e2i CEO Gilbert Tan sheds some light on the current employment landscape amidst COVID-19, the worst crisis to hit Singapore in a generation, and advises why this is the time for businesses and workers to take risks.
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic is the worst crisis to hit Singapore in a generation, and has proven to be, as e2i CEO Gilbert Tan describes it, “a Category 5 storm.” With the implementation of stricter but necessary COVID-19 circuit breaker measures, most sectors have been hit hard.
The COVID-19 economic disruption is not the first in our nation’s history. Gilbert recalls how during the 2008 financial crisis, Singapore weathered the storm, and was one of the first economies to make a comeback. In fact, our economy has always sprung back very quickly. This is because of, what Gilbert calls, Singapore’s two-fold approach to dealing with crisis: help businesses to succeed to help workers to succeed.
The slew of support programmes for businesses and workers is a testament to Singapore’s belief in this foolproof strategy. Over the last two months, the government has responded quickly with boosted measures in support of sustaining Singaporeans’ livelihoods, keeping businesses operational, and protecting workers from getting retrenched. However, these measures are merely stepping stones, and offer temporary solutions. Businesses and workers are still called to be proactive in tightening their job security.
So how can employers and individuals weather the current storm?
Be versatile in a volatile situation
Gilbert reminds us not to shoe-box ourselves into thinking we are one-trick ponies, or that there’s only one route to go. There are plenty of opportunities currently out there to seize to strengthen our job security. “COVID-19 will really differentiate companies, workers, and countries, in terms of their response and how they will come out of it,” says Gilbert. Being an exceptional businessperson or worker means considering all possibilities, and being open to taking risks and adapting to differentiate oneself.
After COVID-19, how prepared will we be to spring back up on our feet? Gilbert suggests how businesses and workers can take bold but calculated risks during this volatile time, and leverage on existing support to carry out their plans.
I’m an employer. What can I do?
Business training teaches us not to only think short-term, but long-term. The virus is something that hits businesses in the same sector almost equally. The question is who will be the first to move out of the curve after the crisis.
Businesses need to first figure out how to tap on the broad-based support they have been given to do three things:
- Protect my core (business model)
- Strengthen my fundamentals (requirements of jobs)
- Invest in competencies (competitive edge)
1. Try adapting or shifting your business to meet the higher demand for some services during this period.
The care industries – specifically healthcare, long-term care, childcare, and elder care – are constantly on the lookout for good workers. And this is not a seasonal thing due to the crisis. It’s driven by more global trends of ageing population, which requires deeper and longer healthcare needs. If you’re in manufacturing, how about producing for MedTech (Medical Technology) for a while? There is a great need for medical supplies and equipment, especially during this time.
Another option is to redeploy your workers elsewhere. Various measures are available to keep our workforce able to put food on the table. Aviation, for example, one of the worst hit sectors by this pandemic – Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group has been very transparent about their situation. Majority of the workers are taking no-pay leave, but are maintaining their employment with the company, as one day they’ll be called back.
For now, Scoot, Silkair and several foreign airlines have worked with e2i’s Job Security Council to cross deploy their affected workers to temporary essential roles such as temperature screeners, contact tracers and social distancing officers. The airline employers themselves have been understanding and have allowed their employees to take on secondary employment during this period of no-pay leave.
2. Retain and retrain your workforce by investing in sending them for skills upgrading while business is slow.
Employers who think that the business can ride the storm need to focus on protecting the company core. Sometimes, it’s not about retrenching workers, but about how to retain and retrain your current workforce.
If I’m a car manufacturer and now I want to manufacture ventilators, it doesn’t mean that I have to replace my entire workforce. It’s about inspiring existing workers to take this opportunity to retrain. Employers need to sit down with their employees and have an honest talk about where the company is at and where they are able to head to together; “Learn how to make ventilators, and in the next downturn, you will still be here. Let’s tide through this period together.”
