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Young, Fresh and Jobless

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A tough job market takes its toll on Singapore’s recent graduates

By Kristine Paula Aquino

With Singapore just barely out of the recession, the city-state’s most recent batch of fresh university graduates certainly can’t afford to be too choosy when it comes to jobs.

So while he was not particularly passionate about a 6-month internship with an onshore and offshore drilling company, Anand Karapaya thinks it will have to do for the time being.

“I took the internship because I couldn’t find a job after graduation. It’s fine for now, it keeps me occupied while I look for a permanent job,” said Karapaya, an engineering major who graduated in May this year.

The job market, however, seems to be looking up in Singapore. Recruitment consultancy firm Hudson reported last week that 34% of Singapore companies expect to increase their headcount in the remainder of this year, compared with the 26% in the previous quarter. Hudson also reported a fall in staff reductions from 14% in Q3 to a mere 5% this quarter.

Still, jobs remain especially rare for fresh graduates like Karapaya, as their inexperience is often a deterrent for employers.

“We usually advise fresh graduates to go into smaller companies or related industries first. With two to three years experience, it allows them to pursue higher luxury brands such as ours,” said a representative from a leading global cosmetics company, who spoke anonymously as she was not authorized to speak to the media.

“The most expensive part of hiring new employees is training, so get as much experience as you can and stay with it,” she added.

Entry into various industries, however, remains elusive. With the shock of the global financial crisis, some companies are still struggling to keep their current employees, let alone hire new ones.

National University of Singapore student Nigel Lauw, for instance, got an internship offer from public relations agency Fleishman-Hillard, only to have it retracted later on due to the company’s restructuring. With his May 2010 graduation looming, Lauw feels unprepared for employment.

“I feel quite useless now. I have no experience and industry specific knowledge. I can write but I don’t know enough about any particular industry to write about it,” he said.

Fortunately, experience is not the only thing employers are looking for. Eric Leong, Human Resources Officer at Marina Bay Sands, puts a premium on work ethic as well.

“Applicants should have the attitude, the willingness to learn, to pick up new skills. They will undergo training so knowledge about the company can come later,” he said.

It was the same work ethic, after all, that got Ryan Hess a job just two months after graduating in the thick of the financial crisis last year.

“Promise them the world and give them the world. Go in and do jobs that you don’t necessarily know how to do and figure it out. Work as hard as you can,” said Hess, who now works as a Music Technical and Administrative Specialist at the School of the Arts Singapore.

But while job-seeking Singaporean graduates could work on their resumes and learn new skills, the rapidly globalizing job market brings in competition from elsewhere in the region, particularly developing countries such as China and India.

Job seekers from these countries present qualifications that match, if not surpass, those of their Singaporean counterparts. The difference, however, lies in the cost of wages. And in the midst of the financial meltdown, cost remains the bottom line for a lot of companies.

As Singaporeans compete with other regional candidates for jobs, Kathleen Chew believes that a little humility goes a long way.

“Don’t be high-handed. Candidates have to remember that a lot of people want the same jobs and are willing to come in for lesser pay. They can’t come in and immediately expect salary increases,” said Chew, who is the Assistant Vice President of Executive Search at JCG Search International.

In today’s incredibly tough job market, Chew also offers perhaps the most crucial piece of advice in any job search: patience.

“A lot of fresh graduates job hop all the time, primarily because of better perks or salaries. But careers take time to build and you have to persevere with it. You can’t expect success in a short time.”

Six months into his own job search, Karapaya seems to have learned this lesson. Passing on stop-gap opportunities such as becoming a personal banker or a disc jockey, he looks ahead with an end goal in sight.

“I am looking for something long-term. I want something that I can stay with for a long time. I can be interested in a number of things but ultimately I want a career,” he said.


Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:32 am

Will HDB flats remain affordable?

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By: Lim Xiu Yan Jacqueline

While every newly wed couple dreams to own a home, the dream is currently unreachable for Alvin and Nattidya Lim.Lim and his wife are now living with his aunt after moving out of his brother’s four-room HDB flat, which used to house eight people.

“I wish that we can have a place of our own but it is quite difficult to afford a flat now as prices are so high. It will be tough on us to support ourselves with only me as the sole breadwinner. It is even difficult to fork out the cash needed for down payment as the sellers now are asking for unrealistic prices,” he said.

The hike in prices for HDB homes has been a cause for concern in the recent years as this escalation in prices could affect the affordability of flats in the future.

According to the statistics provided by HDB, The Resale Price Index for the third quarter of this year has risen by 3.6 per cent over the previous quarter. The median Cash-Over-Valuation paid by home buyers had also rose by $9000 to $12000 in the previous quarter.

The average transaction prices of resale flats have also increased over the span of these few years. For instance, the average transaction price of a 5-room HDB flat in the second quarter of 2007 was $300,000 but it shot up to $380,000 in the second quarter of 2009.

This increase in prices of HDB flats can be mainly attributed to the increase in demand for flats, as the interest rates for loans are currently low, explained by the Minister for National Development Mah Bow Tan in a parliament session in September this year.

Many parents interviewed had expressed their concerns over the ability of their children to purchase HDB flats in the future and if these flats will be affordable to them.

Agnes Ham, a 56-year-old administrative assistant, is also afraid that her daughters will not be able to afford their own homes with the recent rise in HDB flat prices.

“It is difficult now to maintain a private property but I fear it will be difficult for my children to even own a HDB flat in the future with the rising prices,” she said.

Mohamed Ismail, chief executive officer of real estate company PropNex, estimates that the resale prices will continue to rise by up to four to five percentage points in the second half of this year, according to a market analysis done by the company.

NUS undergraduate Tan Yan Guang, has also expressed concerns for the high prices of HDB flats now.

“HDB prices are quite high despite government claims that it is already heavily subsidised,” he said.

Mah, however, has assured that HDB homes will be kept affordable and that HDB will work to ensure that the amount that flat buyers pay monthly for their homes will not exceed 30 per cent of their income in a parliament session.

“Therefore, when we say that HDB flats are affordable, we are not talking in the abstract.  We are talking in real terms. So when HDB makes a commitment that every new young family can afford a home, this is what it means,” he said.

The minister also said that HDB has plans to launch more flats to ease demand and that new flats purchased from the Housing Board will be offered at manageable prices to new owners.

Current subsidy schemes provided also work to aid young owners in purchasing their own homes. Eight in ten applicants are eligible to purchase up to a five-room HDB flat with home loans offered by HDB at concessionary interest rates. For people who earn between $8000 and $10000, the government would still offer them a $30000 grant when they purchase an Executive Condominium.

Sabrina Soh, another NUS undergraduate, agrees that HDB flats will still within an affordable range and is not too worried about being able to buy a home in the future.

“I think that the flats will still be affordable as I have my CPF savings and I am not too concerned at the moment,” she said.

Written by mtrayu

November 8, 2009 at 8:24 am