Sunday 4 August 2013

6 in 10 here feel they have good jobs: Survey

They also think a university degree is not essential to secure a good post
By Goh Chin Lian And Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2013

A STRAITS Times job survey throws up some surprises, with six in 10 people saying their jobs are good and holding the view that a university degree is not needed to snag a good post.

They associate a good job with pay and benefits, work-life balance, good bosses and colleagues, and career advancement.

As for the future, the people polled are less certain about what it holds for the next generation of workers. There are as many pessimists as there are optimists among the 501 surveyed, with the majority citing competition from foreigners and the young's poor work attitude as the two biggest obstacles between future workers and a good job.

These were among the key findings of the survey on people's job perceptions as Singapore wrestles with a stressful pace of life while striving to keep ahead of global competition.

The Straits Times survey of citizens and permanent residents was done with Degree Census Consultancy from June 20 to July 2.

Yesterday, both Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin and Education Minister Heng Swee Keat were cheered by the findings.

Mr Tan said he was heartened that six in 10 workers said their job is good or very good.

He was also not worried that pay and work-life balance outranked job security. This is more a reflection of the current full employment situation than a sign that Singapore workers were complacent, he said.

But he cautioned: "We've done well so far, but we should be mindful of stiff global competition."

Similarly, Mr Heng welcomed the finding that six in 10 say a university degree is not necessary to get a good job. He said: "I am encouraged that many Singaporeans recognise that getting a good job depends on many factors, and not just on paper qualifications."

Chief executives have told him that they look for qualities like integrity, creativity and the ability to communicate clearly, he said.

Like Mr Tan, Mr Heng also underlined the need for continuous learning, which is essential for maintaining a quality workforce.

As for the paper chase, the 20-somethings are the ones set to race for it, with more than half linking degrees to a good job.

Those who are older, better off and with more work experience tend to put less store by it.

The finding, said sociologist Paulin Straughan, reflects the pressure for paper qualifications younger Singaporeans face compared to the lower barriers of entry for workers in the past.

The survey also shows people respect self-made entrepreneurs, as well as those who work with their hands to serve others such as cleaners and waiters, over white-collar jobs.

Mr Heng, who has advocated different definitions of success, is glad.

"We need to highlight more the paths less trodden, to stimulate the imagination of our young and encourage them to venture out," he said.

The survey, however, shows four in 10 of those without a degree plan to get one in the future.

Regional logistics manager Firdaus Abdul Samad, 37, studied part-time for a degree "to be on a par with my team who are mostly graduates". He got a business degree from UniSIM last year.

"In this world, you need to be competitive, you can't be contented, you have to upgrade yourself," said the father of three.

20s go-getters, 30s & 40 in lower gear
A Straits Times jobs survey smashes the stereotype of young workers in their 20s as taking it easy and lacking ambition. It finds those in their 30s most prize work-life balance, and the 40-somethings in a comfort zone.
By Goh Chin Lian And Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2013

SINGAPORE'S young workers have been called the strawberry generation: easily bruised by work and life.

On the other hand, the older 30- to 40-somethings like to think of themselves as tough nuts who are hardworking and know what it is like to struggle for a job.

But a new survey commissioned by The Straits Times on job perceptions throws these assumptions out the window. The young are more rooted in reality and have more grit than the general perception would suggest.

The survey findings showed that - surprise, surprise - pay and benefits matter most to the 20-somethings in a good job, only then followed by the much-touted work-life balance.

They are also the most likely to value career advancement than other age groups.

In the same vein, eight in 10 will work overseas compared with six in 10 for other age groups - the desire for personal growth is the strongest motivator.

As for those older workers - who often gripe about young workers' lack of commitment and tendency to job-hop - they are the most satisfied with their lot, with around seven in 10 saying they have a good job. Combined with their reluctance to work overseas, a question arises as to whether they are comfortable to the point of being complacent.

The survey of 501 Singaporean residents aged 16 to 62 covered what they value in a job and how they perceive the next generation's prospects, among other things.

Their responses in phone interviews by Degree Census Consultancy, from June 20 to July 2, provide snapshots of the Singapore worker's priorities and concerns as society wrestles with the tensions of easing the stressful pace of life and staying ahead amid global competition. These are all issues that have surfaced in the Our Singapore Conversation.

The findings also come amid a recent debate sparked by commentaries in, and letters to, this newspaper, on whether Singapore workers deserve their fairly high wages.

Insight delves into the nitty-gritty of this new picture of the Singapore job landscape, and what it means for the future.

Young go-getters

INCREASINGLY filling positions at work are the post-1980 generation known as Gen Y. Those aged 20 to 29 formed 17 per cent of the resident workforce last year, and made up a quarter of associate professionals and technicians.

