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While a typical worker in Singapore can easily spend more than 40 years in the workforce, career-related conversations tend to be concentrated at the beginning and end stages.
Even before we start working, discussions tend to revolve around education pathways, fresh graduates and first job experiences. On the other end, keeping seniors engaged at work is a significant concern in Singapore’s rapidly greying workforce. Topics such as re-employment and retirement adequacy also fold into these discussions.
The middle stage – in our mid-30s to mid-50s – where workers actually spend the majority of our careers is arguably the most critical. This period offers workers the time and opportunities to upgrade and learn new skills. This can equalise educational or experience disadvantages workers may have started with.
Equipped with a refined skillset and confidence to continue contributing to the economy into their senior years, such workers can naturally enhance their own retirement adequacy with longer and more diverse career paths.
NTUC’s #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations To Renew The Workers’ Compact
Partnering workers in our journey toward more fulfilling careers and bolstering employability, NTUC launched its #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations project in August 2022. The goal of this exercise: to hear from all groups of working people in Singapore and to renew its compact with Singapore workers.
Over an intensive 10-month period, NTUC’s staff and volunteers spent over 8,000 hours, speaking to more than 42,000 workers across various career paths in Singapore. These conversations allowed NTUC to capture a deep understanding of the aspirations and concerns of our workforce.
Equipped with this fresh perspective, NTUC hopes to continue advocating for workers’ interests and shaping a better future of work, including protecting wages, welfare and work prospects.
Insights from these conversations were published in a report titled “Our Workers’ Compact”. Focusing on mid-career workers in Singapore, NTUC continues to champion more support in their pursuit of deep skills.
Here are 5 things we learned about mid-career workers in Singapore.
#1 Mature Workers Face More Challenges In Finding Jobs That Match Their Skills
As technology rapidly advances, workers are increasingly compelled to acquire new skills to remain relevant at their workplace. Existing skillsets are also becoming obsolete at a faster pace.
In a revealing statistic, NTUC found that 85% of workers aged 40 and above expressed challenges finding jobs that matched their skills or interests.
One of the workers they spoke to, a 10-year veteran in a Business Process Manager role, had a question that is likely on many mid-career workers’ minds:
Source: Our Workers’ Compact report
(All screenshots are from the report)
Often, such workers will not know this answer until it is too late – when they have lost their jobs.
During their #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations, nevertheless, NTUC found that these workers remained positive about upskilling as an enabler for them to take on higher value work.
#2 Mid-Career Workers Are More Worried About Losing Their Jobs
In NTUC’s survey, 80% of mid-career workers worry about losing their jobs. This is higher compared to younger workers (73%) and older workers (71%).
In their late 30s to early 50s, mid-career employees often face significant personal financial responsibilities. They may still be servicing their home loans, building an education fund for their children and sandwiched in between ageing parents.
#3 Workers Earning Below Median Wage Do Not Feel That They Have Enough Savings
This concern was prevalent across income brackets and job roles. Both lower-wage workers and PMEs were worried about servicing their existing liabilities and daily expenses if they lost their income.
Those earning below the median wage – $4,500 in 2022 – bear a disproportionate impact. 75% of such workers said they would not have enough savings to tide through more than 4 months of losing their jobs.
In fact, only 21% of them said that they can tide through 5 months or more without employment.
This presents a significant concern as MOM’s most recent labour report indicated that less than 60% of those retrenched were able to find a new job within 6 months.
Additionally, NTUC’s survey also revealed that financial constraints may force mid-career workers to accept any available jobs. This urgency might curtail any exploration of an alternative career path or time to build on the skills necessary to transition into another career.
#4 Mid-Career Workers Agree That Training Courses Are A Meaningful Use Of Time
Encouragingly, 72% of mid-career workers agree that training courses are a meaningful use of their time.
This positive sentiment reflects their aspirations for skills upgrading, expanding their professional horizons and maximising their potential in their chosen fields.
Among these individuals, many cited skills development as a means to either improve efficiency or venture into roles outside their regular job scope. Others viewed training courses as a stepping stone to improved career prospects and faster salary increments.
