stressful job.
What You Can Do: Explain to the people around you such as your parents that it’s unrealistic for one to expect the same salary if he or she is choosing to switch to another sector where pay is generally lower, join a new company which you can grow with or when you are expected to work shorter hours.
At the same time, keep your living expenses low and avoid spending more as your salary increases. The reason is simple; we should never assume that our future salary is always going to be higher than our current one.
By keeping our spending in check, we retain the flexibility to switch career when required without worrying about how a salary cut could affect our lifestyle. Neither should we see taking a salary cut as a sign that we are not doing well in our career.
Eunice Lim initially took a pay cut when she switched from an outdoor education company to the Early Childhood sector. Not only did she rise to Deputy Centre Lead in her preschool, she now has better career prospects compared to her previous job.
#4 A “Stable” Job Is Not Always The Best Job. You Have To Decide How To Best Chart Your Career.
People like to join Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) or the civil service when they graduate because of the perception that they provide iron rice bowls – with stable 9-to-5 jobs, lucrative pay and comes with steady career progression.
But would joining an MNC or the civil service really be a “better” job today? Not necessarily.
What You Can Do: These days, good jobs can exist in many different forms. For starters, you can join a startup and work with some of the most dynamic and talented individuals in Singapore that you would not be able to find elsewhere in the corporate world. Your starting salary may not be too high but you could be compensated in the form of early employees share options, which could be worth a lot if the company performs well.
Another underrated step that many people don’t consider is to do volunteer work. When you volunteer, you put yourself in a position to be involved in an area outside of your usual scope of work. This gives you the opportunity to try out new scopes of work that you may never have been exposed to before.
At the same time, other opportunities may also arise for you to use your skills meaningfully at your own time, own target. For example, if you have a specific skillset that is in demand, you could set your own working hours via part-time or freelance positions. These could enable you to earn more while having better control of your own time.
For some, a job within the gig economy may make sense. These jobs allow people to be flexible with their own schedule while earning per job. Popular examples include being an Uber or Grab driver as well as freelance designers or an artiste.
That said, those working in the gig economy should also be aware of their rights as well as areas that they may be vulnerable in. For example, many freelancers are not legally entitled to receive CPF contribution, thus putting them at risk since their retirement nest egg would not be as secured as other employed individuals.
Companies who lament not being able to find talent, could consider redesigning their jobs to be more attractive and productive for their staff, because today’s workers want more out of their career than just slogging day to day.
Career Decisions Today Are No Longer As Straightforward As They Used To Be
In the past, having a great career means studying hard, joining a reputable company and then working your way up the corporate ladder for the next 30 years. These days, things are no longer so simple.
Multiple career switches, working with different companies, constant learning and upgrading, swallowing pay cuts and even periods of unemployment is now considered the new norm, rather than an exception.
With more uncertainties about the future, job protection via unions, expanding one’s network, and knowing which skill to learn, are handy tools to have.
For example, if you work in the financial sector, you can turn to unions such as:
- Singapore Bank Officers’ Association (SBOA)
- Singapore Bank Employees’ Union (SBEU)
- DBS Staff Union (DBSSU)
- Amalgamated Union of Public Employees (AUPE)
- IRAS Staff Union (IRASSU)
- Singapore Insurance Employees’ Union (SIEU) and
- Singapore Manual & Mercantile Workers’ Union (SMMWU)
These 7 unions can also refer affected workers to the Financial Industry Career Advisory Centre
In conclusion, both young workers and their parents need to be prepared to navigate through these road bumps in our careers, rather than expect it to be as clear-cut as what previous generations may have experienced.
This article was written in collaboration with the Labour Movement to help working people throughout multiple careers in your life. All views expressed in the article are the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg