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Singapore – and the world – is restructuring. What about you?

On 2 March 2020, CNA published an article, “The job struggles of some middle-aged Singaporeans, as Government sends more help their way” ( In it, the author highlighted the plight of several mid-career professionals who have lost their job to restructuring, redundancy or even business closure. Many of these professionals are in the age group of 40 to 50 years, and who have spent their entire working life in about 2 to 3 firms. Unfortunately for them, just when they were at the prime of their career, they had their career momentum snuffed out which sent their growth trajectory tumbling. The saddest part of each of these person’s story is that they either could not find another job, even if they applied for a lower-salaried position, or they had to resort to driving a private hire car.

Some reasons were put forward by the author for this plight, namely:

1. the people had been displaced by technology, and they no longer have the relevant skills to compete in today’s job market;

2. there is reluctance in employers to hire a middle-aged worker at a lower salary because of the fear that he/she might “jump ship” when a better opportunity comes along the way

3. ageism, which is the discrimination of a person simply by his/her age, was also cited, saying that employers prefer a younger worker because they have a longer runway with the company and are, of course, cheaper.

4. being replaced by a foreign talent, despite being Singaporean who has been contributing successfully in the role.

The article ends with a resounding note from a construction company director who said that experience is not as important as skills. “Ultimately, any employer would still want to hire someone who can add value to the work and the culture of the organisation.”

I do believe the last point hits the nail on the head. But let be come back to that later. In all, we can summarise this article based on:

  1. a person’s age

  2. his/her relevant skills

  3. experience, or the lack thereof

  4. value, and

  5. culture

Let’s uncover each of these points in more detail

1. Ageism

Some companies’ HR practices may need updating because they think that younger employees are “cheaper” and easier to manage than older ones. Some of them believe that older workers are more set in their ways, and are mentally and physically weaker than younger ones. They cannot be further from the truth. Take me, for example. I am 54 years old this year. Yet, every morning, I wake up early – sometimes at 3.30am – and I hit the running track or the gym. I will run for 6.5km in 35 minutes, and then do another 1.5km walk to cool down. I run faster than most 35-year-olds on the track, who find it difficult to keep up with me; either by pace or distance or both. So, this debunks the physically and mentally fit myth. What about the “cheaper” myth? The fact of the matter is that younger workers these days are more prone to jumping ship than older workers. The cost of recruiting and onboarding is very high, by some experts, it costs about $16,000 per year to hire one employee. If this is turned 3 times in a year, that would be $48,000! That works out to $4,000 a month; and that is not even including the salary of the worker! This is just on hiring costs. Use that $4,000 on a more matured and stable employee, and you would gain by keeping those costs at bay!

So, is it cheaper to hire a younger employee? The answer is not so simple. The answer is yes if you can pin down the employee, create a worthwhile working condition, develop the person, give him/her a bigger slice of the game; then perhaps it would be cheaper to hire a younger person. But if you can’t promise all those, then perhaps it would be better to hire a good, experienced person.

2. Relevant skills

This is where it would probably hurt the matured jobseekers. Many of them had been schooled in the 1970s and 1980s, and they very quickly got jobs in the early 1990s when there was no mobile phone technology nor the Internet. The way that businesses operated was very different from now, in terms of concept of operations and in technology. And if these workers did not remain relevant, then they will go the way of the dinosaurs. While the operating language of businesses in the past was Microsoft Office, these days it is R, Python or Java. Now, if you think I am talking coffee, then you are in deep trouble! And if you thought that IoT was only to switch on your lights and aircon while you are on your way back home, then you also have a lot to learn.

If businesses now require these advanced skills to operate, and if you did not have them, how would you expect to be hired? If you cannot operate a piece of machinery remotely, including setup and troubleshooting it miles away, then you will not be able to compete in today’s industry. This is why the government has been advocating upskilling and reskilling as a strategy against redundancy, and where SkillsFuture credits are given to one for such purposes. But if one were to squander the credit to learn how to bake, for example, (unless you want to start a bakery, which would then be handy) then one is as good as not having had any new skills. This makes it difficult for one to be hired since the person would be clueless as to how to work in the business environment.