The future—it’s something that Singaporeans are constantly worrying about.
When parents enrol their kids in 28 different tuition classes, it’s for their future. When couples buy a big flat they can’t really afford, it’s for the future of their future kids, never mind if they haven’t decided whether they want them yet.
And when students spend all their school holidays labouring away in unpaid internships, it’s not that they don’t have any hobbies or don’t need the money from a proper part-time job—it’s that they’re terrified they’ll be entering an inhospitable job market.
In fact, students are already worried about getting retrenched when they haven’t even started working, given the scary retrenchment figures last year.
So students or fresh grads who’ve just entered the workforce, here are three tips if you want to future-proof your job and ensure you still have a ricebowl a decade or three down the road.
Make sure you have useful technical skills
We’ve all heard horror stories of those middle aged PMETs who’ve been cast away like driftwood by their companies and then become taxi drivers. Now there’s no way these people don’t have any skills. Of course they do, what do you they’ve been doing for the past 20-30 years?
The problem is, the higher they climbed on the career ladder, the more their tasks revolved around managing people, rather than doing actual work. They started honing their management skills, while letting their technical skills get eroded.
You always hear people complaining about how hard it is to work for bosses who have no clue how the work is actually done. Well, there you go. When these bosses are let go, it’s hard for them to find a new job as it’s difficult to hire them for more junior positions, not just because they’re more expensive to employ, but also because they’re used to ordering people around, not doing the actual work.
So to fresh grads and students just starting out in your careers, keep your technical skills sharp, even when you no longer have to.
When you’re promoted to marketing manager, make sure you know exactly how those SEO reports are generated. Engineers, many of whom strive to be managers in Singapore because that’s where the money is, should try to stay technically up-to-date even if they are no longer doing the grunt work. It’ll make you better at managing people, more useful to the company and less likely to be let go.
Get overseas experience and contacts if possible
Singaporeans tend to be quite reluctant to accept overseas postings. They pay for this by sacrificing global or regional experience, which is often necessary to climb to the very top of the organisational ladder. People often complain about upper management being full of foreigners, but they forget that many of these foreigners have worked in many major world cities, while the typical Singaporean manager has not.
In addition, there are certain industries which are underdeveloped in Singapore. For instance, software engineering in Singapore is mostly a back-end affair, so if you’re a rookie you’ll do your career a big favour by working abroad. The government laments the tech talent shortage, but the truth is that most entry-level projects and salaries just aren’t attractive here.
As a younger employee, grab whatever overseas experience you can. If you’re still at school, it’s often a lot easier to get an overseas internship than an actual job, so take advantage of the fact.
Working in an MNC or a local SME with overseas offices? Check if your company has a secondment programme, and make it clear to your boss you want to be considered for overseas stints—you might be asked to cover for an overseas colleague who’s away.
It’s not just about getting useful contacts, although those will certainly come in handy.
The most important thing is that an overseas stint will almost certainly eliminate your anxieties and misgivings about working abroad, heighten your cultural sensitivity and hopefully make you feel more prepared to accept an overseas posting in future.
It will also make you realise how different working environments can be from what we’re used to in Singapore.
And if, like many Singaporean employees sick of the daily grind, you decide you want to migrate later on, it’ll be easier with some overseas experience.
Work on projects outside of work to plug skill gaps
Unless you’re in your ideal job right now, there are probably some shifts you’ll want to make in the next few years of your career.
Maybe you want to work on more exciting projects (eg. a graphic designer wanting to do more than just newspaper layouts), work for a different kind of company (eg. a lawyer wanting to go in-house) or take on different responsibilities (eg. wanting to move from an engineering to a managerial job).
Instead of waiting years for your job scope to expand, see if you can plug some of your skill gaps by taking on relevant personal projects. This can accelerate your climb up the ladder as you’ll be more employable in every subsequent job.
Thanks to the internet, it’s a lot easier to start a new project than before.
One of the most straightforward ways is to start a blog or website to show off a certain area of expertise. For instance, if you’re an expert in internet security, start a blog discussing security issues such as choosing passwords.
For those who’re working in media, tech or creative fields, the internet enables you to share your work by maintaining an online portfolio.
Don’t wait till your employer gives you more responsibilities; rather, create your own opportunities by demonstrating skill and interest in a particular area. Employers will be then more inclined to step in and offer you opportunities.