The picture that emerges is one quite different from the strawberry analogy of cosseted youth with little experience of hardship.

Far from wanting to slack off or quit on a whim for greener pastures, half in their 20s are happy at work, with just 6 per cent saying they did not have a good job.

And their idea of work-life balance would give sneering mature workers set in their routine a pause. Take graduate Jason Ne Win, 26, who is clocking 12-hour days, six months into his first job as a recruitment consultant.

Work-life balance to him is not about working eight hours a day, which he feels cannot be achieved in his line of work. "But I don't take work home on weekends and I have enough annual leave to travel," he says. With 20 days of annual leave lined up, he has set his sights on a holiday in the Greek islands of Santorini.

Indeed, Gen Y are more educated than their predecessors, more tech-savvy and plugged into the world, and have more overseas exposure, from overseas school trips, university internships and study exchanges.

Leaving next Saturday to join Internet search giant Google in the United States as a software engineer, Mr Muhammad Mohsin, 30, recalls that it was a six-month exchange at Carnegie Mellon University in 2008 that led him to venture abroad.

Meeting many students at the American campus who had started their own companies inspired the Singapore Management University graduate to set up two start-ups developing iPhone and iPad applications, leading now to a job offer from Google.

This willingness to venture overseas for personal growth has been identified by other reports.

Sure, Gen Y appreciates a performance bonus. But an earlier study commissioned by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair Employment Practices (Tafep) of more than 3,500 people from 30 organisations here found the Gen Y bunch sees additional annual leave as important, such as for travel and other personal pursuits, while those who are older value extended medical coverage for themselves and family members.

Other surveys like the Kelly Global Workforce Index 2012 report found that when choosing between jobs, younger workers here placed importance on personal growth (41 per cent) and personal fulfilment (29 per cent).

Tafep's study also found that Gen Y ranks opportunities for career development and training higher than other generations.

One implication is that employers have to find ways to retain them, harness their strengths and gel them into a multi-generational workforce.

However, some still worry that the new generation of workers is turning soft and complacent, a product of the succession of good years and near-full employment Singapore has enjoyed.

This is reflected in how few ST survey respondents of all ages - but especially the 20s and below - put job security as a factor in a good job. The 20-somethings ranked it seventh out of nine factors; those aged 16 to 19, the last. The older groups placed it fifth or sixth in importance.

One worry, ironically, lies in the fact that the 20-somethings are the most optimistic about job prospects for the next generation. If good times are all that the emerging generation has experienced, their picture of their prospects may be too rosy.

Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin writes via e-mail: "While our labour market is tight, good jobs are available and it is a happy situation to be in as an employee. But, there are worries about how this impacts our work ethic and values for the longer term.

"Many employers have highlighted that job-hopping takes place, applicants are choosy and can be demanding in their salary expectations."

Gen O for Older

HAVING reached senior positions or attained a level of seniority, older workers are at a different stage of the life cycle and have different requirements.

Those in their 40s were more likely than those in their 20s and 30s to rate good bosses and colleagues as important for a good job, the survey found. While it is understandable, the flip side is some may be coasting in their jobs and not raring for new challenges - probably to the frustration of the young bloods under them.

Some employers see those in their 40s as having more commitment to the company, but others say they may just be reluctant to take on new challenges.

Chemical Industries Employees' Union president Rajendran Govindarajoo says of the workers he knows: "Most of them in the 40s are already stable and don't want to quit. Even though the pay may not be so good, they're willing to work all the way. It's an easy-going life."

This bears out a finding in the survey that those in their 40s are just as likely as the 20s lot to disagree that they want to earn as much money as possible without needing to be happy in their jobs - seven in 10 in both groups say so.

And for those in their 40s and 50s who will not work overseas, family commitment is not the only reason. While that was the first reason given by those in their 50s, a significant 20 per cent said they also feel satisfied with where they are in their life.

Indeed, while the young generation looks driven now, observers say the odds are that their priorities will change as they age, especially in Singapore. Much of the drive is due to their life stage, starting out in their career and wanting to buy their first car or save up for their first house.

IT engineer Rahman Abdul, 37, recalls: "When you are young, all you think about is money and that with money, you can buy a lot of stuff."

His perspective changed three years ago when at 34, he wed Ms Rosita and Natasha arrived, now four months old. He clocks nine to 10 hours a day at work, leaving the office by 7pm. He says he would take a 10 per cent pay cut for more family time.

Dreams and realities

AS THE 20-somethings settle down, will the stress of caring for their children and elderly parents blunt their drive, so they become complacent mature workers? Or will more stay single or have no children, retaining their original work priorities?

