Tuesday 25 June 2019

NEETs among Singapore youth: Jobless and feeling hopeless

Experts flag vulnerability, struggles of group not in education, employment or training.
By Yuen Sin, The Sunday Times, 23 Jun 2019

For the past 1 ½ years, 24-year-old Benjamin has been spending his days at home.

He is not in school. He is not working. He is not undergoing training.

He whiles away the time reading the newspapers, browsing the Internet or listening to the radio, keeping his expenses to a minimum. Occasionally, he ventures out to run errands with his parents, who pay for his meals and other necessities.

Benjamin, who does not want his real name used due to the stigma associated with his condition, has a diploma in media and communication from Singapore Polytechnic.

But he became fearful about looking for jobs after unsuccessful applications to about 10 post-production companies. He has also had negative experiences during previous internships, including being fired at an events company for being slow at simple tasks such as packing items into containers.

Last year, he fell into depression.

Benjamin is among a growing group of youth aged 15 to 24 in Singapore who are defined as NEET (not in education, employment or training) by organisations such as the World Bank and International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The latest available data - from the National Youth Survey in 2016 - showed that there are 20,100 NEETs here, making up 4.1 per cent of the resident youth population.

This is an uptick from 19,700 in 2013, comprising 3.7 per cent of the resident youth population.

The survey was conducted by the National Youth Council, with input from the Ministry of Manpower and the National Population and Talent Division. It polled a representative sample of 3,531 youth in 2016, and 2,843 youth in 2013.

Unlike the youth unemployment rate - which captures the number of jobless among those actively searching for work, NEET data includes those who have dropped out of the labour force altogether.

This is thus a more comprehensive measure of the economically idle among young Singaporeans, said the survey report.

NEETs are a vulnerable segment of the youth population, said the ILO, as they are at risk of both labour market and social exclusion.

Singapore's NEET rate is low by global standards. NEET rates in other developed countries such as Germany and Finland in 2016 ranged from 6.5 to 9.9 per cent.

But higher job expectations, on top of uncertain economic conditions, may have led to a growth in this NEET rate - which experts say is likely to go higher.


More youth now want things such as work-life balance, and may not be able to find a job if they have unrealistic expectations, said Mr Delane Lim, executive director of the Character and Leadership Academy, which runs youth programmes.

Labour economist Walter Theseira reckoned this group will grow, due to a mismatch of expectations and jobs, as more Singaporeans get university degrees. "Though there is no shortage of roles available in sectors such as the service industry, degree-holders will be less willing to take on jobs at the lower end of the pay scale," he said.

The university cohort participation rate reached an estimated 37.5 per cent last year, up from 35 per cent in 2017.

Employers will also likely take longer to hire, given the current uncertain economic conditions, said Ms Linda Teo, country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore.

"The slower response, coupled with multiple rejections, can be discouraging for fresh graduates," said Ms Teo.

There are different type of NEETs: In 2016, about half of them were temporarily unemployed, while a quarter were taking a break.

What is worrying are the long-term unemployed who have been out of work for at least 25 weeks, or those who have given up finding a job. They make up 6.5 per cent, up from 6 per cent in 2013.

This is a trend that bears watching, observers say, given the potential negative effects on a person's psychology and ability to adapt socially if he or she is out of school, training or work for a long time.

In countries like Japan, where NEETs are a widespread phenomenon, some may be at risk of becoming hikikomori - reclusives who withdraw from society and remain shut in their homes for months. There were over 500,000 hikikomori under the age of 39 in Japan in 2016, reported the South China Morning Post.

Those who remain unemployed or do not seek to upgrade their skills also risk being caught in a vicious circle, said Mr Lim.

"A long period of unemployment could be a red flag to potential employers that the individual is not a good candidate. So the longer you go without a job, the harder it becomes to get hired for a new one."


Ms Lena Teo, deputy director of therapy and mental wellness at Care Singapore, which helps at-risk youth, said some NEETs develop depressive symptoms if they continue in this state for a while.

They may then give up on looking for work altogether. She has seen about five such cases over the past two years.

Mr Asher Low, executive director of Limitless - a non-profit organisation that works with youth, including those with mental health issues - said NEETs usually have a history of other underlying issues, such as anxiety or being bullied at school. "They worry excessively about what their co-workers think of them, or feel like they are not good enough," he said.

This was the situation faced by Benjamin, who was bullied in primary and secondary school. These experiences caused him to develop social anxiety that also affected him at the workplace, he said.

"My biggest fear is encountering tasks that I am unable to perform, and interpersonal conflicts at work," said Benjamin.


Given that NEETs may be discouraged because they cannot find jobs where their skills can be usefully applied, Care Singapore's Ms Teo recommends further study, such as the SkillsFuture series of courses.

