SINGAPORE — Every weekend, Mr Yip, a 62-year-old retiree, used to visit the wet market at Block 493, Jurong West Street 41, to stock up on groceries such as fish and pork. When the marketing was done, he sought out an old friend or two and, over a cup of “kopi” at the coffee shop, they would “kaypoh” about each other’s lives, and while away the afternoons.
It was a routine that the long-time Jurong West resident, who lives across the road from the market, had grown accustomed to.
But in the wee hours of Oct 11, Mr Yip was jolted out of his sleep by the sound of an explosion. Bleary-eyed, he rushed down from his flat to join a crowd which had already gathered in front of a huge blaze engulfing the wet market and two coffee shops at Blocks 493 and 494.
“People were just standing around, (wondering) how this fire could have started … We felt very sad,” he said.
Within an hour and a half, the 30-year-old wet market was reduced to a charred shell.
In the days that followed, the affected stallholders milled around the estate, discussing the situation. Former residents returned to visit the area and find out how their former neighbours were doing. The incident was the talk of the town, including those not living in the area.
“People had asked me which block I was from, and said ‘too bad, no more coffee shop’,” said Mr Yip, recalling how he was asked about the fire while having his meals in Jurong East Central.
The loss of the market reflects a facet of heartland life that few Singaporeans think twice about until it is gone. Wet markets, coffeeshops and hawker centres have been in the news in recent years. In 2007, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) reversed its policy — three years after it stopped building markets in new towns — following a major consultation exercise involving some 1,000 Singaporeans.
In 2009, when supermarket chain Sheng Siong bought over five wet markets, Singaporeans urged the Government to intervene, to prevent the company from converting the wet markets into supermarkets. The HDB subsequently made it clear that it would not allow the wet markets to be converted. Wet markets, or rather the lack of them, have also been a central municipal issue for many constituencies when it comes to election time.
In heartland estates across the island, wet markets and hawker centres are front and centre when it comes to amenities. Less than two weeks ago, a S$2 million upgrade for Yuhua Village centred around the facilities near the wet market. When approval for construction of a wet market in Sengkang was given earlier this year, the area’s Member of Parliament (MP), Mr Lam Pin Min, described it as part of an integrated community facility.
For many Jurong West residents, there is a sudden void in their lives. Afterall, the wet market was where they spent a good part of their day. Several residents whom TODAY spoke to over the past week were still grappling with the loss, while the market is being prepared for demolition.
Previously, the market was a hive of activity, often bustling with crowds, some travelling all the way from Choa Chu Kang and even Punggol and Sengkang, said clothing store owner Wendy Kiu, 38, who grew up in the area.
Mdm Latifah, 50, a housewife who stays at Boon Lay, is a regular visitor to the area. She used to buy her groceries from the friendly stallholders who made it a point to remember her orders. “I don’t usually carry plastic bags, so they always remember that … And whenever I go there, it seems like they know what I’m going to buy. It seems like they are family,” she said.
Often, the coffee shops near the market would be so packed with customers that there were barely enough tables available, said Mdm Wong Kim Yok, 80, who runs a medical hall and has lived at Block 494 for the past 30 years. The carpark behind the market was often full, and people would complain about not getting lots, she added. “But in the blink of an eye, it’s gone. Nobody comes by anymore,” she lamented in Mandarin.
Another resident, Mdm Ng, 61, said she would miss the stalls — the ones selling Thai fried rice and kuay chap, in particular — at the coffee shops. She used to buy food there every day. “I miss it, and it’s a pity that they are now gone. I just hope they can quickly start their businesses again,” she said in Mandarin.
A new temporary market — a few blocks away — is likely to be ready in time for Chinese New Year, Jurong GRC MP Ang Wei Neng assured the stallholders earlier this week during a meeting with them.
It could not come sooner for fortune teller Chua Hock Seng, 51, who already misses the area’s kampung spirit.
Mdm Betsy Tan, who has been running a minimart at Block 494 for the past decade, recalled how the stallholders helped one another, including setting aside vegetables or other goods for her to buy later. “This place is like an old people’s town … Everyone knows one another and we’re always greeting one another,” she said.
