Let’s solve the hunger issue in Singapore.

There has been much talk recently about how “hungry” Singaporeans are for jobs.

In Parliament, MPs like Minister of State for Manpower and Education Gan Siow Huang have urged employers to “lean towards keeping the Singaporean” in situations where retrenchment is inevitable. This focus on keeping the Singapore “core” has been central in much of the discussions by the MPs.

Then over the weekend, a boss of a local SME, Delane Lim, started the hunger games by posting about his experiences while interviewing candidates for several positions at his company. While the 35-year-old entrepreneur said that his post was not meant to denigrate or overgeneralise local job seekers, he pointed out that he was “surprised” by the requests of his interviewees. He concluded that “these young talents are not hungry for a job. Many are not willing to be humble and not willing to suffer. They prefer to work smart than hard unlike our older generation.”

His post sparked off a buffet of mixed opinions: Many sided with him on the so-called entitlement of younger Singaporeans while others chided him for faulting the job seekers without fully understanding their backgrounds.

It was a robust and interesting debate that unfortunately devolved into name calling and allegations of doxxing. Let’s learn to disagree gently, please.

On reddit, user u/Lunarisation, who is graduating from a local university, put the issue in context. He wrote: “I know many peers who already secured job offers with respectable places. (think international banks, MNCs, GIC, consultancies, tech companies and the like) As someone who actually has the privilege to be exposed to classmates like these, I can tell you that these guys are HUNGRY (his emphasis)…”

“Some SMEs should do a reality check on themselves before they blame candidates for not being motivated enough. It just means u have nothing to offer to the hungry people, that’s why everyone who applies to SME doesn’t seem hungry enough.”

The chicken rice analogy

Hungry for chicken rice
Image source: Shutterstock / showcake

Since we’re talking about hunger (and I haven’t had lunch), let’s see how far this analogy can go. In general, we Singaporeans aren’t on starvation mode (yet). Our belts have tightened and our bellies are empty, but we aren’t dying.

Let’s use an example. Bear with me here. Call it the chicken rice analogy. I like chicken rice. I would eat it if I could. If I can’t, I’ll settle for something else, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. I’ve been conditioned to like chicken rice, you could say that I’ve been trained for it.

There are famous chicken rice restaurants who can charge an arm and a leg (a wing and a thigh?) for eating there but they have the pedigree so people don’t mind paying.

But if you’re a local hawker centre chicken rice uncle who wants business (read: hires) but can’t compete with the big boys on price (read: salary), what can you do?

Here’s my suggestion. Give more rice, more soup (better benefits, more flexibility), remember my order (show a personal touch), serve it with a smile (practise team spirit and kindness at work)… There are many ways to increase the attractiveness of your stall to keep people coming back for more.

Working in the social service sector isn’t the most lucrative career, but money isn’t always the be-all and end-all. I enjoy it because as one of my favourite authors describes it, it’s indoor work with no heavy lifting. Writing about kindness, spreading positivity and finding ways of helping the needy is just a side benefit, really.

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More than just salary

And I’m not alone. In a 2018 study of 800 business executives and 1,800 HR leaders, as well as 5,000-plus employees across 21 industries and 44 countries around the world, human resource consultancy Mercer identified three factors that employees and job candidates are looking for in a company. These are workplace flexibility, a commitment to health and well-being and working with a purpose.

With more Singaporeans in the “sandwich generation”, having to care for both young children and elderly parents, sometimes having both spouses working a nine-to-five job isn’t the best arrangement. Flexible working hours or employers who discourage presenteeism would make a job more attractive.

And with reminders of Covid-19 (literally) in our faces, any company, SME or otherwise, that prioritises mental, emotional and physical well-being will always be seen in a good light.

Lastly, and this is something I’ve noticed myself. People who work with a purpose seldom live to look at their paychecks. It is because they are finding other sources of reward in their jobs: It could be working with a mentor whom they respect, or learning a new skill or industry, or simply that they are fulfilling a childhood dream.

Or as US president Franklin D. Roosevelt described it: “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

To argue that Singaporeans are hungry only for high-paying jobs is an oversimplification of the truth. In reality, looking for a job is not as simple as looking for a meal (ticket).

It is, like some have described it, closer to looking for a relationship. A job interview has many similarities to a first date: You were intrigued by the job description (helloooo dating apps); you’re nervous and awkward when you meet and more often than not, it ends in tears (speaking only for myself).

But meeting the right job (or person) isn’t about finding the highest net worth individual. It is finding the right fit.

So, for all the SMEs bosses out there complaining that the people you are interviewing aren’t interested enough, make sure you’re putting your best face forward and if they don’t see your value, things probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.

For all those job seekers out there, know what you can deliver, know what you want and don’t short change yourself. Keep an open mind, a light touch and most importantly, don’t stress about it.

The right job (person) will come. If not, there’s always help.

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