In this tough job market, retraining alone is no silver bullet

Headline economic figures for Singapore look gloomy. NeXT Career Consulting Group’s Paul Heng dishes out three tips on thriving in a tough job market.

SINGAPORE: While Singapore narrowly avoided a technical recession this quarter, two issues remain: Retrenchment numbers are up. Hiring activities are down.

Noting that hiring sentiments have become more restrained, the Monetary Authority of Singapore has highlighted that the resident unemployment rate had edged up to 3.1 per cent in the second quarter. 

As political and economic uncertainties loom over global markets, observers will continue monitoring Singapore’s economic performance. Many businesses may see dwindling returns in this period of sluggish growth.

Cost management is the first thing that comes to mind when top lines do not look good. Unfortunately, payroll costs is the first line item CEOs might take a knife to. 

Workers would be wise to rethink the year-end family holidays or plans to switch the eight-year-old car out for a newer one.

While tripartite efforts to retrain workers have helped manage retrenchment for years, instead of relying on your employer or your union to help you manage your career or maintain your employability, the onus is on you to take care of yourself.

Not only is training in our professional interests, but it also fulfils a human need for self-improvement. According to a 2019 LinkedIn report, more than two in five employees in Singapore have left a company because they felt that learning and development opportunities were lacking.

But can retraining save you from redundancy in this economic outlook? And what kind of training should you be focused on? 


Acquiring new knowledge and skills should be an ongoing effort, irrespective of job market conditions. Yet the reaction I usually get when the topic of re-skilling pops up is that it takes time and is impractical.

Standing still will leave you behind in a world constantly moving forward. Re-training and re-skilling are necessary, given the real risks of being replaced.

It’s no silver bullet and you have to sieve through a myriad options, but MySkillsFuture offers courses for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents looking to improve their employability.

Discuss with your boss which programme to put yourself on before embarking on one. He or she might have other career development options available you might not have sight of. Ultimately, be prepared to invest in training on your own money.

Consider it an investment in your future – to gain credit on your career balance sheet.


Retraining is often thought of as an exercise to gain technical skillsets in the face of new technological tools. While this might be the case for most operational roles, most jobs today require agility and self-awareness.

My advice for workers looking at retraining is to find ways to develop a sensitivity to market trends that impact your industry. What does the future hold? What big shakes are affecting your line of work? How would changes in your industry affect what you are doing now?

Generally, there are three types of industries – “sunrise”, “sunset”, and “solid pillar”. The technology sector is an example of a sunrise industry; wholesale trade is seen as a sunset industry; while financial services is viewed as a solid pillar industry.

Can you adopt a sunrise industry mindset and figure out how you can transform your operations? What competencies will your company need over the next three to five years? What can you do to close the gap?

DBS’s understanding of how fintech would disrupt the banking sector and its decisive move to transform its operations to align with consumers’ evolving expectations have paid off.

Its full-year net profile in 2018 rose by 28 per cent to a record S$5.63 billion. It has also been named Global Bank of the Year by The Banker and the World’s Best Digital Bank by Euromoney. 

When asked about DBS’s secret ingredient to success, CEO Piyush Gupta discussed his priority around developing a receptive culture that understands the imperatives for change. “One of our rallying cries has been, how do you create a 22,000 start-up?”

It has also since identified staff who can be reskilled to serve new customers’ banking needs. A branch service executive’s role now includes helping customers learn how to use self-service options.

DBS has tuned operations towards fresh demand and new technology. How are you doing that for your company?


Venturing into a job search can be challenging in this climate.

For those faced with retrenchment, competing with other jobseekers takes on an urgent complexion, when one has to put food on the table, service a home mortgage and other loans, not to mention securing the love and support of spouses and family members.

We have so far focused on gaining relevant skillsets but much about securing your role in a world of disruption and shorter career lifespans also involves networking and personal referrals, the most effective avenues of landing a new job.

What if you have just acquired new skills yet do not have much relevant experience to talk about – who will hire you?

As a mid-careerist, it’s worth investing in growing your networks with people who can connect you with a relevant role. Many employers believe in hiring for the right work experience, attitudes and values, and closing the skills and competencies gap after.

That network building must start today. It’s simple. Be a congenial colleague at work. Pay it forward.

Don’t restrict yourself narrowly to your job description, but lend a helping hand and show added value where possible. Deepen your relationships and stay in touch with former bosses, colleagues and partners.

So much advice on networking tends to focus on networking sessions with strangers in the profession, but I would urge workers to start in their own circles at the workplace.

A recent example comes to mind. A client of mine was able to secure three job offers during his job search after being let go.

One came about from his ex-subordinate. My client made an impression as a good boss during the period they were working in the same company and that trusted relationship reaped rewards for him.


Career planning and management must be a career-long activity, regardless of the state of the economy.

During uncertain times like these, the space you occupy is ideally one where your resume is camera-ready, you have a network you can count on, and your mindset remains positive to tackle fresh challenges with confidence.

Retraining is no silver bullet but bearing in mind these three tips can give you the confidence you need to navigate a challenging job market.

By Paul Heng 14 Nov 2019

Paul Heng is founder and managing director of Next Career Consulting Group.

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