Sociologist Paulin Straughan thinks they will "very likely" go the way of the life cycle, but expects more people to remain single and delay marriage, with family size shrinking as a result.

"The danger here is that young adults believe that (they should) focus on work demands when they are young and single. So they over-invest in work, and neglect social relations."

But the need for more meaning in life is rearing its head. The ST survey found the 20-somethings in particular would give up higher pay for a job with meaning and purpose, with 67 per cent saying so.

The costs of not finding a good balance could mean emigration for some, disenfranchisement for others. A new normal that holds together these concerns will benefit society in many ways, as Ms Sim Chunhui, 29, discovered after slogging for 10 years in events planning and venue management, clocking 12-hour work days.

Not long after she married a business development manager, she quit her job last year and took a one-third pay cut - and made changes to her lifestyle, from shopping to dining out - to work as a programme executive for Habitat for Humanity Singapore.

The non-governmental organisation builds homes for the needy abroad and here, and organises clean-ups of houses of the elderly and families in need.

"What I want in a job has changed over time. At first, it was a lot about myself. But after a while, that felt hollow. But now I find the small changes I make for others more important than thinking about myself in a big way.

"The young people who volunteer with us sometimes say that this is the first time they know that one-room flats exist - I like the idea of changing the lives of the elderly living alone and at the same time getting the youth of today to think of something bigger than themselves."

Googler-to-be Mr Muhammad expects to find his "intrinsic motivation" from creating a product that has wide reach.

He says: "Previously, I thought I will like to make a game that's really successful - not in the financial sense but a lot of people playing and enjoying it. Now it's shifted to (creating) a product that affects the lives of a lot of people... like Gmail."

But for the idealistic young, there is the harsh reality of the working world - one increasingly globalised. Like other age groups, the 20-somethings rated competition from foreigners as the biggest obstacle between the next generation and good jobs.

Also looming is competition from other countries. But significantly, only those in their 50s and up were more seized by the possibility of a slowdown in economic growth leading to fewer jobs, jobs created being too low-paying, and changing demands in the job market - all of which economists say are real threats.

Labour MP Patrick Tay says the older group may be more apprehensive because they have witnessed how jobs like typists and photo-laboratory technicians became obsolete, while jobs that did not exist a decade ago have appeared. In the face of global competition, some like Mr Tay advocate acquiring a second set of skills, say, in a different profession like counselling, where demand is likely to rise.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is clear from the survey - old stereotypes of the Singapore worker no longer exist, and the challenge is to meet the expectations of this new reality.

S'poreans not hung up about paper chase
By Andrea Ong and Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2013

LEAVING the paper chase behind and pursuing your passion is all well and good, but once people hit their 20s, reality bites. A degree has its uses, after all.

Take Ms Chew Wan Yi, 23, who started a fashion blog shop in 2010 after her A levels in 2008.

Five years on, she has closed the shop and is doing a business degree part-time at UniSIM while working as an administrative assistant. She still dreams of running her own business - a cafe that will also sell clothes and works by local artists. Her degree will equip her with important skills for this dream job, she says.

And yet, she maintains that a degree is not a must for a good job, but is "definitely a bonus".

Singapore has long valued a university education, so Ms Chew's laid-back approach may seem unusual.

However, the survey by The Straits Times and Degree Census Consultancy found that 56 per cent of 501 respondents of working age feel that people do not need a degree to get a good job.

However, of the minority who believe a degree is needed, it was young folk with under three years of work experience (plus permanent residents) who tended to place more value on a degree. Over half of the respondents in their 20s felt this way - the only age group to buck the overall trend.

UniSIM president Cheong Hee Kiat, who sat on a government committee which produced a report last year on the future of university education here, notes that UniSIM is getting more young students in the 24 to 29 age band who have some work experience.

Indeed, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told polytechnic students a few months ago they need not just aim for a degree. By working for a few years or starting a business, "you will gain experience and understand yourself better, and then be better able to decide what the next step will be".

Prof Cheong says UniSIM students with some work experience tend to be "more mature, more motivated and hungry" and have a clearer idea of what they want.

Ms Chew's story reflects this and the survey's findings about the growing aspirations of the young. Of 307 respondents without a degree, four in 10 plan to get one in the future. They were mainly under 40 years old.

It may reflect the reality of the working world, where young workers are likely to meet a glass ceiling in terms of promotion and pay if they do not have a degree.

The survey, for example, found that those without a degree but with some years of work experience were more likely to cite better pay as a reason to get a degree in the future, compared to those who got a degree before working.

Medical technologist Raudhatuljanna Hod, 30, started work immediately after graduating with a diploma in biotechnology in 2002, as she had to support her family.

After about two years at a hospital, she decided to pursue a part-time degree with Curtin University because of the better pay and prospects: After getting her degree, she got a $600 pay rise.

