The COVID-19 pandemic has caused much stress and anxiety among Singaporeans over the past two years — and the numbers show. 🙁 According to a recent study conducted by the Institute of Mental Health, 13% of over 1,000 participants reported ‘symptoms of anxiety or depression during the Covid-19 pandemic’. The same study also revealed that financial loss, and unemployment were among the top sources of stress. Overall unemployment rate in Singapore was 5.19% in 2020 — the highest in 10 years. Even though the number has since rebounded to 2.7% in August 2021, the road to recovery is also unclear across industries. For many, a retrenchment may seem like a death knell to your career. The truth, however, is that it doesn’t have to be. Take it as an opportunity to increase your employability.
Here are the first five things you need to do to kickstart this new phase of your life and career.
Deep breath in, deep breath out…
The first days or weeks of your unemployment are going to feel strange. You wake up at the same time because your body clock is still tuned to pre-employment days, and you spend the morning feeling guilty for not doing anything productive — but that’s absolutely normal! After all, the average Singaporean works 23% longer than the mandated 48 hours per week, making us the second-most overworked city in the world. Transitioning from that kind of hectic work schedule is going to take some getting used to. Instead of fretting over what the future holds, take some time (different people take different amounts of time) to settle into your new pace of life.
Brush up on your CV and interview skills
Don’t be ashamed if your CV looks like it was last updated in the mid-2000s. Most workers only ever look at their CVs when they are on the hunt for a new job anyway. The key is that you are setting aside time to update your resume — and that’s a fantastic start.
There are many ways to brush up your CV, but the gist is this: update your CV with your latest employment, list the skills you have acquired over time and showcase — with evidence — the achievements you have had over the years. Think about you as a product and ask yourself: what is your Unique Selling Point? Name the best of them to impress your future employer.
A spanking new CV is one half of the puzzle. The other half is your interview skills. Post retrenchment, these are some of the things you can look into. There are articles to help you answer the most frequently asked questions, but remember this: it is normal to feel a bit rusty at first. It’s been so long since you’ve had to ‘sell’ your skills this way, so take it easy! The good news is that there are workshops to help you along the way. Recruitment agencies, too, often have experienced, knowledgeable consultants that will walk you through every step of the interview process, from what to write in your CV to what to say in the interview.
Take up a part-time job
Taking a break is important, but not everybody has the luxury to do so for an extended period of time. If this sounds like you, we want to let you know: we see you. That’s why our second advice is to take up a part-time job.
There are many advantages to this. First, a part-time job keeps some money flowing into your bank account even if it’s less than what you were taking home before. Second, part-time jobs often have flexible working hours, leaving time for job search and interviews. Third, part-time or freelance jobs allow you to expand your portfolio within a short period of time. Instead of working at the same company for several years, short-term employment allows you to ‘job hop’ while you search for a more permanent option.
Upskill, upskill, upskill…
Instead of seeing today as Day One of your unemployment, turn it into Day One of your upskilling career. This is the perfect opportunity to learn a new skill, technical or soft, and see if there is something you can improve or develop. For example, if you used to be a marketing executive but don’t necessarily have a background in social media, then that is a skill gap that you can plug. Strengthening a weakness or acquiring a new skill are productive ways to make yourself a more attractive candidate.
It doesn’t always have to feed into your next job, either! Remember the ‘deep breath in, deep breath out’ advice? Your new skill could be a thing that you’ve always wanted to do or learn, like fishing or oil painting. If you’ve always wanted to cycle around Singapore, this is the ideal time to work your way up to that goal. After all, a skill doesn’t always have to be work-related. It could also be something that fulfills you on a mental and spiritual level also. Organisations like the NTUC LearningHub have resources to help unemployed workers. To improve your employability they have leveraged their ecosystem of leading industry and content partners to help workers gain skills and industry-recognised certifications to propel your career. The Union Training Assistance Programme also helps with the cost of training to help union members upgrade their skills.
Retrenchment is scary. But you can still plan ahead.
‘Languishing’ is a term that was popularised during the pandemic, but it applies to periods of unemployment also. That’s why the last advice is to take the first four pieces of advice and map them out against a timeline. How long is the break going to be? When are you going to revamp your CV? When are you going to engage a career counsellor? Plans not only give structure to your day-to-day life, it makes unemployment less daunting and more purpose driven.
Go further by doing the math and figuring out, based on the savings you have amassed over the years, how long you can go without a job — and you might be surprised! Knowing that you can afford to pay for all your living expenses and still go a full year without a job can be comforting, too.
Facing retrenchment? Unemployed? Help is on the way.
Retrenchment doesn’t have to be an isolating experience, either. Even as we speak, help is on the way.
In October 2021, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and Singapore National Employers Federation shared with the government a support framework that could potentially support unemployed Singaporeans through these troubled times. The framework includes a basic tier that provides supplementary income relief and assistance, as well as an additional tier to offer more support to union members and vulnerable, mature workers.
One particular group of workers stand to gain the most from this proposed framework: Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs). PMEs have been hit hard due to the higher cost of living, longer time taken to land a new job, as well as the likelihood to suffer wage loss when re-entering the workforce.
During the recent unveiling of the framework, NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said, “PMEs feel the pressure from foreign competition and for mature PMEs, they find it challenging to bounce back when they lose their jobs. Thus, we must do more to level the playing field for our local PMEs, while enabling other forms of employment and employability-related support, like unemployment transition support, job search or training support, for them.”
Make no mistake: it is normal to feel fearful when facing a retrenchment, especially if you have a family to raise. However, the end to the pandemic is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’. The job market will rebound sooner or later, and the key is to put yourself in the best position for re-employment. The best part? You’re not doing it alone, either. There are organisations out there that are more than willing to help you chart this new chapter of your career.