TLDR; A former CEO of an information and communications technology (ICT) startup shares his experience of trying to re-enter the job market after getting retrenched. He also dishes on what can more can be done to help other mature workers in similar predicaments.
We’ve all seen the memes on social media about job postings for entry level positions where candidates are required to have 3 – 5 years of experience. Some memes coming your way to refresh your memory:
But what happens when companies are particular about hiring those with no experience, and those with too much experience?
Philip Kwa, 58 years old, faced this challenge when he was retrenched just after a year of being in an ICT start up, in 2020 soon after the pandemic shook the world.
The noble reason behind his retrenchment
“Because of COVID, the company was not making a lot of money. So we scaled down our operations and I lost my job,” Philip said.
He decided to leave his job as the CEO of an ICT startup as he felt like it was best that he left as this would let the company manage their finances to survive for another year or two. It did not make financial sense to dismiss junior colleagues as he was deemed the “most expensive person”.
Post-retrenchment woes; the struggles of getting a job
Philip felt like his age and experience was hindering him from securing a permanent role. This was surprising given how the years of experience an individual had was one of the key deciding factors in employment. He also highlighted that his previous experience as CEO of a company might have frightened off some potential employers.
“When I think back about the organisations I reached out to, I have been told that my skillset did not match what they were looking for. But at the end of the day, they hired someone whom I knew in the industry. He was someone younger, but I know that I am definitely more experienced.”
Beyond doing the usual deed of applying for jobs directly himself, he also reached out to other professionals in his field, and he sought help from government agencies such as Workforce Singapore (WSG).
WSG’s arrangement with private institutions, whose experience helped him better with his search. The arrangement, referred to as the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Placement Partners Initiative (SGUJS PP), was a scheme aimed at scaling up the placement of local jobseekers into job, traineeship and attachment opportunities
Despite getting some opportunities in line with his needs from the scheme, Philip made the decision to take control of his situation.
Taking ownership and control of a seemingly unfavourable situation
After consulting with friends and connections in the industry, Philip decided that he had a bigger purpose in mind: focus on helping others, and establish his own business.
As a safety net, he also looked at backup options to ensure that he will still be able to draw a steady stream of income while setting up his own company.
Fast forward to today, Philip is currently teaching cyber security as an adjunct lecturer with Singapore Polytechnic, and he is the owner of an ICT consultancy business.
Additionally, Philip volunteers his time with WSG as a career coach, helping others who are finding employment.
Philip is also the Deputy General Treasurer with Tech Talent Assembly (TTAB), an association for ICT professionals in Singapore.
How can we do more for mature PMEs who are in similar situations?
Philip highlighted two main areas of concern for mature PMEs: one concerning retrenchment, and the other with job opportunities.
On those who come face to face with retrenchment…
For PMEs above 40, Philip opined that they should be offered some form of interim financial assistance from the Government should they ever face retrenchment.
Referencing PMEs who are sole bread winners of their families, he said:
“If suddenly, you were to lose your job and your income for a period of time, then what? If you do not have savings to fall back on, then you’ll be in deep trouble. So an interim monetary assistance to help such folks tide through while they search for another job will be useful.”
On strengthening the Singaporean core…
Secondly, while he realises that the Government is doing what it can to strengthen the Singapore core such as by reviewing the Employment Pass criteria, he felt that more concrete steps need to be taken.
“What needs to be looked at is succession planning [how foreigners can pass on skills and knowledge to locals]. When I was working in the US, it was very difficult to get a work visa. The company had to prove that they could not find anybody [with the relevant skillset]. Even when I was in China, I was given a strict three years to complete my task. I was a specialist, but the intent was to pass knowledge to the locals. That is how you strengthen the Singapore core.
Just last year, Singapore’s PME Taskforce (PME TF) — comprising the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) — introduced 9 concrete recommendations to on supporting PMEs in Singapore. These recommendations aim to tackle workplace discrimination, offering unemployment support, and increasing upskilling, as well as job opportunities.
Labour MP Patrick Tay, co-chair of the Taskforce has also been advocating to strengthen the Singapore core.
“We need to constantly watch our step, keep pace, and stay in touch with the pulse. Pay close watch of economic competition and competitors, keep pace with the changing demographic profile and the future of work, and stay in touch with the pulse and heartbeat of Singaporeans, their stresses, aspirations, interests and well-being because every worker matters.”