In the days after the fire, several shopkeepers from nearby blocks pooled together a sum of money to help those affected get by. One of them, Mdm Goh, 58, said: “We’re so used to it because we pass by it every day, so we might have (overlooked it), but suddenly it’s gone … Knowing that these stallholders have to start from scratch, we know it’s not that easy.”
While there are enough coffee shops and markets nearby that residents can turn to for their daily needs, Mr Yip insisted that things were not the same as before. He simply misses the buzz and the people. “There’s a lot of emptiness now, everyone is wondering where these stallholders are going and what their lives are going to be like.”
SINGAPORE — When he was 21, Gopalasamy Reuben Clements took a road trip to Malaysia that would change his life, and lead to a career in conservation across the Causeway.
Interested in collecting shells, he and some friends rented a car in Johor and drove to Gua Musang in Kelantan. The jungles and limestone hills left him in awe. When he returned, he changed his mind about studying engineering in university and decided to “break away” to do biology, despite not having taken the subject for his O- or A-Levels.
“It was just the whole hobby of collecting shells that got me interested in the natural world … in exploring, classifying things, finding the names of animals,” he said.
After getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, the young man found himself doing bio-remediation (using micro-organisms to break down environmental pollutants) in the canals of Singapore, and thought about “all the fun times in Malaysia exploring the jungles”.
He found his way back north in 2007 via the World Wide Fund for Nature in Malaysia, managing its Malayan tiger and Sumatran rhinoceros projects in the Peninsula.
A few years later, he would pursue his doctorate with James Cook University in Australia while based in — you guessed it — Malaysia, studying the environmental and social impact of roads. He co-founded Rimba, a non-profit research group in 2010 with his wife, Ms Sheema Abdul Aziz, and is today a respected voice in Malaysia on tiger conservation, habitat loss, poaching and the impact of roads on wildlife. One of Rimba’s projects is Harimau Selamanya, which conducts research to help conserve three large carnivore species — the Malayan tiger, leopard and clouded leopard — in the Central Forest Spine of the Peninsula. The project is funded by wild-cat conservation group Panthera and Woodland Park Zoo in the United States.
What Dr Clements loves about working in Malaysia is “seeing forest that can be saved”.
“Sure, there’s a lot of deforestation for oil palm, for rubber, but there are still vast tracts of wilderness like Taman Negara that give a sense of awe,” Dr Clements, 37, told TODAY recently while here for the Conservation Asia conference. “And seeing animals like tigers in the forest makes you want to do as much as you can to protect them.”
Asked if he would return to do conservation in Singapore, he said: “Never say never … (but) it’s more like my skill set is more useful (in Malaysia). I’ve learnt how the system works, learnt Malay.”
‘NO R.O.I. FOR STUDYING BUTTERFLIES AND BIRDS’
Dr Clements is among a handful of Singaporeans making their mark doing environmental conservation abroad. Their areas of expertise vary — from tiger conservation to the use of drones for conservation. All of them are working to find solutions to pressing environmental issues.
The paths that led them to venture abroad are distinct, yet similar in some ways. Several said they had to look overseas to pursue areas of study that were deemed by Singapore institutions and the authorities to have no economic benefit. Singapore has had to be pragmatic, but it is just as important to follow one’s interest and find ways to adapt, the conservationists said.
When he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2013, conservationist Koh Lian Pin, who was then with ETH Zurich university, was both happy and sad. “Happy for the recognition of my contributions to global society; sad because I was nominated for the honour not by anyone from my ‘home’ country, Singapore, but instead by my colleagues in Switzerland, my ‘adopted’ country then,” he said.
He had ventured overseas back in 2004 to do his PhD at Princeton University in the United States, convinced that in his field of research, he needed to leave Singapore to flourish. “When I was a young undergraduate in Singapore, I applied for a postgraduate fellowship from a key government entity in Singapore and was put through to the second and final round of interviews with the chairman of the entity,” he said. “After I told him about my passion for environmental sciences, and future plans, he basically laughed it off and said there is no return on investment for studying butterflies and birds.”