Given the challenging external environment affecting the job market, it is also important to train fresh graduates to be more resilient, said Ms Linda Teo. Instead of staying unemployed, NEETs could participate in activities they are interested in, such as volunteering, and use that to gain confidence and polish their soft skills, she added.

Benjamin, who has sought help from a counsellor as well as a psychiatrist, said the results have been mixed so far. He still finds it difficult to cope emotionally.

He hopes that more can be done to build a culture of learning from failure in society.

He said: "More often than not, strict parents, teachers, and employers expect perfection and have little tolerance for mistakes. Hence, there is a lot of pressure to get the perfect school, grades, job, salary, and so on.

"As someone who has not fared particularly well in school or work, I would appreciate if there are other ways to measure success, and other places where I can discover what I can be good at."

Singaporean’s ‘hikikomori’ behaviour after retrenchment ends in divorce
Failure can lead to people becoming reclusive
By Yuen Sin, The Sunday Times, 23 Jun 2019

After losing his engineering job and unable to secure another job, a Singaporean man in his late 20s eventually became a social recluse.

For at least three years, he holed himself up at home, gaming. He refused to go out even for haircuts, which he took care of on his own.

The man relied on his wife, who did clerical work, for financial support.

"It was almost like the house was a safety blanket," said Mr Praveen Nair, a psychologist at Raven Counselling and Consultancy, who saw the man for counselling conducted over Skype. This stopped last year.

The situation led to tensions with his wife, and she ended up divorcing him last year.

The man is a case of a hikikomori - someone who withdraws from all social contact and may not leave the house for years.

Coined by Japanese psychologist Tamaki SaitoĊ in the late 1990s, the term hikikomori refers to those who experience physical isolation, social avoidance and psychological distress for six months or longer, according to the BBC.

International researchers see hikikomori as a distinct psychiatric disorder that is shaped by social and cultural factors such as societal expectations of what success should look like.

For instance, someone may become a social recluse if he or she feels like a failure for not being able to do well in school or land a good job.

There are often underlying psychological tendencies, such as low self-esteem and perceived social rejection, said Singaporean researcher Liew Kong Meng from the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies at Kyoto University.

People who are not in education, employment or training, or NEETs, who have been out of employment or training for more than six months may be at risk of becoming a hikikomori, said Mr Nair, who has encountered 10 to 20 of such hikikomori cases here over the past decade.

In a study of 127 Singaporean undergraduates conducted in 2017, Mr Liew found two in five of them were at high risk of becoming socially withdrawn.

This means that they share common psychological traits with NEETs and hikikomori.

Mr Ray Chua, a senior psychologist at National University Hospital's department of psychological medicine, said that whether NEETs convert into hikikomori depends on whether they have risk factors such as mental illness or poor social competence.

He said that he has seen six cases of such socially reclusive behaviour in recent years.

The clients he saw were all male adolescents, though all except one are not completely home-bound, and will still leave the house occasionally, he said.

"Prolonged social isolation creates a lot of stress for the caregivers, who worry about how the hikikomori individual is going to care for himself or herself when caregivers are no longer able to support him or her," he added.

Millennials rate emotional skills as most important for future of work
Aussie survey also shows Gen X, baby boomers favour digital skills
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent and Rosalind AngBy Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 24 Jun 2019

Many young workers seem to feel that getting along with their colleagues will be more important than being able to code a website.

A new survey found that millennials - those aged 18 to 34 - felt emotional skills were the most important capabilities for the future of work while baby boomers (50 and up) and Gen-Xers (35 to 49) favoured digital skills more.

The report said 31 per cent of millennials rated emotional skills - such as collaboration, empathy and social ability - as most important.

But digital capability was also highly regarded, with 29 per cent of millennials saying it was most important while 26 per cent cited functional competence.

On the other hand, 40 per cent of baby boomers said digital ability was most important compared with only 17 per cent who chose emotional skills.

These findings, which were released this month by the Centre for the New Workforce at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, are based on a survey in November that polled 1,031 Australians who were either in the workforce or actively looking for work.

Centre director Sean Gallagher, who wrote the report, said a possible reason for the different viewpoints could be that millennials have grown up learning, working and socialising in digital environments, and many have learnt coding at school so they place lower value on digital skills.

He added that the divergent views on the work of the future should be taken into account in efforts to transform the workforce.

"Organisations need to consider how to empower all workers - millennials for their future-focused mindsets, older workers for their many years of experience with systems, products, customers and culture - to create an age-diverse collaborative culture in digital environments," Dr Gallagher noted.

The research also found that the more an industry is disrupted by digital technology, the more its workers value "social competencies" such as collaboration, empathy and entrepreneurial skills.

