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Surviving retrenchment: 3 S'poreans share how they picked up the pieces with help from family, caree

Three Singaporeans share their stories of how they picked up the pieces after getting laid off, thanks to people who stood by them and cheered them on

Benson Ang on 20 Sep 2020

The Straits Times


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When Ms Noraini Misrom sought assistance at Workforce Singapore's (WSG) Careers Connect centre at Woodlands Civic Centre in October last year, she was at the end of her tether.


She had been retrenched two months before. All her job search efforts had proved fruitless.


But now, the 51-year-old is her old bubbly self again after a career coach helped her sharpen her resume, hone her search skills and eventually land a new job in June.


Ms Noraini, a mother of two, says: "I have to thank the team from WSG. Without them, I might still be searching for a job."


In August last year, the Singaporean was into her 22nd year of working as an administrative officer at delivery company UPS when she was laid off.


Although she received about 20 months of benefits, the retrenchment was a bolt from the blue.


She says: "The news was sudden and left me shocked and sad. My son, 22, is studying in a polytechnic, and my daughter, 20, is doing a Higher National ITE Certificate (Higher Nitec).


"My husband is a mechanic and I also have to give my parents an allowance. So I needed an income."


She started looking for work, answering job ads and attending a course to get career and training advice.


But two months later, she was still without a job.


That was when she went to the Careers Connect centre and met senior career coach Judy Yap, 62.


Ms Yap recalls: "When I first met Noraini, her worry showed all over her face. She did not say a lot, but opened up after I asked some questions about her family background.


"As a career coach, I need to understand her - her experience, strengths and goals - so I can better match her with suitable vacancies that my team comes across."


After looking at Ms Noraini's resume, Ms Yap felt it was too generic and not updated.


She says: "When recruiters look at your resume, they essentially want to know what you have to offer their company and how you have contributed to past employers."


Ms Noraini's original resume listed all the courses she attended over the years, but did not hone in on her core competencies.


After understanding that Ms Noraini wanted to continue working in administration, Ms Yap tried to emphasise her relevant skills, such as her ability to multi-task, work independently, do data entry and use Microsoft Office programmes.


"At UPS, Noraini was also quite good at tracing lost parcels, so I added that she was good at 'investigative solutions', a quality that could help her stand out from other applicants."


Ms Yap showed Ms Noraini sample resumes to use as a reference, and also directed her towards career fairs and jobs portals such as MyCareersFuture. Whenever a suitable position came up, Ms Yap informed her.


That was how Ms Noraini landed her current position as a data controller at TG25, a company which provides lodging for foreign workers.


Although her current salary is about half what she used to draw, Ms Noraini says: "I am very happy with my new job. My workplace is now around Choa Chu Kang, quite near my five-room HDB flat in Woodlands."


Her responsibilities now include checking workers in and out, as well as other administrative matters.


"The work is different, but definitely within my capabilities. I have also made many friends and am very thankful to WSG for helping me land this job after searching for so long."


Ms Yap's advice to others in this predicament: "Retrenchment can cause anxiety, uncertainty and frustrations, especially when one has been in the job for decades.


"But it is essential that we do not succumb to feelings of hopelessness and always try to seize the next opportunity."





He was previously president of Hwa Chong Junior College's students' council and a Singapore Exchange scholarship holder and used to earn $24,000 a month working for a Japanese bank.


But after getting retrenched, he was so broke that he ate $2.50 economy rice every day and put his children on food coupons.


He had to borrow a five-figure sum from his elder brother to pay his bills.


Such was the painful, humbling reality Mr Eugene Seah faced when he was let go by financial services group Nomura in 2013 after a company restructuring exercise.


The Singaporean, who is married to a housewife and has three young children, had to move back from Hong Kong, where he was then based, into a four-room HDB flat in Toa Payoh.


By his own admission, the financial disaster that followed was partly due to poor financial decisions on his part.


After returning to Singapore with about three months in retrenchment benefits, he bought a used car, which he sold within six months, losing a five-figure sum in the process.


In a bid to make money, he fell prey to two financial scams and lost close to $20,000.


He says: "In those early months, I was very complacent, thinking it would be very easy finding another job."


But as the months passed, the offers dwindled and so did his savings.


Desperate, he asked his brother for a loan to tide him over and also sought financial aid.


His children were placed on a financial assistance scheme and were given food coupons, free textbooks and school attire.


He himself was given a Workfare Transport Concession Card, which allowed him to get discounted fares on public transport.


"At that point, I felt very low and confused. How did I end up in this state? I was the president of the students' council and many of my peers had become chief executives and chief financial officers. I was a good student and excelled in my CCAs - what did I do wrong?" he recounts.


Around this time, he found strength in his faith. The Christian shared his personal and financial struggles in church, which was how his mother, Madam Jennifer Tan, got to know of them.


The widowed retiree, who is now 82, says: "When I heard Eugene was retrenched, I saw how stressed he was and felt very sad. I wanted to help him, but I could not because it is his life.


"I could only encourage him to be stronger and do better and be more understanding towards him."


Hoping to take Mr Seah's mind off his worries, Madam Tan invited him on outings to watch movies and window-shop; she also paid for their meals.


In addition, she told him to discontinue her $400 monthly allowance because of his circumstances.