That encounter made Assoc Prof Koh realise he did not want his life and career decisions to be tied to what any one country deemed important, or not.
Professor Peter Ng of the National University of Singapore (NUS), who is head of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, said good areas for investment used to be more “biomedical-centric”. This is less so now, although applied areas still take precedence. “Is conservation science important and applied? I think so. But conservation also involves a multitude of other disciplines as well. And how many we can take in is limited,” said Prof Ng. “That has always been Singapore’s problem. We are a small country with limited options, but with an awful lot of talent. It is painful to see our good people having to move overseas ... and we should constantly look out to bring more back.”
The university has tried to hire one of the Singaporeans based overseas, but things did not work out as “he also had his own wish list, which we could not comply (with)”, said Prof Ng. Across the biodiversity domain, some students did receive overseas scholarships from NUS and a few have returned and are doing well, he said.
Good scholarship is always rewarded, but “we cannot reward every good scholar with a job or scholarship”, he said. “Ultimately, the pot is limited and it is tough.”
THE ‘SAD, LONELY’ BIRD CALL
Assoc Prof Koh’s interest in biology blossomed after reading popular science books — especially those by Richard Dawkins — as a “nerdy” schoolboy in Chinese High School and Hwa Chong Junior College. A specific interest in ecology and conservation grew during a student exchange programme at Cornell University in the US, when he was a biology undergraduate at NUS. He still vividly remembers a conservation biology class taught by eminent ornithologist John Fitzpatrick.
In his first lecture, Prof Fitzpatrick played an audio recording of a male bird — Assoc Prof Koh can no longer remember the species — making a “sad, lonely call” in the rainforest. The bird was the last remaining individual of that species calling for a mate. “For some reason, that story resonated deep within me and made me want to learn more about the natural world,” said Assoc Prof Koh, 40, via email from Australia, where he is now director of the Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility and Centre for Applied Conservation Science at the University of Adelaide.
He became an academic for the freedom to explore the natural world and to gain new knowledge.
For his PhD, Assoc Prof Koh put the spotlight on industrial agriculture causing rapid transformation of South-east Asia’s natural landscape, doing research in various oil palm plantations in Sabah in the mid-2000s.
He is also known for using drones for conservation and is the founding director of ConservationDrones.org, a non-profit that made its first test-flight in Sumatra in 2012. The videos garnered tens of thousands of views on YouTube within weeks, capturing the public’s imagination of what could be achieved with the technology, he said.
The outfit’s project with local conservation groups in Indonesia’s Leuser ecosystem and its surroundings also led to data that helped local officials identify illegally logged and burnt forests.
In the past two years, Assoc Prof Koh has focused more on his research initiatives at the University of Adelaide and on working closely with the non-governmental organisation Conservation International to develop a Global Drone Programme. The university’s Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility aims to move beyond “pretty pictures and videos that can be captured by drones, (to instead) produce useful products from those data to help inform research and policy”.
Spurred on partly by his work on drones, Assoc Prof Koh has earned a private pilot’s licence. It helps in the training of new drone pilots, and in gaining approval from the civil aviation authorities to perform more complicated and riskier drone missions, he said.
Another Singaporean whose work has taken him around the world is Dr Kelvin Peh, a conservation ecologist who led the development of an ecosystem services assessment tool. The latter project — called the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment, or Tessa — involved a host of other institutions including BirdLife International, and helps communities and policymakers assess the value of benefits provided by a site of biodiversity importance. It has been used in many countries and downloaded 1,600 times, he said.
After doing a double major in zoology and botany as an NUS undergraduate, he conducted research and taught in Singapore before getting a Swedish scholarship for his master’s.
He spent half of the two-year programme in this region, doing research in Peninsular Malaysia on the persistence of forest birds in oil palm plantations, rubber estates and mixed rural areas.
A European Union Marie Curie doctoral fellowship in 2006 then led him to conduct research in Cameroon with the University of Leeds. He spent 16 months in Cameroon, living in a village fringing the Dja faunal reserve with no electricity or tap water.
He kept in touch with his supervisors and family via satellite phone charged by solar panels, and drank water from the river that was sometimes brown. No stomach problems resulted, but Dr Peh said with a laugh: “It was very tough, I don’t think I can do it again.”
