Youth and inexperience may make it look like younger job seekers are at a disadvantage, but more mature job seekers also face challenges seeking employment today.
In fact, when the Ministry of Manpower’s third quarter labour market report showed long term unemployment hitting its highest mark in 14 years, it also revealed that the hardest hit were those aged 50 and above, and those with diploma and professional qualifications.
Clement Chua was among the numbers but he can count himself lucky.
Until a few months ago, things were going fine for the business development manager in the oil and gas logistics industry. But when his company was acquired in early 2016 and decided to downsize, Chua was forced to start job-hunting at the age of 57.
“They made me redundant. I had worked for more than a decade, managing project shipments in many multi-national companies. Now I needed to search for a new job all over again! I was able to take this in my stride because I had been made redundant before, early in my career.
“I took that earlier retrenchment quite badly. I felt rejected and discouraged and lost all confidence in myself. But this time, although I was nervous and anxious, I was not that badly affected. I became more proactive and focused on looking for a new job,” said Chua.
Chua had acquired a set of specialised skills through his long career, allowing him to serve his clients in the relatively niche oil and gas logistics industry well, skills which will take a new hire a very long time to pick up.
With his experienced background, one would think that companies would have quickly snapped up Chua when he entered the job market again.
But that was not the case.
“Ageism is very real” reveals Chua.
“I was actively searching for an alternative job. I went to job fairs, submitted my resumes online, and went to recruitment agencies, but I was not very successful,” said Chua.
Clement Chua, 57, refused to give up in the face of ageism and worked with a career coach from NTUC’s U PME Centre to find a new job.
“I think my age was a factor. Some of the recruitment agencies tried to give other reasons such as their clients ‘prefer internal staff with the same qualifications’ but why consider me if they wanted to source for someone internally in the first place?
“There was one agency who said they had a position available. They did not know my age in the beginning. I was prepared to go for the interview but I told them ‘I am 57, are you sure your client can take me in?’ They said ‘No problem!’ Then there was no more communication between us after that,” recounted Chua with a sigh.
The Wisdom of Age
When asked about his thoughts on employers who prefer to hire younger candidates, Chua paused for a moment and said that it is “the company’s prerogative”.
“I cannot demand that they hire people of my age. But I think it is a missed opportunity.”
As Chua points out, older workers can also contribute meaningfully and successfully to a company.
“They have a lot of experience and can provide guidance to the younger staff.
“They often have skills that take time to acquire, and are much less likely to job-hop,” added Chua.
But manage your expectations. That is what Chua believes mature jobseekers must do, when looking for work.
That advice is reflected in the observations of Mr Zainal Sapari, who is assistant secretary-general of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). He noted a mismatch in wage expectations, adding that it was “difficult” for workers to expect an income on par with what they earned previously if they move into a new field.
As Chua points out, “It is important for us to be realistic. You cannot expect to have the same pay or benefits as your previous company. I think the most important thing to remember is to not look back and stay resilient.”
A Friend and A Coach
Chua refused to give up even though he was rejected many times.
He decided to seek help from the National Trades Union Congress’ U PME Centre, which aims to assist Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) by providing them with services such as legal advice and career coaching.
“I was referred to Herjeet Singh, a career coach. We set up an appointment to meet, to see whether he could help me to find alternative employment.
“He helped me a lot. He taught me to stay positive and continue to network with anybody and everybody you meet, because you never know, he or she could lead you to your next job,” said Chua.
“He also registered me for executive workshops to widen my network, as well as for the Career Activation Programme (CAP).”
The CAP was launched in 2015 by Patrick Tay, Director of NTUC’s PME Unit, together with local social enterprise GioCareers, to help mature PMEs with counselling and career coaching.
The Career Activation Programme, explains Chua is a peer-to-peer programme where mature PMEs who have been retrenched, share their stories and try to encourage others in a similar situation.
“When I heard the story of a guy who sent out more than a hundred applications and never got a job even after a year, I felt that my situation was not that bad in comparison to his.
“It motivated me to stay active and stay resilient.”
“It is important to be realistic,” said Chua, who took a “drastic” pay cut and found a new job.
Trainings, Interviews and Drastic Pay Cut
It had been quite a journey for Chua.
And today, Chua is back in the saddle after landing a job as a business development manager at a smaller local firm in the oil and gas logistics industry.
Many applications were submitted, and all the while, Chua worked with his career coach to refine his resume, undergo interview training and willingly took a “drastic” pay cut.
“I have some financial commitments,” explained Chua.
“I also have two sons who are in National Service. They will finish serving next year, and they want to further their studies at the tertiary level, so I needed to keep working to support their education.
“We could get by with my wife’s income but I don’t want to be a burden to her.”
Looking Beyond Age
Chua counts himself lucky to now have a job.
“Even though the pay is not that great , it is a job that I have done for many years and I am good at it, servicing previous clients who know my capabilities, experience and who trust that I will deliver!” said Chua.
On the flip side, employers need to look beyond age, and consider the value a mature worker brings.
When raising concerns over unemployment, Patrick Tay, who also chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Manpower, shared: "I also hear of employers who lament and don't hire mature PMEs because they claim many of the mature PMEs can't change, they can't adapt to the new requirements expected of them and a host of ageist remarks."
Open and Supportive
Chua said, “I am really thankful that my wife has been so supportive through it all.
“She told me ‘Don’t worry, I will support you and see you through this’, and she did.
“Sometimes you might feel that you want to hide your retrenchment from your family, but don’t do it. They will find out eventually, and they can be a great source of support.”
Chua has also stayed very positive and has found a silver lining in the entire experience.
The CAP platform really brings light into a very dark world.
That is the observation of Chua of the Career Activation Programme, who now says, “If I can contribute and share my experiences, I don’t mind volunteering too!”
Have questions about your career? Find out how NTUC’s U PME Centre can help you by visiting their website: https://goo.gl/Q4I1Ud
Need a helping hand? Learn more about the Career Activation Programme here: https://goo.gl/TMyKZb
Produced in partnership with the Labour Movement to raise awareness of issues that mature workers face, and avenues of help they can turn to.