But he insisted on giving her at least half the amount.


With his mother's encouragement, Mr Seah slowly picked up the pieces. He founded a corporate training services company, Trainium Academy, in 2014 and decided to become a trainer and life coach.


For most of 2015, he provided training and gave public speeches for free at places such as schools and corporate organisations, while networking extensively and honing his presentation skills.


A year later, in 2016, he began charging for these sessions - starting from $200 a day and working his way up to $1,000 a day.


He also began designing customised training and coaching programmes for organisations, helping them solve corporate problems such as low morale and high turnover among staff.


His clients include organisations such as biopharmaceutical company Ferring Pharmaceuticals and car parts supplier Continental.


In addition, from 2017, he became a financial consultant, using his past money mishaps to educate others so they can avoid making similar mistakes.


He has also given talks overseas to audiences as large as 1,500 people. His current coaching rate has increased to $8,000 a day.


After years of frugal living, Mr Seah's financial situation has improved.


In 2018, he was invited back to his alma mater - now known as Hwa Chong Institution - as a guest of honour at the investiture of its students' council.


The 44-year-old now makes more than he did in his previous corporate job. His children are now aged 10 to 16.


Looking back, he reflects that if he had been more financially prudent when he was unemployed, he could have saved a lot of heartache.


"I should not have assumed it would be easy to get another job after being retrenched. Nonetheless, during those dark days, I was very thankful to my mother for always being an emotional pillar of support for me."


Madam Tan adds: "I am proud Eugene has picked himself up, is happy and is now also helping others.


"When our children lose their jobs, they are already stressed enough.


"We as parents should try as much as possible to love and support them and not judge them."





Once a department head at a consumer electronics company, Ms Joyce Chung found herself retrenched a week after her 43rd birthday.


But with determination and support from her husband, she has now found a new calling as a home baker, whose cinnamon rolls have a month-long wait list.


In February last year, the Singaporean was working in Hong Kong as head of marketing for Asia-Pacific at consumer electronics firm Belkin, when she was let go after her company was acquired.


She says: "I understood the decision. But for a few months, I felt bruised, wondering why it happened to me and if I was somehow not good enough. Eventually, I got over it and moved on."


In June last year, she returned to Singapore, together with her husband, Mr Luigi La Tona, and their two young daughters, to start anew.


To get her life back on track, she had an ambitious three-pronged strategy: she would search for a job, and start a digital marketing consultancy as well as a home baking business out of her rented Marine Parade condominium all at the same time.


She says: "I figured it was best to try many approaches. They were all related to my passions, so I gave it my all and planned to go where the tide took me."


She did not worry overtly about finances, as she had received a retrenchment package of about three months, and had stashed away a six-month emergency fund.


"As a 40something, I know I have to be responsible and have always been prudent with money. So I was never worried about not being able to pay the bills."


Nonetheless, during her job search, there were disappointments such as recruiters not calling her back, getting to the final interview, then not landing the job several times.


Wherever she could, she tapped her SkillsFuture credits to upgrade herself through courses such as digital marketing. Of her endeavours, her home business emerged the most successful.


Last September, she revived a food brand, Guilt Free Food, which she had started in 2016 to sell snack boxes. This time though, she repositioned it to sell reduced-sugar cinnamon rolls and gluten-free brownies as well as chocolate chip and almond cookies.


"My husband loves cinnamon rolls and he challenged me to make some good ones for him. When my friends started asking me to make rolls for them too, I thought it would be fun to try this out as a business."


Initially, she averaged only a few orders a month. Little did she expect that during the circuit breaker in April and May, orders poured in tenfold.


"Around Easter, demand suddenly exploded. I had two baking pans and immediately went to (baking ingredients supplier) Phoon Huat to buy more. I now have more than 30 pans."


She also introduced new flavours such as Himalayan salted caramel, triple chocolate and cream cheese frosting. Her baked goods are priced from $20 for a 7-inch serving of glaze-icing cinnamon rolls to $41 for a 10-inch serving of triple chocolate cinnamon rolls.


Even after the circuit breaker, demand continued to soar, and she is now booked solid for the next month.


While she does not make as much money as she did in her corporate job, she finds meaning in her new calling.


"I love baking and making food people can bond over. I also think my reduced-sugar desserts are healthier and - hence my brand - guilt-free. Moreover, working from home now allows me to spend more time with my family."


Her daughters are now two and four.


Ms Chung has since stopped looking for another job. The past year has been a long hard slog, she acknowledges.


"When I was still finding my way, I was juggling three things and working around the clock."


Her husband, who is 43 and the chief operating officer at selfstorage operator StorHub Self Storage, says: "I know Joyce is very driven and single-minded, both now and during her corporate days. After she was retrenched, I think she really created many of her own opportunities."


He says he was concerned that she might be burning the candle at both ends, but adds: "I was also very careful about not destroying her passion. I would bite my tongue and make her a nice cup of coffee instead."


At times, Mr La Tona, who is Italian-Canadian, volunteered to take the kids out of the house when she was busy with orders and helped her make deliveries.


Once, he even cycled from their Marine Parade home all the way to Clementi to deliver the baked goods.


"As a husband, I want to support her as much as I can. And I am glad that she has found something which she loves and finds meaning in."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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