#5 Training Courses Helped Mid-Career Workers Secure New Jobs
Among mid-career workers who successfully switched careers, 74% agreed that training helped to secure their new roles.
Despite recognising the importance of training courses, the survey revealed that workers tend to attend less frequently as they age.
While a high proportion of mid-career workers between 35 and 44 engage in training, they do so less frequently as they age. Only 66% of mid-career workers aged 45 to 54 attended a training course in the last 12 months.
This pattern continues as they age, and become senior workers, with attendance in training programmes dropping.
There were four main reasons for this:
– Lack of financial resources (72%)
– Lack of understanding of the type of training they need (72%)
– Lack of time (68%)
– Lack of support from employers (55%)
NTUC’s Recommendations To Support Mid-Career Workers
Within the Our Workers’ Compact report, NTUC put up 2 main recommendations to support mid-career workers in Singapore.
Firstly, workers must be equipped to transit to more resilient career pathways.
One of the recurring problems for many mid-career workers who are involuntarily unemployed is the intense pressure to find a new job as quickly as possible. Their financial responsibilities take precedence over other important considerations, such as exploring new career pathways and investing in skills development.
To prevent workers from being trapped in a sunset industry and relying on the same set of skills that will gradually become obsolete, NTUC is:
1) calling on the Government to introduce short-term unemployment support for all workers who are involuntarily displaced. This is something they’ve been championing since 2014.
2) Such a programme should be coupled with upskilling initiatives to empower workers to navigate career transitions and secure meaningful employment opportunities.
NTUC also indicated that the training ecosystem should support the acquisition of deep skills throughout life.
NTUC outlines a 5-pronged approach to achieve this:
1) Government training allowance for the acquisition of deep skillsets
Individually, workers may not pursue longer courses that develop deep skillsets as it often requires significant investment of time, money and effort. A training allowance, tied to a percentage of their salary, can alleviate some financial burden and encourage more Singaporeans to acquire deep skillsets.
2) Protected time off for self-initiated training
Mandatory training leave enables workers to take ownership of their own learning and development, and explore functions beyond their current work scope. This can benefit both businesses and employees.
3) Skills allowance provided by companies
A skills allowance can serve to reward and recognise employees who invest their time and effort to upgrade their skills – which can value-add to employers’ businesses.
4) Subsidies for second degree or diploma
Today, subsidies are only available for our first diploma/degree. It would require a substantial investment to pursue another qualification, which can facilitate career pivots.
Building on the SkillsFuture training ecosystem, NTUC suggests expanding the range of courses subsidised to include a second degree or diploma. This can serve to remove barriers for those who want to develop new areas of expertise.
5) Mentorship for and by professionals, managers, and executives
Mentorship can be an indispensable career resource for workers to seek advice from experienced seniors while gaining deeper insights into their industries.
For mid-career workers, NTUC aims to provide a mentorship programme for PMEs, to support career development, advancement and transitions, as well as opportunities for C-suite leaders to mentor younger PMEs.
Upskilling Is A Non-Negotiable – For All Parties
For Singapore to continue progressing, her people have to be better trained and more productive. This cannot be the responsibility of just the workers, nor just the employers or the Government.
Instead, it has to be a whole-of-country effort. In the Government’s own Forward Singapore report, a roadmap for our nation’s next stage of development, they agreed with many of NTUC’s recommendations – noting that mid-career workers have more personal responsibilities, and may need more support.
Some initiatives listed in the report include investments in SkillsFuture Credit top-ups, training allowances and support those who want to obtain a second publicly-funded diploma qualification.
Forward Singapore also highlighted the importance of mid-career employees switching industries, and for companies to support mid-career switchers.
While NTUC has been championing unemployment support since 2014, the Government finally indicated that it is time to introduce such a support scheme in the Forward Singapore report.
This will support workers in not just getting back on their feet, but honing their skillset for the longer term. Nevertheless, the Government stated that it will learn from practices from around the world, listing that such a scheme cannot make it attractive to stay unemployed.
Instead, the primary goal remains to support re-employment – encouraging workers to do their part and continue towards their career goals. It went into some detail, stating that financial support should be conditional upon workers actively searching for jobs.