In the midst of that, employers need to take leadership. Send workers for government training as businesses are so well-supported. If measures such as temporary pay adjustments or no-pay leave are to be implemented, management should lead in broader and deeper cuts. For instance, if the worker gets a 10% pay cut, management gets a 15% pay cut.
Schemes like the Job Support Scheme and Wage Credit Scheme are in place to assist in these areas. Programmes like Enterprise Leadership for Transformation (ELT) are available for SMEs to develop of business growth capabilities, and eligible companies can get funded up to 90%. Companies should look at the bigger picture and seize such opportunities.
Crises like this will differentiate the valuable ‘plants’ from the ‘weeds’. If you as an employer can recruit, retain and retrain better, that will be your advantage.”
3. Engage help early to ensure that the company folds gracefully and actively look for opportunities elsewhere.
On the flip side, employers who foresee that the business is not going to survive have to engage help early. They need to reconsider whether this is the right business to be invested in. Are they holding up workers that could do better in a different sector?
These employers have to find a way to help the workers to pull through. If the company folds, how can they make sure that the company folds gracefully? How can they help the workers to maintain employment? No closures are happy and painless, but how can we as employers minimise the pain?
Such companies should engage e2i as early as possible to see how they can ensure a safe and secure transition for their workforce. The Job Security Council works with various teams across industries to help companies transit workforces quickly. Once that consolidation happens, management can work on freeing up inventory and equipment, to other companies that may need them, to cover overhead costs.
I know a food business that was barely getting by. Even before the virus, they were already getting a feel from the market of how much they could sell their equipment for. It’s important to not drag out the business for longer than it needs to. Shareholders lose money, and workers age with every year, and it’s more difficult for them to find a new job when they’re older.
As an individual, what can I do?
1. Take opportunities to go for training.
As an individual, to make sure that my employment and employability is safe, I first need to ensure that I remain healthy – practice social distancing and live a healthy lifestyle.
I also need to be open to employers’ measures and willing to work through this virus together. Respond to the help that has been thrown out today, most of which has been around training – such as the additional SkillsFuture Credit. So, work with employers to figure out the absentee payroll, work with an e2i Career Coach to figure out what training programmes to go for, and get involved in the right training networks.
2. Consider doing some freelancing to earn some extra income, or consider taking the leap and making it your full-time gig.
We should consider all scenarios. If the company folds, will I still be able to put food on the table? Can I find employment elsewhere in another company? Or, are my skills and means sufficient that I could consider being self-employed?
Of course there are options out there. With most people staying home during this circuit breaker, the transport, logistics, and e-commerce companies are looking for workers to cope with the influx of online orders and deliveries. Don’t limit your possibilities and only search within your sector. There could be permanent or part-time positions available that can help a currently unemployed person to tide through this season.
3. Reconfigure your mindset, sharpen your capabilities, and initiate new connections.
Many jobs today are not about the job interview or that listed vacancy. It’s about connections and your networks – knowing where the job openings are, so knowing people that can give you the networks. e2i can connect you with many trusted professionals in our network. Employability equals to mindset, capabilities, and connections. It’s not one or the other, but a culmination of all three.
In the midst of this crisis, it’s not only about now. You always need to be able to predict what is going to happen after. If, one day, employment becomes a competition, why would the employer choose me over someone else? When an employer looks at individuals, there are multiple things they will look at. It may be values, whether or not they can do the job, maybe your health and age – different employers look at different things.
Impress with your flexibility and your tenacity. Even in a crisis, I will not be broken. During this COVID-19 situation, stay safe and be socially responsible, while staying adventurous and opportunistic with your career.
Make an appointment with an e2i Career Coach for career guidance and job matching. To get live job availability updates, join the Job Security Council’s new Telegram channels for PMETs and non-PMETs! Check out our events page for virtual workshops or job fairs each during this period.
If you are an employer or represent a business, join the Job Security Council to help manage current manpower shortages across sectors. e2i is here to help get you and your employees through this.