For example, respondents in knowledge-sector jobs such as media, telecommunications and finance placed almost equal importance on these skills as on traditional expertise needed for their work.

LinkedIn said in a report last week that 62 per cent of employees surveyed in Singapore saw soft skills as more important to career progression than hard ones.

The most valued soft skills to the future of work were critical thinking and problem solving, which were cited by 57 per cent of those polled.

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore, noted that employees of different generations have different skills needs as they are trained differently.

"The older workers may lack the latest digital skills but they have honed their soft skills over the course of their careers," she said.

"The younger workers may be equipped with the in-demand technical skills but they lack the life experience that comes with age."

Employers here are also finding that a combination of hard and soft skills is best. Mr Leslie Ong, country manager for South-east Asia at software company Tableau, said that even the most technically skilled data scientists - the most sought-after talent today - cannot succeed without soft skills like critical thinking, effective communication and design business sense.

Meanwhile, senior executives will also be required to use and understand data. "The largest shift that we'll see is the convergence of hard and soft skills into most roles in the future," he said.

Some millennials The Straits Times spoke with felt computer literacy is very important in order for workers to be more efficient and to seize the opportunities brought about by digitalisation.

But content producer Lim Joo Hwee, 23, felt that soft skills will be needed in order to stand out.

She said that while reading up on the latest software for the creative industry, she found that artificial intelligence can take over creative processes such as simple video editing.

"If AI can do jobs like mine that are technically creative jobs, that's very scary," she said. "This makes soft skills and learning ability even more important for us to stand out in the future workplace."

Robots to wipe out 20 million jobs around the world by 2030: Oxford Economics Study
Lead author says Singapore, with a supportive regulatory structure, is well-placed to benefit from new robotics
By Chong Koh Ping, Technology Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Jun 2019

Up to 20 million manufacturing jobs will be lost globally to robots by 2030, a new study has found.

And the displacement of jobs will not be evenly spread around the world, or within countries, according to the study published yesterday by Oxford Economics, a UK-based research firm.

Lower-skilled regions are much more vulnerable to the job losses, it said after surveying seven economies - the United States, Germany, Britain, France, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Since 2000, some 1.7 million manufacturing jobs have been lost to robots, including around 400,000 in Europe, 260,000 in the US, and 550,000 in China.

The study noted that the rate at which robots were replacing jobs had been rising steadily, with the global stock of industrial robots more than doubling since 2010.

"The robotics revolution is rapidly accelerating... The result will transform what robots can do over coming decades - and their ability to take over tasks that humans do now," said Mr James Lambert, associate director at Oxford Economics and a lead author of the study. He added: "The number of robots is also set to multiply rapidly. We expect the number in use to reach 20 million by 2030 - about 10 times the number now."

The study noted the centre of gravity in the world's robot stock has shifted towards new manufacturers, mainly in China, Korea, and Taiwan but also to India, Brazil and Poland. About one in three robots worldwide is in China, which accounts for around one-fifth of the world's total stock, up from just 0.1 per cent in 2000. By 2030, China could have as many as 14 million industrial robots, dwarfing the rest of the world's stock of them.

In contrast, the combined robot inventory of the US and Europe has fallen to under 40 per cent of the global share from its peak of close to 50 per cent in 2009.

And Japan - formerly the world leader in automation - has reduced its active stock of robots by around 100,000 units since 2000.

The study predicted that the use of robots in services industries would accelerate sharply in the next five years. This would particularly affect the logistics sector but should spread to other industries, including healthcare and retail.

"The implications are huge. We will see a significant boost to productivity and economic growth and some new types of job we can't even yet foresee," said Mr Lambert.

The report predicted that a 30 per cent rise in robot installations above its baseline forecast for 2030 would add US$4.9 trillion (S$6.6 trillion) to the global economy that year, equivalent to an economy greater than the projected size of Germany's in that year.

"But at the same time business models will be disrupted or upturned and millions of existing workers will be displaced - and the impact will affect lower-skilled and poorer economies... most," he cautioned. "Governments, policymakers, business and individuals need to think hard now about this wave of tech-driven change and we all need to prepare for what amounts to a new industrial revolution."

When asked about the impact of robots in Singapore, Mr Lambert said it was well positioned to benefit from this new generation of robotics as it has a modern and upgradeable infrastructure, a supportive regulatory framework and a strong investment environment.

"Those workers in Singapore that are displaced by technology will have to adapt their skills to the evolving demands of the future economy but the government already has put in place schemes to help to retrain workers displaced by technology," he said.

"Singapore also has an ageing population (more so than most) and restraints on inward migration, so robots may be particularly helpful in keeping the economy growing."

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