September 16, 2019

There are times when we give thanks if the haze is all we have got to worry about because it is blazing away all over the world not just Indonesia that Brazil, under fire at the G20, had to trade insults with the French leader over the looks of the French first lady (comparing her to the Brazilian President’s third wife). Siberia has been in flames for 6 months to set a new record for burn area and far more parts of Central Africa devastated than the Amazon, as we write.

When We Grow up and Get Retrenched Art-1Source: TIME and VOX

In our hazy Singapore, we cannot decide whether to cheer or cry for the Deliveroo riders, plying the streets and reaping in PM2.5 particles but also the big bucks from the precious folks bunkered indoors with their air purifiers on full blast.

Yet we have to thank the idea of the sharing economy as the unemployment rate rises, even Charles Schwab closed their newly opened Singapore office last week and as another friend got her package this week from her bank while several other friends were told to tender their resignations in the past 2 months. And we wonder if it would be wise for the younger folks to take out 30-year mortgages these days because when we went and enquired about a job opening on behalf of friends recently, we were casually (unofficially) informed that 40 year is “too old”.

When We Grow up and Get Retrenched Art-2Source: TNP

40 years of age is too old? Is that not just halfway through a 30 year mortgage? So much for raising the retirement age to 67, there is no point in that when it is hard to keep your job to 50 without settling for less even though we know there is no algorithm for experience but we would guess that it gets harder to fire an employee as they get older and unless they are doing a job that is not really in demand, it is easier to let them go before it is too late?

For the rules are that if you joined your employer before you turn 55, the employer cannot ask you to leave/retire before that age and one is protected under the Retirement and Re-employment Act (RRA).

When We Grow up and Get Retrenched Art-3Source: Ministry of Manpower

And thus we seen quite a number of exits with some opting for a life of leisure while keeping an eye out for a “suitable” role and the rest on fervent hunt for respectably decent openings and then, we have 3 people, still employed, telling us on separate occasions in the past week, they were considering the Grab driver option as some of their retrenched friends have taken. A practical decision indeed, even if they have a few million squirreled away because Singaporeans are expected to live to 100 these days and 40 is “too old” to get your job back.

Now, who says a degree is more important than a driver’s license when you are above 40?

A headhunter friend who qualified as an engineer informed us that just about two-thirds of his classmates were private hire car drivers, mostly, not by choice but by circumstance when they were laid off from their PMET careers and found themselves struggling with the bills.

There are few jobs that offer the dignity of the Grab job because for one, you get to keep a car and we have come across too many drivers extolling the advantages and perks of their vocation, giving them flexibility and autonomy over their lives and routine and some younger drivers seem quite keen to make it a permanent career, raising families with free wheels to bring their children to J.B. for outings. It is pretty ideal if we do not consider their lack of CPF, health insurance and most glaringly, career progression?

Nonetheless most folks we spoke to can count a Grab driver or two in their extended families and it is a respectable vocation because it is either retirement income for them or a part-time job while they juggle other business ventures or it is a choice for work-life balance. One thing that Grab will not be mistaken for is the Taxi-class!

Yet, why is it so hard for older (40-year-old) workers to get hired into their former roles?

Some reasons we gleaned include the insecurity of the hiring manager who does not want an experienced new worker to compete for his job or manage an older fellow but they would claim it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks etc. and then there is the issue of health and vitality and higher insurance costs and such that.

It is pretty obvious in mature sectors like banking and finance as we have been informed by fintech experts that a digital bank could be staffed by just a fraction of the staff that traditional banks keep on their payrolls with many redundant legacy roles that a start-up would not be burdened with. Is it any wonder now that hiring managers are worried for their jobs (and mortgages) to prefer to hire newbies instead? And newbies should sensibly be prepping for retrenchment at 40 the day they start work and wisely think twice about a 30-year mortgage because there is hardly any career longevity left around us.

What does that say for employers? Do not expect too much loyalty!

When We Grow up and Get Retrenched Art-4Source: Today

As we rambled on the sunset industry back in 2017 in Ramblings on The Sunset Industry, Bankers and Knowledge Workers, we noted that “if Singaporeans are mostly unwilling to pay for professional mentoring or any form of self-improvement cum education without the guarantee of a recognisable certificate or the promise of a “get rich” formula, then perhaps the older employee who is likely to have higher job satisfaction, more realistic, experienced, emotionally stable and probably more willing to share?”

Stanford studies have shown “Older workers are an abundant, valuable, and largely unrecognised resource. But negative stereotypes lead many employers to overlook this resource’s unique ability to increase productivity”, bringing strong work ethics, “adept at resolving social dilemmas, especially emotionally heated conflicts. They care increasingly about meaningful contributions and less about self-advancement. Older employees are inclined to help the entire unit. As workers more likely to build social cohesion and mutual gain, they are inclined to share information and organisational values. Their emotional stability enhances workplace environments”.

Not everyone is lucky enough to be Warren Buffet or Li Ka Shing, to work as long as they want, or government leaders like Donald Trump and gang who are going strong into their twilight years and they also happen to be people who do not need their jobs to pay their bills.

And we are sure it is important because older workers are one of the 4 topics of the Prime Minister’s 2019 National Day Rally speech although the concern of the nation is not really with the retrenched 40-year-old banker with a mortgage but with the resigned face we came across the other day, clearing dishes at the hawker centre, clearly having seen better days in his career and we wondered perhaps if he was unlucky enough not to have the driving license to make the cut for Grab.

Retrenchments, layoffs and redundancies, there will be more to come as the economy transforms. It does make us think harder about financial freedom and what it means even if it is an uncomfortable topic. It makes sense to be prepared and we would repeat a quote from Naval Ravikant, the CEO of AngelList, “Seek wealth, not money or status. Wealth is having assets that earn while you sleep. Money is how we transfer time and wealth. Status is your place in the social hierarchy”.

The key to financial freedom is to own assets that work for you, giving us the idea for entrepreneur classes for the middle-aged. And meanwhile, a paranoid friend warned us not to stand too close to the street side these days because we never know when demented soul will break and use that car as a weapon as if we need another thing to worry about because when we grow up and get retrenched, we can dream of driving for Grab.