In the reserve, a World Heritage site, he investigated and compared the ecosystem functioning — such as the growth rate of trees and the amount of carbon stored — of two types of forest, one dominated by a single tree species and another that was mixed forest. The research continues, and Dr Peh said the stint in Cameroon taught him the importance of the forest on local people’s livelihoods, and not to forget the needs of locals when conserving an area.
Next July and August, he will be in Brazil establishing plots of land to study the impact of slash-and-burn techniques on forest regeneration in the Amazon. Trips to Sumatra and Mexico to visit his PhD students doing field work are also on the cards.
Dr Peh, 43, currently a lecturer on a research career track at the University of Southampton, counts travelling and applying knowledge of ecology in conservation science as perks of the job. South-east Asian forests “are pretty special”.
“They’re the tallest and, of course, when I work in the forest, I get in touch with the local traditions and customs and food,” he said. “South-east Asian forests harbour many beautiful birds that I can identify by their calls. Also, I get the opportunity to visit my family in Singapore when working in South-east Asia.”
BRING ON THE FUN AND GAMES
Similarly based in the United Kingdom and helping to educate a new generation of conservationists is Dr Cedric Tan. A postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), Dr Tan’s work is in innovative teaching and outreach, with associated research on clouded leopards.
He received his PhD in zoology, studying an aspect of the sexual behaviour of the red jungle fowl and fruit fly, from the same university.
Dr Tan, 32, was valedictorian in his NUS life sciences cohort in 2009, and had applied for scholarships to further his studies. The gist of replies he received was: “Unfortunately we don’t have a place for you in the future, in Singapore or NUS.”
Said Dr Tan: “I feel a bit disappointed because that’s how Singapore is, but I understand, given (our small land area), people passionate about conservation … just have to go overseas.”
His parents, a broker and a human resource administrator in their late 50s, supported his studies at Oxford because it was a well-known university, but had harboured hopes of a career in biomedical sciences for him.
In recent years, Dr Tan has carved a niche in innovative teaching and educational games development.
It all started in the second year of his PhD, when Dr Tan was assigned to teach in small-group tutorials. He taught statistics and, at first, used the “traditional method” of assigning essays, and marking and discussing them in class.
“Looking at my students when we discussed, firstly, it was difficult to elicit questioning; secondly, it’s difficult to know whether they had understood. Nodding doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve understood,” he said.
He created his first game to help students revise what they had learnt. With encouraging response, a second game on evolution followed. These days, the games have grown in sophistication. Players could take on the roles of predator or prey, for instance, or work together as a class to make collective decisions to save the environment or animals in the face of an external force.
“Conservation is about cause and effect, and such games are about cause and effect,” he said.
Games can get the players to think about issues, such as forest management, from different perspectives — that of government official, the urban community, the rural community and conservation biologist, for example. “Even though they might be conservation biologists and they want to win, they have to (first) argue and debate controversial issues.”
Dr Tan said he initially faced scepticism from colleagues who asked if the students were actually learning anything from the fun and games. This has spurred him to conduct research to show his methods are effective, and he aims to publish his findings in a conservation journal.
Other opportunities have come knocking: Late last year, Dr Tan developed a board game for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, targeted at encouraging smallholders to undergo sustainability certification.
For the past two years, he has also conducted a wildlife conservation course using innovative teaching methods at the University of Nottingham (Malaysia Campus). His future options include staying in academia, staying with Oxford, returning to Singapore and switching to games design. All will centre on conservation education, he said.
‘CONSERVATION TRANSCENDS BORDERS’
Needless to say, conservation is no child’s play. There are ups and downs, and conservationists can get jaded, said Dr Clements. “You see animal deaths and it gets you frustrated; you wonder if you’re doing enough. But I think working with the wildlife department (of Malaysia) gives us hope, because at the end of the day, they’re the best people to (help) minimise poaching,” he said.
A 15,000ha area near Kenyir Lake, in Terengganu, was gazetted as a wildlife sanctuary in June, and Dr Clements said his team would continue lobbying for better protection of tigers and their habitats.
