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 /

Is this the effect Dementors have?

Is this the effect Dementors have?

We’ve just passed two weeks of staying at home for Circuit Breaker measures.

And it has taken its toll on many people, the young and the old alike.

A general mood of dark despair of varying degrees has taken over – like how I imagine a swarm of dementors looming over our usually bright sunny island of Singapore would be, sucking the joy and hope out of everyone.

Staying at home was at first something we all loved and looked forward to every weekend. What happened then? Why has this period been so rough for almost everyone?

Turns out, Dr. Sheldon Cooper is not the only one who dislikes change. Change of any kind, especially on a national CB magnitude, is not easy. All pop culture reference aside, the constant deluge of news (both real and amplified) about the COVID-19 cases and death rates has an intangibly huge negative impact on all of us.

Throw in the frustration of trying to balance your child’s home-based learning needs with your own work from home tech issues and you’ve got a real pickle on your hands. And you can’t even escape for an hour to have a stress-relief venting with your best friend over a cup of coffee at the nearest cafe.

For some, this intangible sense of anxiety and fear is coupled by real worries of losing their jobs, and being unable to support their families. And many more worried for their friends and loved ones’ safety as they fight at the frontlines to battle COVID-19.

There is also an evolutionary reason why we are more down at this moment. It’s known as the Negativity Bias. Psychologists theorise that humans are more prone to remember or imprint negative events, experiences and news more quickly because we’ve inherited the genes that predispose us to give special attention to those negative aspects of our environments that could be harmful to us. In this way, dwelling on the “bad stuff” is similar to the sensation of pain–it’s our bodies way of keeping us safe. These negative events and experiences also tend to linger longer than positive ones, and this is what is known as the negativity bias.

We are thus more likely to dwell on the alarming news rather than the positive ones during this COVID-19 pandemic. What positive news, you ask? See, there’s that negativity bias at work. In fact, this pandemic has brought out alot of good that is lost amidst the ongoing spike in numbers world-wide. Like how individuals, corporations and governments are all doing their part, and uniting to fight the pandemic, ongoing acts of kindness among strangers, neighbours and friends checking in on each other, volunteers continuing to deliver food to the needy, and world governments coordinating preventive measures with a degree of cooperation that’s not seen before. Israelis and Palestinians are uniting in a joint effort to contain COVID-19.

How about this Instagram page which shows medical staff wearing photos of themselves to make them less scary and intimidating.

It’s been a dark period, and we are looking at more bad news ahead in the upcoming days. And while on some days, it may be next to impossible to find the positive in life, now is the time for us to be kinder to others and also to ourselves, to learn to celebrate small victories and understand that there will be days of back-sliding which is part of the learning and growth process. Perhaps that’s how we can all produce that Patronus charm that can protect us from this dark period ahead.

Written & Edited by : Huang Yushan
Published on : 17/04/2020
Image : Source/Willgard Krause – Pixabay
Source / Robertino Rodriguez – Instagram

Should All Businesses Be Going Virtual?

Should All Businesses Be Going Virtual?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and our local Circuit Breaker (CB) measures, online counterparts of activities such as watching movies and shopping have already become booming industries with well-trodden paths, whereas for others, not so much.

For education-based businesses such as tuition centres, digitalisation appears to be a natural next step as everyone began rushing to put their curriculum online. But for sectors such as travel, arts and events, the options appear limited, though that did not stop people from trying.

Remember when Singapore ordered the shutdown of all entertainment venues on 24th March? “Cloud Clubbing” became a thing where DJs performed live via social media and video-conferencing platforms. Some people were impressed, while others couldn’t hide their sarcasm.

Most recently, event planner Invade also announced that their upcoming Taiwan night market-inspired Shilin Singapore will be launched as an online event featuring livestream performances and food delivery options from vendors. Once more, reception to the news is mixed.

One might simply congratulate these businesses on their digital ventures and ignore the naysayers. Afterall, hadn’t the government been encouraging businesses to innovate and explore technology all along?

Invariably, many concerns and questions will surface due to the speed and rate at which businesses are taking stabs at maintaining profit despite the pandemic — just look at Airbnb’s recent Online Experiences proposal to allow those stuck at home to “travel virtually”. Needless to say, the move would have been more impressive had Airbnb settled the more pressing issue of refunds for existing cancellations beforehand. 

Comments under the official Airbnb announcement of Airbnb Experiences on Facebook filled with complaints about lack of refunds for prior cancellations due to COVID-19

At this stage, we expect to see many more attempts from hard-hit sectors looking to venture onto digital platforms — and we should be cheering them on for trying. But as for whether these attempts are successful hinges on a multitude of factors; the most basic of which is whether the business or group is aware of the immediate issues faced by society in crisis. Although it is important to ensure the business survives, we should also be thinking of how to do it without coming across as insensitive. 

Another issue that has become evident as observed by theatre artist and writer, Nicholas Berger, in an article on the sudden proliferation of artists taking their works online is the awkward justification behind these actions: “It seems desperately important not to let this virus slow our production of art…Quality? I hardly know her. This is a pandemic, we need Quantity!”. As our own local arts groups/performers take turns jumping on bandwagons of collaboration videos and pandemic-themed artworks on social media, it does bring to mind the question of whether these contents were done out of creativity or desperation.

And what about art forms that depend on social interaction such as theatre going live online? Some remain doubtful about whether these can be fully appreciated if conducted through a screen. Just as clubbing, a social event, becoming an online music appreciation session; or the hustle and bustle of a night market becoming an opportunity to eat delivered exotic foods…can a play also become just any other online video? More importantly, should it?

The COVID-19 ride may be short, but the road is long afterall. At the moment, everyone else seems to be struggling with the word “Quality”: what it really means to digitally enhance for long-term rewards instead of for instant boosts that will become forgotten when the crisis is over. Will the next business, product or service please make their bid for virtual territory with grace? When the storm blows over, it’s not the quantity or speed of action that will tide us through but well-planned, sustainable actions that enables us to truly emerge as victors, ready to face the next wave when it comes.

Written by : Ron Ma
Edited by :  Ling Weiming
Published on : 16/04/2020
Image : Source / Jesus Kiteque –