Then there are diploma holders like Mr Jeffrey Ng, 28, a supervisor at a biopharmaceutical firm, who fear they may not be able to move on to managerial positions without a degree.

National University of Singapore sociologist Tan Ern Ser also points to the fear of losing out, with the degree seen as "insurance". "It can be helpful, or maybe not quite, but not having one may put one at a disadvantage unless one is well to do," he says.

Ms Chew, for instance, says one reason for getting her degree was the competitive environment where "people all have at least one degree".

Still, the survey also shows that some of those going to university do so to follow their dreams.

Respondents who got a degree before starting work and those who hope to get one in the future both cited career advancement and personal enrichment and knowledge or personal growth over factors such as social expectations and better pay.

Take Mr Goh Mingwei, 25, who became a military officer after graduating with a diploma in chemical process technology in 2008. He quit this year to do a part-time degree in psychology while performing in bands and doing freelance photography. "I took the degree without looking at it as a career, but as knowledge - why humans do what they do."

The question, however, is how to find that sweet spot between people's aspirations and the reality of the job market.

One way, which the government committee had emphasised, is to ensure the quality of university education and graduates.

Mindsets will also have to change. Prof Cheong calls for continual learning that does not stop at university. Labour MP Patrick Tay suggests that "skills are more important than anything else: the ability to adapt to change and having niche skills to survive new kinds of jobs".

Just ask Ms Chew. She says the communication and planning skills she picked up on her degree course are invaluable.

Entrepreneurs and service staff are valued: Poll
By Andrea Ong and Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 3 Aug 2013

A COMMON gripe among employers is that Singaporeans shun work that gets their hands dirty.

A survey by The Straits Times, however, throws up a surprising finding: It suggests Singaporeans have a healthy respect for those who do such jobs.

They tend to value entrepreneurs and jobs either requiring manual labour or in the service industry over white-collar ones.

Some 501 respondents of working age were asked to pick the jobs they respect or value more out of five pairs in a more light-hearted section of a survey on job perceptions.

Each job pairing compared how people felt about certain job traits.

It turns out that Singaporeans may not be as conscious about prestige and job image as some might think.

Asked if they respected a self-made entrepreneur with no degree or an economist with a master's degree more, an overwhelming 81 per cent plumped for the entrepreneur.

Calling this a positive sign, economics professor Hoon Hian Teck of the Singapore Management University says those who dare to take the plunge should be celebrated, as innovative start-ups will be a key job generator in the future.

Association of Small and Medium Enterprises president Chan Chong Beng, 59, says people tend to recognise the gumption needed to be an entrepreneur, especially in Singapore where "there's very little tolerance for failure". Mr Chan, who dropped out of university to start his business, says: "When you are an entrepreneur, the future is always uncertain. You have to admire those with the guts to think differently."

In another job pairing where respondents had to choose between two types of blue-collar jobs, 62 per cent said they would respect a cleaner over a factory worker, which is also a finding that will surprise some observers.

Office cleaner Abdul Kabir Mohamed Mydeen, 51, says friends asked why he switched from being a medical orderly to a cleaner earlier this year. His response: "Why not? A cleaner is a very good job. Without us, offices will not be clean, toilets will not be clean, Singapore will not be clean."

Others feel the survey's findings paint an overly rosy picture of an occupation which has hogged headlines for stagnant wages and lack of appeal to locals.

Executive director of the Restroom Association (Singapore) Emerson Hee notes that cleaners are more likely to be viewed as making a public contribution compared to factory workers, whose perceived contributions are restricted to their company.

But many toilet attendants still do not feel respected or appreciated for their efforts, he says.

Madam Lim Ai Lee, 78, who won an award from the association last year for keeping Queenstown Polyclinic's toilets spick and span, says some people leave toilet paper on the floor and ignore her when she asks them to use the bins.

The survey respondents' respect for more manual or frontline jobs is also evident in other pairings. Between a waiter and a clerical assistant, 61 per cent value the service job over the white-collar job, which pay roughly equivalent amounts.

Some 70 per cent also value a machine operator over a clerk.

Labour MP Zainal Sapari, who champions low-wage workers, is heartened that Singaporeans appear to value the work done by workers in service sectors.

But there is a distinction between the jobs people appreciate and the jobs they are willing to do, he notes.

Adds sociologist Paulin Straughan: "We respect those who are doing the hard work, but would rather not have to suffer those work conditions ourselves."

One reason is that the pay is not attractive enough. This is supported by survey findings that Singaporeans are not averse to working in blue-collar jobs if the pay is right.

Only 32 per cent agree or strongly agree with the statement "regardless of salary, a white-collar job is always better than a blue-collar job".

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