SINGAPORE — When asked what one can do to become “retrenchment-proof”, career services professional Sim Cher Young quipped: “Marry the (business) owner”.
Taking a more serious tone, the director at Singapore Management University’s Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre said that nobody can fully protect themselves from the possibility of getting laid off, since any business or organisation may not do well for various reasons and has to let staff go.
“And you need to be prepared, because you’ll have financial obligations, and you need to prepare for that,” he said.
Mr Sim was speaking on Thursday (Oct 19) at a panel discussion on building a career in a volatile job market during the TODAY “live” webinar series.
The session was the second of three to be streamed on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube following the recently published TODAY Youth Survey 2023.
The survey found, among others, that almost one in four youths polled felt it was possible to face retrenchment at least once in their lifetime.
The panellists, comprising Mr Sim, co-founder of start-up company Synectify Peter Finn and TODAY journalist Renald Loh generally agreed that little can be done by a worker to become retrenchment-proof.
The next best thing to do is to prepare for such an event, such as by saving up to tide over such difficult times or take a break, if need be.
The panellists also pointed to resources such as SkillsFuture training credits and career coaches provided by organisations like Workforce Singapore that individuals can tap to upgrade their skills and seek career advice or job matching services if they get laid off.
However, Mr Sim said that preparations to become resilient in one’s career should begin even before one lands a job.
He advised individuals to do “informational interviews” or approach people whose jobs one may be interested in and ask them what are the skills needed for the role, so that one can then learn those skills and work towards getting the job.
Mr Finn said that cultivating a network is something that “pays dividends but takes time to do”.
“I’ve actually gotten a lot of jobs just through my network, just through the people I know. And you got to start it early.”
Mr Finn said while it is always better to have job security, being laid off is “certainly not the end of the world”, as long as one stays agile and adaptable.
Mr Sim said that even during the good times, a worker must maintain a mindset of always wanting to improve oneself by taking on challenging work and developing skills.
“So you will be more resilient when you pick up such tools (and skills). And you will be able to prepare yourself come the difficult times,” he said.
When asked by Mr Loh if employers would frown upon young workers who decide to take a “sabbatical” between getting retrenched and finding a new job, Mr Sim and Mr Finn said that employers typically would want to know what the job applicant did during the break.
“I would ask you what you’ve learned, what came out of that experience,” added Mr Finn.
“Personal travel can be very enriching, if you’re coming to it with an open mind.”
Mr Loh said that despite major companies making headlines for retrenching workers, the mood among his peers is still relatively optimistic as they believe they can pick up useful skills in emerging fields such as artificial intelligence (AI) to stay relevant.
“The sentiment amongst the young people that I’ve spoken to is actually more of a positive one, which is that if I can learn how to control or use the AI, well, then there’ll be employers that would see that as useful skill in itself,” he said.
“Like in the past, with new technologies like the internet, getting on top of it, understanding the technology, understanding how to use it, would put yourself in good stead.”
Despite the gloomy subject of retrenchment, youths who attended the webinar came out of the session feeling optimistic and empowered.
Secondary school student Raymond Benedict Bejar found it particularly useful that the panellists brought up SkillsFuture and professional networking platform LinkedIn, for example.
“I thought that was a very good point, they’re resources that could potentially help or be useful for my future career,” said the 15 year old.
Junior college student Lim Kaiyang, 17, said that the biggest takeaway for him was that “optimism is very important” even while looking at statistics or news about retrenchment.
“After hearing so many perspectives from the panellists, it’s important to remain optimistic and take every failure or setback as a learning opportunity for yourself.”