Earlier this year, a photo of an “unemployed graduate” sitting at Raffles Place holding a sign that she has been rejected by 78 prospective employers went viral online.
While it was later revealed that the “unemployed graduate” was just an actor participating in a publicity stunt to promote an app that links customers up with industry leaders, the picture struck a chord with many Singaporeans – parents and relatives whose children struggle to find a job after graduating, young graduates who are forced to rely on gig jobs and internships as they go for interview after interview, hoping to land a full-time position.
Responding to the viral picture, one Mass Communications graduate shared that he could not find any employer willing to hire him in his own field. He is now working in the F&B industry as a chef. Another netizen, a parent, lamented that her daughter has been jobless for a year after graduating from the NTU last year. She now gets by offering tuition and working as a relief teacher.
Another fresh graduate named Asha told a support site for the unemployed: “I am a fresh business management degree graduate. This year I am 26, and I have been actively looking for a job for about 4 months now. Till date, I have not received a single response back and admittedly it is frustrating.”
Statistics show that the proportion of fresh graduates who are able to secure full-time jobs has been slipping. According to the Straits Times, a survey of 11,628 fresh graduates of full-time courses from NUS, NTU and SMU showed that the proportion of graduates who secured full-time permanent employment dropped from 79.9 per cent in 2016 to 78.4 per cent in 2017.
While this group of local graduates who are unable to land full-time jobs are prevalent, there is another group of young professionals who leave stable jobs in favour of freelancing gigs. The Ministry of Manpower has even cited the “gig economy” that some younger Singaporeans appear to prefer to explain shifts in the labour market.
But why do these graduates leave traditional jobs for what some may consider less reliable sources of income? Are they blind to the struggles and difficulties their peers who cannot even land a job face?
I belong to the latter group. Fortunate enough to land my first full-time job months before my graduation, I embarked on a career in the corporate communications sector full of optimism.
The appreciation I felt for having found a full-time position in the corporate sector, however, diminished in less than two years. While I appreciated the stability of my job and the many benefits that came with it (reliable salary, bonuses, medical and dental benefits), the pressures of the job ate away at me.
It was not the actual work – I enjoyed writing and editing, I was grateful to do what I am passionate about for a living. But the stresses of working a 6-day week every week, having to work on holidays, and being forced to work longer hours just because the bosses haven’t left for the day got to me.
Even if I could handle the work pressures, the office politics became too much to bear. By the time two years had passed, I came home upset every day, feeling so burdened and so stressed out due to the work-related and social pressures at my workplace.
Despite my distinct unhappiness at the organisation, I was hesitant to leave my job. I knew how many of my peers who graduated with me were still looking a full-time job in our field years after earning their degrees. I stuck it out for another nearly two years – gritting my teeth and going to work each morning, afraid that I would be left jobless for a long time like my peers if I did not suck it up and quit my stable job.
The unhappiness I felt in my workplace extended to my personal life. I was so tired after work and the more than two-hours long transit between my heartland estate and Paya Lebar that I often went straight to bed after returning home from work. I dreaded going to work each morning and began to find no joy in the work I was formerly passionate to do.
Sensing my unhappiness at my job, my father set up a meeting between myself and his friend, Mr Kumaran Pillai who was running The Independent. I have known Mr Pillai for many years, since my college days, due to the friendship and working relationship between him and my father. Our families know each other well enough that my brother and I call Mr Pillai “Uncle Kumaran”.
In June 2017, I met Uncle Kumaran and shared my frustrations with my job and my passion for writing and editing with him. Uncle Kumaran offered me a full-time job as a member of The Independent’s editorial team and I began working at The Independent from July 2017.
It has been one and a half years since I joined The Independent and I feel so privileged to be a part of this editorial team. Uncle Kumaran is a wonderful boss and a delight to work with – he is a publisher who gives his editors and writers the freedom to pursue stories close to their heart and the kind of man who sticks up for his employees in times of crises.
Besides offering me a handsome pay package which matched what I earned in the corporate sector, Uncle Kumaran paid me a 13th month bonus last December when I had only been with the publication for a mere six months. On top of sick days and vacation days, our team of editors and writers at The Independent are also privileged to be able to work flexible hours and run our digital newsroom from the comfort of our homes or the well-equipped office downtown.
Weekday newsroom meetings are what my fellow writers and editors actually look out for, for these are the days Uncle Kumaran treats us to some of our favourite foods at different restaurants. We have a family-like and yet very competitive work environment which spurs me to do over and above what I am supposed to produce.
As I write this, I remember that many young people like me may not have it as easy this Christmas. If you are in such a predicament, don’t lose heart, but press on! You will get your break sooner rather than later.
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