There are perceptions among young Singaporeans that they are too good for some jobs, and – more often than not – are unwilling to get their hands dirty. In a recent interview Mr. Victor Mills, chief executive of the Singapore International Chamber of Commerce, laments that the perception of many Singaporeans feeling that “their employer and the Government owe them a living” has manifested “in an ‘overfussiness’ or a sense of entitlement” (ST, Jan. 26). Two days later the rising number of job vacancies was highlighted, as job-seekers spurned jobs such as shop sales assistants, security guards, and waiters. Together with cleaners in offices as well as teaching professionals, these were the five occupations with the most vacancies, because of “unattractive pay, a long work week, and physically tough work” (ST, Jan. 28).
Consequently this trend of individuals shunning work that gets their hands dirty appears hard to dispute, though it is hard to agree with the oft-cited explanations for it. It has been said that the young ones are unrealistic about a work-life balance, do not have the same drive as their parents did, and expect high remuneration or too many benefits. A more common complaint is that fresh graduates of today also do not take to hardships well, and therefore the display of negative workplace attitudes is evidence of a desire to take it easy.
This “sense of entitlement”, in other words.
Even at his Facebook Q&A last week, a small business owner asked Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about the difficulty of finding Singaporeans to work entry-level jobs. “Most of the young candidates want to have more pay and work less hours than more senior members”, he said. Anecdotally local enterprises faced similar problems. An acquaintance who is running a garage cannot find mechanics, despite offering training and a reasonable salary.
There are no easy answers on the restrictions of foreign workers, yet our reluctance to staff these positions – especially the blue-collared occupations – will (unfortunately) persist. With years of education and enrichment, perhaps we have become victims of our ambitions, and of Singapore’s success. We aspire to be professionals, managers, and executives, and the prospect of working from a comfortable cubicle is more enticing than strenuous labour.
Are we any less driven? Not necessarily. This is a generation which has grown up in competitive schooling environments, and its members know that once they have settled on a chosen profession nothing but their best will guarantee success in the future.
Without college degrees, my parents have worked hard their whole lives. Work for them was always about having food on the table, and putting me through years of schools and now university. I have enjoyed privileges they never had, and as grafters they do not want their children to toil hard for comparatively little in return. With these privileges – and with unemployment at two per cent – I want to make the best out of my choices, beyond the mere fulfilment of pragmatic needs. And having taken so much, I want to give back too. I hop from internship to internship, hoping to learn and expand my options.
In this vein these perceptions stem from the best of intentions, and are constantly perpetuated by the people around us: parents, teachers and friends at school, and peers at the workplace. Parents give their children what they never had. To some extent this is also compounded by the level of materialism – as Mr. Mills alluded to – in which “what you wear, where you live, what you drive, and what you wear on your wrist … has become a key determinant of the value of human life. But that is a symptom of a deeper phenomenon.
Unless there are changes to the way these undesired jobs are compensated (or if market forces compel these changes), young Singaporeans – with so many choices, so many privileges – are unlikely to take up these occupations. So something has to eventually give, if the Foreign Worker Quotas are to stay.