Editor’s Note: With Parliament dissolved and pending the General Elections, these individuals are now considered as former ministers.
The year 2020 is likely the worst year in recent times to be finding a job. In a period where many people are thankful to hold on to their existing jobs, navigating the job market amidst a global pandemic and recession would be daunting.
To encourage job seekers during this challenging period, some Cabinet Ministers of the 13th Singapore Parliament have shared nuggets of wisdom even as they implement policies to help create and save jobs.
Ong Ye Kung, Minister For Education
In his virtual commencement speech to the class of 2020, Ong Ye Kung reminds fresh graduates not to be disheartened, “lucky or unlucky, it is still up to [you]”. While 2020 seems to be a time fraught with “fear and fragmentation”, it is also “a world, and a Singapore, which has taken a pause for some deep questions”. For example, “who are we as a society? Is our national narrative every man for himself, every woman for herself or are we society with shared responsibilities?”
He advised fresh graduates to take up good job offers if offered. He also encouraged a positive spirit of learning. This can be in the form of traineeships under SGUnited Traineeships Programme or signing up for further studies such as postgraduate courses with Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to develop themselves further.
Additionally, he advocates for volunteer work: both as a platform to learn and to help the community. He urges fresh graduates to make the best of the situation, spend time with loved ones, pick up new skills, savour new experiences, and promises the support of the IHLs and the Government in job matching, skills development and sustained learning.
Grace Fu, Minister for Culture, Community And Youth
Given in 2019, Grace Fu’s convocation speech to fresh graduates is still relevant today. She advocated that fresh graduates learn “constantly, broadly and bravely” with “a strong sense of curiosity and spirit of exploration”.
Ms Fu’s recollection of her experience graduating during Singapore’s first economic recession after independence is especially pertinent today as it reminds us that every storm will pass: “it might sound nonchalant, but believe me, every generation will find their own way to discover new opportunities. And there is every reason to believe that your generation can too. So, there is reason to be confident.”
She also encouraged fresh graduates to examine the deeper questions of “what’s my purpose in life? What is success to me?” and urged fresh graduates to find “a purpose that is more than your own wellbeing, and that success is about leaving a worthy legacy in society”.
Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Coordinating Minister For Social Policies
Mr Tharman who is chairing the National Jobs Council set up to help Singaporeans stay employable in a challenging economy, is an advocate for all job seekers, especially mid-career and older job seekers: “No Singaporean who is willing to learn should be ‘too old’ to hire. And no one who is willing to adapt should be viewed as ‘overqualified’. We will work closely with the business associations to bring all employers into this national effort.”
He has a strong grasp on the psychological and social impact of unemployment and will spare no effort to help job seekers step back into the workforce. “No amount of unemployment benefits can compensate for not having a job, and for the social stagnation and loss of optimism about the future that comes when a large segment of the population feels redundant and out of sorts. We must never get there.”
His advice to job seekers is be open to opportunities and continue to learn while the government is working hard to address the employment situation: “we are therefore working with companies, sector by sector, to take on Singaporeans through temporary assignments, attachments and traineeships during this down period so they get real work opportunities and get paid, and pick up skills while waiting for permanent jobs to open up.”
S Iswaran, Minister For Communications And Information
Mr S Iswaran highlighted that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) as a sector that is hiring and that there are jobs in fields like cyber security, digital marketing and data analytics.
He iterated that “we need the ‘X’ factor – and that ‘X’ factor is our people, our mindset, and our willingness to learn and adapt to the “new normal”, as some have described it. It means workers who are prepared to pick up new skills and adjust to new jobs and circumstances, no matter what their background. It means seniors showing us that age is not a barrier to learning and making the digital transition. It means hawkers who have the gumption to “Try-lah”, as one hawker representative vividly put it to me, because of the conviction that this is a good thing.”
Josephine Teo, Minister For Manpower
Mrs Teo assured job seekers that the Government is doing its best to support them: “we will spare no effort to open up new pathways for job seekers and guide them appropriately”. She also points fresh graduates in the direction of the SGUnited Traineeships Programme where 2800 companies have stepped up to provide 19,000 traineeships for new graduates and to the various career centres located islandwide to help job seekers.
She urged “job seekers to keep an open mind – stay open to pathways that you would not have considered previously. Give the employers a chance and give yourself a chance.”
Additionally, Mrs Teo has also spoken in Parliament regarding the practice of job seekers declaring their last drawn pay: there are no rules stating that job seekers must declare their last-drawn salaries, and employers cannot insist they do so. This should give fresh graduates the assurance that even if an offered salary for their first job is lower than expected, it should not have a negative impact on their future salaries. Similarly, for every job seeker who has faced the dilemma of whether to reveal their last drawn pay, Mrs Teo’s words are a good response to the “unwise [practice of] employers to overlook the longer track record of the applicant, and make an offer based solely on the last-drawn salary especially if the last-held position was an interim one”.
Learning And Adaptability
A common theme across the advice from the various Ministers is the spirit of learning and adaptability. While the government are working hard to tackle the employment situation through various initiatives, job seekers (young and old) also need to be able to learn and adapt with the changing job market and be flexible with their job expectations.
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