Graduating During an Economic Downturn

Graduating During an Economic Downturn

For the class of 2020, many may have been expecting to clinch exciting job offers upon graduation. But with the unprecedented turn of events, fresh graduates are finding themselves trapped as the world descends into a global recession (and generally, chaos) amidst a worldwide pandemic.

For an indication of just how severe this crisis has been, comparisons can be made against Singapore’s most recent downturn; the 2007-2008 global financial crisis. The nation was able to recover quickly during that period with the timely government schemes and fiscal policies implemented, with the S$20.5 billion Resilience Package announced in January 2009 being a record and amounting to a 6% deficit of our nation’s GDP. In 2020, we had announced a total  of four budgets, amounting to a staggering S$92.9 billion, which constitutes up to 19.2% of Singapore’s GDP, and yet with COVID-19 immobilising us- and in turn, the economy- the slide continues.

Industries are overwhelmed and companies are literally shutting down everyday. Those that are still surviving had all but put hiring or expansion plans into the back burner.

Yet, there are those who remain relatively unscathed by the crisis.

The type of industry or line of work that one chooses to do can play a big part. Fariha, a 20-year-old graduate of Child Psychology and Early Education, was one of the lucky few who secured a job just one month after graduation earlier this year, after only having to apply to four preschools and going through two interviews, and all this within a month of starting her job search.  “There will always be a demand for educators,” says the new kindergarten teacher who was hired with two other candidates.

On the other hand, young men who are about to enter National Service will probably see this as a blessing in disguise, and unlike most graduates or soon-to-be graduates who are attempting to secure a job now, need not worry about kicking off their careers during a recession. With the mandatory two years that they will have to serve, possibly followed by further education, their career plans are not as affected as compared to fresh graduates with the intention of starting their working life immediately. 

“Though the economy will take years to recover, I expect my first foray into the workforce to be a slightly more stable one as compared to that of my peers currently,” says Min Cher, a 20-year-old graduate from Chinese Studies specialising in Business. The Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate is currently even assessing the option of going overseas to work, a choice that most current job-seekers would not even have. 

The reality, though, is that the majority of graduates are just simply not as lucky.

As with most of her peers, Rachel, 24, a graduate of Sociology and Psychology from Singapore Institute of Management, is still currently looking for her first job. She commented on her situation: “I’m worried  that I may be waiting too long, trying to look for that first job, and also other things like if it’ll be permanent or contracted, or if those companies will take a longer than usual time to revert due to reduced manpower or internal matters.”

For those who may be lucky enough to find employment during this period, they also face the challenge of earning well below the usual market average, with the fear that such a handicap would affect their prospects in the long term. These sentiments were also echoed by the Singapore government when Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat mentioned how graduates “could have their skills, employability and incomes permanently affected, even after the world recovers from the pandemic.”

Many however, would not have the luxury of time to wait and may just have to bite the bullet.  Fariha, who is also the eldest child in her family, continues: “Coming from a middle-income family, the pressure to secure a job is high because during a recession, families – especially larger families, face more challenges.  As a recent graduate, I find it important to help my family financially.”

With  nothing but countless failed job applications to show, what then can the class of 2020 now do?

Well, perhaps the class of 2009 and 2010, being the most recent batch of millenials who have walked down a similar path and survived to tell the tale  (unemployment in Singapore hit an all time high of 2.6% during 2008  with  recovery sluggish in the subsequent years), may be the battle-harden sages who are best placed to share their experience on how young graduates can take this fight head on, and come out standing tall despite all the difficulties.

Graduates from the previous global recession would, for instance, know just how hard it is to get a job, let alone that dream job which we all fantasised about (or promised to us by the schools’ brochures)  when we were still studying.

Mark Lim, 29, an ITE graduate in  2009, states that it’s better to do something small than nothing at all. “Whatever the reason you’re finding work now, it’s not the time to be picky,” says Mark, who worked part-time as a gym receptionist after graduation. “Every job can teach you something, even if it does not relate to your course. There are some skills needed regardless of the job, like communication or adaptability.

It is an approach which Latricia Tay, 24, an Environmental and Water Technology graduate, has taken, having recently landed a job as an assistant in a childcare centre with the help of her cousin who is working in the HR department.

At the same time, this shouldn’t mean that graduates should give up hope of landing that ideal job that they have been thinking about. The takeaway should be that while opportunities presented to you  may not seem ideal, if one doesn’t take chances, one simply does not progress at all. To be able to land a job during this challenging time is something to cherish and make full use of.

Yes, it is a fact that this generation of graduates will not be blessed with the ample opportunities which previous batches who stepped into the economy when the waves were relatively calmer were provided with.

If anything, however, it is that the graduates from more than a decade ago have proven that with resilience and fortitude,  this is merely a steeper learning curve. Even as the odds were stacked against them, as they are now for the class of 2019-2020, we can stand in solidarity, and come together in unity as one people from different backgrounds to do our part towards recovery from the crisis.

As observed by William, 36, who graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2009: “The competition is much fiercer now but there are also more resources available. Use technology to your advantage. There are free online courses by renowned universities that can sharpen your existing skills, or pick up new ones. It sounds cheesy, but these can and will help you stand out from the crowd to increase your employability.”.

Indeed, graduation should not be viewed as the end, but the beginning of another phase of education, with lifelong learning being a vital aspect in our rapidly changing economy. Once we stop upgrading ourselves, we immediately put ourselves at a disadvantage.

Written by : Cheong Shu Yin
Edited by :  Ling Wei Ming
Published on : 17/07/2020
Image : Source /