With only 300 Malayan tigers left in the wild, the critically endangered species needs all the help it can get, said Dr Kae Kawanishi, general manager of the Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers.
Dr Mark Rayan Darmaraj, WWF-Malaysia’s Tiger Landscape Lead, said tigers are on the brink of extinction in Malaysia. NGOs need to spread themselves across three priority sites — the Belum-Temengor, Taman Negara and Endau-Rompin forest complexes — and focus on one site, he said. Tiger conservation efforts require a huge amount of manpower, funding and resources, which are often just enough to cover one site, he said.
“Rimba plays an important role in carrying out work in the Taman Negara landscape in collaboration with the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of Malaysia. The significance of the work would ultimately depend on how tigers are faring in these forests,” said Dr Darmaraj, who has known Dr Clements since 2007. “Successful tiger conservation efforts take time to transpire, hence for Rimba it seems that efforts are underway and can be expected to culminate in tiger recovery at its core sites over the next few years.”
The experts say conservation is ultimately an issue that transcends national boundaries. Nationality has “absolutely no relevance in conservation research”, and people should do what they are passionate about, said Assoc Prof Koh.
Indeed, Dr Tan’s work, for example, has not gone unnoticed by those in Singapore. Mandai Park Holdings, which is developing new wildlife attractions near the zoo, contacted him recently to present his research on Singapore tigers in the past, clouded leopards in Malaysia and his teaching research. In a subsequent meeting, they discussed ideas on how to better engage the visitors at the zoo for the new attraction, he said.
Dr Tan said: “I’m largely driven by the belief that it’s ethical and responsible as a race to take care of the environment, since it provides us with what we need, and the diversity that we have (took) millions of years to come by.”
SINGAPORE — Dipping into her own pocket, insurance underwriter Melissa Chai sets aside thousands of dollars a year for training courses — a practice she likens to squirreling away money for an annual holiday. “I just do it differently,” said the 43-year-old.
Since 2011, she has spent an average of S$5,000 each year on courses that run the gamut from financial modelling to executive coaching sessions in presentation and leadership training.
Ms Chai’s voracious appetite for training has reaped dividends. After attending a course on pricing methodology in 2012, she led a project the following year to devise a pricing model, which was adopted by her firm worldwide.
“I don’t think I can sit around to wait for my bosses or my human resource department to decide what kind of training and development I need,” she said.
For property executive Dana Wu, 35, it was interest as well as the need to be prepared for rainy days that drove her to complete a manicurist and pedicurist course recently.
“You never know when the economy will (go into recession),” she said, adding that she was also contemplating taking up a part-time diploma in facilities management.
Despite the uncertain economic and job outlook — and the Government’s big push for workers to upgrade their skills through a slew of initiatives under the SkillsFuture movement — Ms Chai and Ms Wu are among a rare breed of PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) who are making preparations and widening their options while they still have a job, in case their employment situation changes or opportunities arise elsewhere.
A TODAY poll of 200 PMETs conducted over the past fortnight found that only about a quarter were undergoing courses or equipping themselves with skills that lie outside their current job scope.
The Ministry of Manpower’s latest labour market report last month showed that layoffs for the first half of the year reached the highest number since 2009, and job-seekers outnumber vacancies for the first time since June 2012. Among those laid off in the first half of the year, about six in 10 were PMETs.
Following the release of the report, labour chief Chan Chun Sing highlighted the need to train and prepare workers who are at risk of being let go, even before they are given a pink slip, so that they are equipped to take on new jobs.
Aiming to shorten the time that displaced workers take to re-enter the job market, Mr Chan had said the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), working closely with government agencies such as the Economic Development Board, will strengthen the system to identify current job vacancies as well as opportunities that may not be on the market yet, but may be coming on-stream on account of investments made by businesses.
TODAY’s poll and interviews with the respondents found that PMETs face several stumbling blocks, including the employer culture that deprives them of opportunities to pick up skills that are unrelated to their current work.
