Saving the senior exec’s career – The Business Times
Our Technology practice Director, Patricia Teo, has recently been interviewed by The Business Times to share her views on the challenge currently faced by mid-career/ older professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) as to how they can still remain competitive in an environment where technology is constantly evolving making roles increasingly more technical in nature.
Here is the article:
AFTER rising up the corporate ladder, middle-aged, mid-career professionals might find themselves abruptly out of a job, and in danger of being left behind by relentless technological progress. Some take up stop-gap work that turns long-term; others face competition from younger hires. This story is not new. It has been told over and over: from the Asian Financial Crisis to the dot-com bubble, from the global financial crisis to today’s virus-driven recession. A long-running structural worry that also affects new cohorts each time, the issue of displaced older professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) has resurfaced – even before the Covid-19 outbreak intensified over the last month or so.
With Budget 2020 including new efforts to help this group, a question arises: how different is the challenge that they face today, as tech plays a growing role in the economy? To what extent can the story change?
A perennial problem
Each downturn in recent history has revived concerns over the lot of older PMETs, who are vulnerable to retrenchment and tend to take longer to return to employment – if at all.
“The issue of displacement of mature PMETs is not new, as structural unemployment among senior workers – including PMETs – is one of the long-term challenges encountered by Singapore,” says SIM Global Education senior lecturer Dr Tan Khay Boon.
As the share of mature PMETs in the labour force grows, so too does the challenge. Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor Walter Theseira notes that in 2009, just over a quarter of the labour force held a degree; today, the figure is 37.5 per cent. “The point is that even while the economy has increased demand for PMETs today compared to 20 years ago, having a PMET qualification or work history really doesn’t stand out anymore,” he says.
There tends to be a vast gap in income and skills between an entry-level PMET role and a senior one, making it hard for the latter to find equivalent positions once displaced, he adds: “The experience you have may not be relevant to growth sectors.”
Things remain tough for older PMETs, or PMEs as the labour movement refers to them. Says National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay: “Based on labour market statistics and reports, we have seen that our middle-career workers continue to be the most vulnerable and affected by retrenchments, with higher skilled, middle-aged PMEs the hardest hit.”
According to Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures, there were 6,790 local retrenchments in 2019, of which PMETs formed 73.6 per cent, or nearly 5,000. Of the local retrenched PMETs, 37.7 per cent were aged 40 to 49, and another 32.7 per cent aged 50 and above. By these calculations, over 3,500 local PMETS aged 40 or older were retrenched in 2019.
Fine-grained figures are not available for re-entry into employment after six months, but the overall rate for PMETs is 61.9 per cent, lower than other occupational groups. For all workers, the re-entry rate is 65.8 per cent for those 40 to 49, and 52.2 per cent for those 50 and over, lower than those for younger workers – 82.5 per cent for those below 30, and 76.3 per cent for those 30 to 39.
The current economic crisis has the potential to be worse than previous downturns such as Sars and the global financial crisis, notes OCBC Bank chief economist Selena Ling.
Granted, the immediate impact has fallen on front-line service staff. But she adds: “Typically, the first hit may be on the non-PMET roles, but as the pandemic continues, not many industries, firms or workers may be immune.”
Despite government support, there is a risk that firms keen on cost-cutting may lay off older workers, including older PMETs, she says.
“The employment and employability of our PMEs is something that the labour movement is actively looking into,” says Mr Tay.
The new Job Security Council, for instance, aims to place PMEs – especially those “in their 40s and 50s who may be at higher risk of displacement” – in new roles with participating employers, ahead of their displacement.
Budget 2020, meanwhile, featured the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package for locals in their 40s and 50s, aiming to double the annual number of such workers who are placed into jobs via government reskilling programmes, to about 5,500 by 2025.
The package includes the ramping-up of such programmes, with enhanced salary support for mid-career rank-and-file workers during training; an incentive for employers who hire job seekers ages 40 and above via these programmes; an additional S$500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up for citizens aged 40 to 60; and building a pool of volunteer career advisors.
In the Committee of Supply, another scheme was introduced: the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) Mid-Career Advance Programme, to get Singaporeans aged 40 and above into tech-related jobs. Ten companies are already on board, with 500 positions committed and the aim of placing 2,000 more locals over the next two to three years.
This aims to create more opportunities for mid-career professionals and match them “with companies that otherwise may not be naturally looking at mid-career professionals as a source of talent”, says Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) chief industry development officer Howie Lau.
The IMDA’s starting point was not to address the issue of displaced PMETs per se, he clarifies: “Our starting point was that there is value from both the company perspective as well as the mature PMET perspective to consider this option.”
Teaching new tricks
Granted, getting older PMETs into an industry often associated with their younger counterparts might not seem like the most obvious move.
“It is not easy, as tech-related roles which are in huge demand are getting more technical in nature, and it is not easy to pick these skills up,” says Patricia Teo, director of executive search firm Kerry Consulting’s technology practice. Roles with a “constant talent shortage” include chief technology officers; software engineers; site reliability and DevOps professionals; digital product owners and commercial leaders; data science; and in cybersecurity.
According to the MOM’s latest job vacancies report, the top PMET vacancies in 2019 included software, web, and multimedia developers, and systems analysts – both roles which require technical skills.
Still, there are possibilities, says Ms Teo: “Technology project management roles have been the easiest of the transitions for non-tech PMETs, particularly if these candidates had domain or industry knowledge.”
Such “tech-lite” jobs are a significant part of tech labour demand, says … to read more, click here.