You know the job situation in Singapore is cutthroat when the Prime Minister suggested “(stealing) other people’s lunch” to get ahead.
Dramatic (and Machiavellian) as that sounds, his words contain a hard truth:
Competition is Heating Up. Not Only from People
Here’s a current snapshot of the job scene in Singapore:
- Graduates find it longer and harder to get good jobs i.e “right job with good career prospects, and the right pay.”
- Older professionals don’t have it easy either, especially if they find themselves retrenched. Many of those who can’t find jobs end up driving taxis to make ends meet.
- Singaporeans compete with foreigners in Singapore for jobs. The situation is not as competitive as back when there was the open-door policy of the early 2000s. But Singapore is still a global city with many people moving in and out to work, so the competition is not going away.
- Singaporeans compete with foreigners based overseas too. At one company I used to work with, the entire team of web developers were Vietnamese dudes based in Saigon. At another, the boss outsourced all web design and development work to India.
But wait, there’s more!
The Prime Minister talked about people competing against people. But there’s another force to reckon with: technology.
Automation and Artificial Intelligence are turbo-charging work efficiency while rendering many jobs redundant. There’re plenty of stories about jobs — blue collar and white collar — at risk of replacement by robots. Now robots are starting to do some creative work too.
Who’s Ready for the Brave New Technological World?
“The training industry is undergoing plenty of disruption” my friend, E, told me when we met over dinner. “People used to attend our workshops, seminars, and classes to learn. Now, we trainers face competition from online learning platforms like Udemy and Coursera. People want to be able to learn at their own pace, using their own devices, and at affordable prices. We need to adapt to these demands and produce our own e-learning materials too.”
E knows the importance of adapting too well. He was once a corporate high-flier who worked for global corporations and traveled for business. Then he got retrenched. For more than a year, he applied for many jobs, but never got any offers despite his solid work experiences. Employers either dismissed his experiences as irrelevant or preferred to hire younger (and cheaper) candidates. E was desperate; he had a wife and three school-going kids to support. So he reinvented himself to become a personal branding coach. After years of hustle and networking, E succeeded in creating his own brand of expertise. He now coaches people on personal finance, parenting, and leadership too.
What I admire about E is that he never rests on his laurels even after attaining his hard-fought success. He’s always learning and experimenting with new technologies. He’s unafraid of change and uncertainty. He’s excited about future opportunities, like developing his own brand of e-learning.
How many other people are as confident about navigating the ebbs and flows of change as E?
Does it have to take a personal crisis like retrenchment to realise that one has been stagnant for too long?
Should a crisis occur, are they willing and able to reinvent themselves from scratch?
Hustle Mode: On
Another evening, in November last year, I met with a different friend in a different country.
M and I knew each other since our first semester in the University of Queensland. She is now a part time English-Japanese translator. That evening, we were having tea after dinner at a cosy hotel cafe in Akasaka district, Tokyo.
M fretted about the future. “Much as I enjoy translation, I am not sure how long I will be able to make a living from it. Artificial Intelligence is advancing so fast. What if there’s no need for human translators any more?” I advised her to stay nimble. “Always look for opportunities to grow and challenge yourself 🙂 Cos the world does not stand still!”
I understand M’s worry. I also work in a language-related field — content writing and copywriting — and it’s competitive. There are writers out there who write for cheaper prices, just a message away on Upwork or Fiverr. Robots are already writing content too, albeit business content rather than creative content.
I do worry about the future, but not too much. I prefer to focus on making sure that I am ready to take on whatever the future brings. Like E, I’ve reinvented myself from scratch before. That experience instilled a raging killer instinct and a passion for learning in me. If I had to reinvent again, I will, even if it means evolving from being a writer. Who knows?
Cos the world does not stand still!
Call it a VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world. Call it a time of disruption. Call it the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
We ignore the social, political, and technological shifts around us at our peril. As hustle is something close to my heart, and something I do everyday, expect to see me blog on this topic more often.
Someone once told me that hustle is the art of getting things done. Stealing people’s lunches is one way I suppose. But having experienced such aggressive tactics at work before, I’d rather not. What about being resourceful and creating my own lunch? Technology may have rendered many jobs redundant, but there’s no denying that it has created a wealth of opportunities too.
Sorry, Prime Minister.
Image source: Vladimir Kudinov @ Pexels