Unlike other countries, companies here are reluctant to offer employees training or personal development courses that are deemed to have low relevance to their current work. In Japan for instance, department store Isetan has more than 150 training programmes, ranging from theatre to calligraphy, for its employees there.
Nonetheless, this newspaper’s interviews with the respondents also found that many were reluctant to get out of their comfort zone and contemplate the idea of moving into a different field. Even if their industry is facing tough times and their jobs are at risk, they prefer to go for training to deepen their existing skills, instead of acquiring new ones that would allow them to seize opportunities in a growth sector.
There was also a lack of awareness among the respondents about the plethora of schemes and programmes available, such as the Singapore Workforce Development Agency’s (WDA) Professional Conversion Programmes, which provide wage and training subsidies to companies that hire first and then train eligible PMETs to take on new positions.
The respondents were also not sure which sectors are thriving and how to go about choosing the right training to enable them to find work in these areas. “Singaporeans are like that … We know that a bad situation is coming, but we are still not changing our habits … We just think the Government is able to save us,” said supply chain manager Ong Hui Min, 26, who was among those who were polled.
TRAINING NOT ON THEIR MINDS
For many PMETs, the training they receive is confined to what is offered by their firms. Very often, this means that they only sharpen skills that apply directly to their jobs.
Senior talent acquisition specialist Pinky Tan, 28, said: “If you talk about relevance to my job … my company is sponsoring us and getting external vendors to come in to train us, but acquiring skills that are outside of my knowledge — no.”
Many respondents were also content with such training, and were hesitant to venture into unfamiliar territory and to develop new skills of their own volition.
An office manager in her late 50s, who wanted to be known only as Jenny, said she was “not too concerned” about having the necessary skills, as she has amassed adequate experience and knowledge throughout her career. “The years of experience give me the confidence that I can do anything that I’m asked to, provided that it’s not very specialised work,” she said.
A 36-year-old account manager, who only wanted to be known as Ms Hui, said upgrading was “not a top priority” for her because she believed her skills, such as in sales tactics, were transferable. She also had the perception that the training programmes on offer were not suitable for PMETs.
“Maybe these people are more technical … or manual and they need to upgrade their skill sets, so they don’t become obsolete,” said the finance-industry professional. “Our kind of job requires more people skills, so I don’t think it’ll become obsolete.”
For others, they did not see a need to develop new skills because they did not have plans to join a new sector. “New skills are for new industries. I will still look for a job within the same industry,” said fund accountant Yap Pei Ling, 26.
The limited awareness of the schemes and programmes PMETs can tap into also presents a major hurdle. Ms Tan said she was not really cognisant of the Government’s training programmes for PMETs, and called on the authorities to ramp up awareness.
Others such as business consultant Ken Chew said training was possible only with knowledge of where one should be headed next. “Otherwise, I don’t know which sector or what skills I ought to get myself equipped with,” said the 38-year-old. “And if you get yourself equipped with the wrong type of skills, then you’re going to waste the next three months searching and not even get a job.”
Employers whom TODAY spoke to felt that workers have to take greater ownership of their training needs. Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Kurt Wee said bosses cannot be expected to find out their staff members’ interests outside their job scopes.
“Firstly, that proactivity must come from the employee … Employers can’t figure out for you what you’re best at, or what is your next-best alternative, but they can work with you to develop that,” he said.
Human-resource experts and Members of Parliament (MPs) from the labour movement acknowledged that shifting mindsets among PMETs was a challenge, but they noted that workers are most receptive to acquiring new skills when they have a clear idea of what they need in order to stay relevant.
Tampines GRC MP Desmond Choo said it was “natural” for workers to want to stay in their jobs and industries, since they have invested years in learning their trades. The director (progressive wage model) at NTUC’s industrial relations department added that some may also find it difficult to set aside time for training while doing their existing jobs, especially those working shifts.
“Our experience has been that workers are more willing to take that first step when they can see what new skills they need to stay viable. More importantly, acceptance is higher when training is accessible,” he said.
Mr Choo said that local banks, including DBS and OCBC, for example, are already working with NTUC’s Financial Cluster and LearningHub to conduct workshops to prepare workers for the changing trends in the finance industry.
