author: Jeremy Koh
SINGAPORE – After he heard the dreaded news in 2014 that the plant he was working in will be closed down, Mr Chua G.C., as he prefers to be known, put on a brave front at home, keeping the news from his wife and child.
But the anxiety would creep up and paralyse him in the middle of a meal.
Seized by fear, he would sit in silence for more than an hour, worrying about the future, especially for his school-going children, now aged 18 and 15.
The manufacturing company will completely shut its operations later this year and Mr Chua will be without a job for the first time since he started working.
Worse, he is worried he will not be able to get another job paying equivalent pay, given his age.
He has not received a single firm offer since he started sending out resumes in October last year.
“I’m not very hopeful about (my) job prospects due to the economic slowdown. I’m just hoping that from June, the economy will be better,” said Mr Chua, who is in his late 40s.
And even though his wife continues to work, earning about $6,000 on average a month, the family has had to cut down on their expenses.
The family eats out less, spends less on luxury goods, and is not thinking of going for a holiday any time soon. Mr Chua said they have managed to save about $1,000 a month this way.
For the short term, he is open to jobs offering between $2,000 and $4,000 a month but is hoping to get one that pays more than $4,000 a month for the long term.
“I just want to finish my next job peacefully and see my children through their education, that’s all I’m looking for,” he said. “It’s very stressful not be able to find a job these six months. It’s especially so for mature workers who have a home, a car loan to service, children who are still going to school, maybe parents who are sick.
“Imagine you are already 45 and you go for an interview just like a fresh grad and you need to go and sell yourself, the feeling is not nice.”
Harshness against unemployed manager is unwarranted.
The Year of the Monkey continues to bring a hodge podge of surprises to me. Markets are apparently up.
But this article should have been up two days ago as it has been a fairly demoralising week. I botched a group presentation and I spent most of my time looking for an internship to no avail.
Which is why amidst the rejections I am getting, I am quite sympathetic to Mr. Chua GC as featured in the Straits Times but was sadly subject to some brickbats from some corners of social media.
a) Mr Chua is not addicted to an expensive lifestyle.
Some parts of social media accuse Mr Chua of being unable to downgrade his lifestyle. I beg to differ. While his family was quite high earning in the past, hitting about $14,000 a month, he currently lives on his wife’s income and can even save $1,000 for his family. That’s actually less than my personal expenses. My fixed allowances to my parents and wife plus my mortgage, telco, property taxes and conservancy fees is about $5,500.
b) He’s trying hard to sell himself.
Just because he acknowledges the awkwardness of trying to sell himself on any job does not mean that he is not doing that. It’s awkward for me too. As I’m gunning for internships right now, companies try to interview you remotely as it is logistically too much to interview so many law undergrads. I had my first attempt and was surprised by how difficult it is because you can’t assess the interviewer’s body language.
Amazingly I used to chair meetings on conference calls but never really felt much stress in the past. It’s always awkward to sell something.
c) He did not save enough when times were good
One brickbat which I have to concede is that Mr Chua did not save enough when times were good. This is a teachable moment for all knowledge workers in their 30s who think that everything is fine. Had he saved an income portfolio, at his age, it would easily be equal to his wife’s income and his family would still do fairly well on $12,000 a month.
If you examine this case carefully, I might even guess that Mr Chua did save by pre-paying his mortgage as, otherwise, it would be difficult to even save that $1,000 every month in his current situation.
If someone is stuck in their 40s and suddenly jobless, the number of things which can be done can be quite limited. I have some suggestions but perhaps some readers can provide more solutions :
a) Avoid trying to investing your money in such times.
Markets have a tendency to betray you when you need them the most. The worse thing an unemployed PMET could do is to play with forex instruments. The best way to invest in dividend stocks was to do so a few years ago to build it up before you become unemployed.
Rushing into investing thinking that its a panacea is a bad idea. Using your home as collateral to get a loan to invest is an even worse solution than unemployment.
b) Go for a low-barrier job
The most obvious option is to become an Uber Driver. I’m waiting to have some folks tell me that they can really make $5,000 a month.
Other people will become insurance and real estate agents but bad economic conditions would also make these options untenable.
c) Look for a franchise business.
I guess the best way out is to use some of your savings to get into a franchise business. FLA conducts an exhibition every year which I have been going for quite a while but haven’t got the guts to risk my own capital so far. Just make sure you avoid the MLM scams out there.
A franchise is a tested business concept but profit margins are razor thin. The risk is your capital and there is definitely a probability of business failure although it is very low compared to starting your own business. Some folks are turned off by the idea of paying someone to give you a job but, heck, you are a PMET in your 40s and should be mature enough to do what works.
I think the downside is that hiring and maintaining a workforce is a nightmare so you might want a partner to split the work so that you can have some work-life balance. It always amazes me that unemployed 40-something PMETs are the last to hire their own kind once they have a business running.
For the folks of my generation, it might be useful to ask yourself how different are you from Mr Chua. For me, the difference is very slight. Mr Chua was retrenched when his company decided to shut down his plant. I was unemployed for two years because I tried to retrench myself in the fear that one day, some company would do me in anyway.
This year, there will be plenty of sob stories in the news of mid-life PMETs losing their jobs.
Better start saving while is going is good in your 30s and keep your family expenses lean.