13 October 2012

“It’s time for us to speak” – SMU students

13 October 2012

Last Thursday, the Ministry of Manpower held its inaugural #MOMchats Townhall Session. Aimed to address the concerns of local tertiary students on the employment market, Acting Minister Tan Chuan-Jin took on popular questions which were crowd-sourced prior and during the event. The questions were myriad and reflected the anxieties that the youths face today as they take a leap into their careers. Below are excerpts of interesting thoughts that students took away from the townhall session that may strike a chord with you:

Left to right: Professor Michael Netzley from SMU School of Business, and Acting Minister Tan Chuan-Jin on stage at SMU’s Ngee Ann Kong Si Auditorium

Job hopping – is it a clear road to the finish line?

What do you do when you are stuck at a traffic jam? You can choose to switch from one lane to another, or consider taking a different route. But the Acting Minister Tan Chuan-Jin, would perhaps encourage you to stick to your current spot. 

Poll result on “How would you navigate your career path during uncertain economic times?”

That was an interesting analogy given by Minister Tan in response to the job-hopping phenomena during times of uncertain economic situations. He encouraged everyone to assess the situation carefully before abandoning our jobs and suggested that we could even make use of the period to further our studies. By the time the sky clears, we would be in a better position than many others.

The picture painted above might seem a tad too optimistic in reality. I, for one, would not be keen to stay on my job if I am pretty certain I would end up losing it. Forget about the traffic jam, I might not even have a car to start with. However, if I am really enjoying my current job and the economic situation is not extremely bad such that I would only suffer a small salary pay cut for it, then I would be patient enough to wait for the traffic jam to clear. Ultimately, it all depends on the level of economic uncertainty and how much value you attach to your current job.

Perhaps the key question we have to ask ourselves is whether we have what it takes to job-hop at all. In fact, nowadays many people job-hop not because they are worried about the current industry being obsolete. Rather, people change jobs because they want something more challenging. Personally, I feel that we demand a lot more nowadays. We want a job that offers us challenges, travel opportunities, personal development and professional growth. Then we do lots of comparison. So in the midst of comparing, when we realise that our peers have better jobs, the temptation to abandon our current jobs becomes stronger. 

Plus, social media platforms help us establish links with people from every corner of the world. If you have a wide network, job opportunities can come to you without having to move an inch. I have heard about the personal experiences of people who change their jobs every one to two years for the simple fact that they are very well connected so it opens up more doors for them. 

So what can the employers do to retain us, their future employees, in face of all these challenges? I think this should be one of the key issues on their agenda.  

- Tan Hui Ying, Year 4, SMU

Salary, here’s my number, call me maybe?

“Hey Salary, 
This is crazy.
I haven’t even met you, 
It’s goodbye already?”

This is my rendition of the summer-hit song, “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepson.  From what the Minister had spoken on, the message he conveyed seem to indicate that fresh graduates should moderate their expectation on salaries and look at other intangible benefits that can be derived from a job. I am somewhat discouraged. I did not just spend 21 years of my life trying to better myself, by immersing in textbooks thicker than the Yellow Pages Directory, to have someone inform me - when I am nearing the finishing line - that I may have to manage my expectations on salary. The positive correlation between education level and salary that I grew up believing in, almost instantly dissipated. So I felt that Minister Tan could have provided a clearer outlook on industries that are growing in Singapore so final year students like myself can better equip ourselves and seek out greener pastures in rising industries.

Tweets by students using the #MOMchats hashtag on their expected salaries

At one point, Minister Tan encouraged the audience to put ourselves in the shoes of an employer and seek out the strategic moves we would strive for in order to keep a business competitive. I applaud the fresh perspective the Minister tried to introduce to us, but personally, I question if that situation was even relevant. As a final year student at SMU, I am clearly aware of what to expect when I first step into the workforce - probably a job with a mediocre pay and long working hours or perhaps even none of the above. I would be more concerned about getting my first pay check and not getting fired. Thinking from a managerial perspective will only come in handy when I have finally settled down comfortably in my job and can actually catch a slight glimmer of progress in my career prospects.

- Cheeri Leo, Year 4, SMU

Work-life balance or balance life around work?

One question addressed by Minister Tan that particularly struck me was, “Will work-life balance be achievable in Singapore?”

According to him, “We cannot place a dollar value on certain ‘moments in life’, and we will come to realise that it is not worth sacrificing time with our families for work.”  The comment that resounded with many audience members was, “Don’t pretend that you are so indispensable whereby the company will collapse without you.  But for your family, you ARE that indispensable.”  Many were glad that the Minister is a family man and most felt that the advice he gave was very relevant.  Being a parent, he understood the need to spend more time with the family and thus, the importance of striking a balance. 

But being a senior in school, I have encountered many HR personnel from major companies who said things along the lines of, “The work ends at 6:00 pm.  But we look for individuals who are committed; who would even stay back late and help out others in the departments with their work.  If you just finish your work and go back at 6:00 pm while everyone else stays back, it will not reflect well on you.” I am not even making this up.   

As fresh graduates in a new company culture with new colleagues, you would not want to be graded down at the end of the day because you respect work-life balance.  When there is a possibility of being remarked as “selfish and unhelpful” by your HR, and your likeability in your new office is at stake, it is difficult to strike a balance.  This is why I do agree on the other point the Minister made – both individuals AND the company needs to work on cultivating such a culture in Singapore. I personally believe the employers and employees need to put their heads together to draw the line drawing the line between ensuring a good work-life balance ,and being responsive only to necessary work emergencies.  Then both parties must make it a point not to cross the line.

The Minister admitted that it is difficult for MOM to legislate such an issue but did expressed strong feelings and a desire to work on it.  He informed the audience that MOM would try from a promotional perspective to create a better work-life balance and eradicate bad work habits.  In this case, I will just keep my hopes high that the promotional efforts from MOM will be heard, accepted, and followed widely by both companies and individuals alike in the near future.

- Ingyin Zaw, Year 4, SMU

This post was written by a team of Singapore Management University students from Professor Michael Netzley’s class, Digital Media across Asia. 
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