Mr David Ang, director of capability and business development for Human Capital Singapore, said a majority of PMETs, especially those “too comfortable in their jobs”, may not have the right mindset yet.
But those without a job, or whose companies were not faring well, would be more mindful in actively equipping themselves for the future, he said. “For those whose company is doing quite well and needs them, they may not end up doing something about it,” he added.
The labour movement’s Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) provides training, career guidance and job-matching opportunities for workers and the unemployed. The institute is seeing healthy numbers for its initiatives, and its chief executive Gilbert Tan reiterated that professionals would go for training if they perceive there are benefits in doing so, and it was important to help these workers see how training is relevant to their jobs.
PESSIMISTIC BUT NOT OVERLY CONCERNED
In recent months, TODAY had reported on large layoffs by Resorts World Sentosa and the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. The two companies had let go of about 800 workers combined.
On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said Singapore was in for a rough and bumpy ride that will see the economy weaken further in the second half, and unemployment rise. Nevertheless, the Government has in place short- and long-term plans to tackle these challenges.
The TODAY poll found that PMETs were generally pessimistic about the economy and job outlook: On a scale of 1 (very pessimistic) to 10 (very optimistic), 68 per cent of the respondents indicated a “5” or lower.
Despite the gloom, less than half (45.5 per cent) were concerned about losing their jobs, indicating a “6” or higher on a scale of 1 (not concerned at all) to 10 (very concerned).
A majority of the respondents were confident of landing a new job within three to six months after losing their jobs: On a scale of 1 (not confident at all) to 10 (very confident), 57.5 per cent indicated a “6” or higher.
Still, those in the finance sector were particularly jittery. Director in consulting and legal compliance Edmund Chee, 41, said: “People in banking were at the forefront (of seizing economic opportunities), but for the past six months, we realised technology and disruption will cause ... highly skilled professionals to be irrelevant … The profile that will be hit the hardest is no longer the rank-and-file but the PMETs.”
A 35-year-old banker, who wanted to be known only as Ryan, noted that the banking industry had been “hard hit” and was seeing “high attrition rates”.
“A lot of frontline sales staff are just jumping banks and buying themselves time, but to me, that is not a long-term solution,” he said. To set himself apart from his peers, he is taking courses in chartered alternative investment accreditation during the weekends.
However, others with niche skill sets were less perturbed, with some describing their jobs as “retrenchment-proof”.
Accountant Cheryln Chia, 27, felt that accounting services would not go out of demand. “It’s like an iron rice bowl for us as everyone needs accounting services … I’m pretty comfortable where I am in my job and where it’s going ... Maybe next year, I’ll (start) thinking about professional upgrading and certification,” she said.
Events manager Ashley Tay, 42, was also not overly worried as she felt her specialised experience and know-how would still be valued.
“Unlike banking, where there are multiple roles in the company, being in events is very role-specific. Even if I leave this company, I can still go to 10 other companies.”
Nevertheless, she noted that the events industry has not been spared from the effects of the sluggish economy, with budgets for high-profile events being slashed.
Government leaders and experts have noted the variegated landscape in today’s job market — while some industries have been hit because of disruption and technology, among other factors, new opportunities have sprung up.
Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say stressed recently that the current situation was not “helpless”, compared with the 2009 global downturn. “In 2009, we were trying to save every existing job,” Mr Lim said. “This time, we’re trying to transform every existing job so that we can have better jobs.”
Financial adviser Jace Chew, 26, believes that PMETs such as herself have to rise to the occasion and move out of their comfort zone should the need arise. “I think that it’s more about how adaptable you are to change, rather than the job market being bad,” she said.
Gradually, people are warming to the idea, even though some are still having difficulty adjusting to the uncertainty.
Mr Chee said that, over the past year, many around him are realising that the risk to their jobs is “real” and they need to change their mindset. Individuals are seeing the need to move beyond being “specialists” to become “generalists” by expanding their repertoire of skills, he said.
“Being part of a globalised economy, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and say: ‘This won’t affect me.’ So if there’s disruption with tech, there’s risks, but also opportunity … It’s how you position and adapt yourself to move with the changes, to move up the curve,” he added.