As we celebrate International Youth’s Day this month, we look at how our youths navigate through our labour market and find employment.
Youth employment promotes social integration, intergenerational dialogue, and solidarity. This means that quality employment allows rootedness to the community, a stable career path and a milestone towards independence and self-reliance1.
In this article, we examine why and what is important in attracting our youths into higher quality jobs, associated with permanent roles and niche skills.
Jobs for Youths
Our youths – defined as persons between ages 15 and 24 – usually do not enter the job market formally at these ages because many are pursuing tertiary education. But if they do, they may take on short-term stints before resuming higher education. Others may be exploring different options to find a suitable job.
While youths’ aspirational career choices upon completion of formal education may differ from the short-term stints they take on while pursuing education, it is still important to look at the common occupations they take on which offer less barriers to entry with regards to experience or possession of niche skills, so that we have a sense of where youths find employment easily and the job-ready skills they can pick up.
They attempt to gain experience and explore career options through jobs such as sales professionals and shop salespersons, or as wait staff. These jobs were higher in vacancies and less stringent on entry requirement, allowing them to pick up shifts according to their preference. These jobs provide opportunities for them to hone soft skills such as communication and customer service. As they move into their late 20s, most would have completed their formal education, and they would move into jobs that are technical and professional functions (e.g. financial analysts, and accounting executives) as well as in higher-skilled administrative and executive roles (e.g. commercial and marketing sales executives, and management executives).
The Importance of Improving Youth Employment
The experience of youths in Singapore differs from that in many other countries. According to the United Nations2, in Europe, younger workers were more disadvantaged, ending up in temporary jobs and part-time employment. A lack of experience, limited education and skills put them particularly vulnerable to finding quality jobs. The informal sector accounted for more than nine in ten jobs available to youths. While these jobs served to bridge a gap between their current status and permanent employment, informal jobs paid nearly half lower than those in the formal economy. The welfare and benefits in such sectors are also sorely lacking, such as annual leaves and bonuses, mostly accorded to full-timers. It is therefore important to encourage full-time employment for youths as gig work may not be suitable for all in the long run.
Attracting and Retaining Youths in Employment
Recent graduates from Institute of Technical Education and Polytechnics can consider the SkillsFuture Work-Study Programme which allows youths to deepen skills as they transit into the workforce via a combination of classroom learning and structured on-the-job-training.
The International Labour Organisation highlights the anxiety of job insecurity of youths, caused by them feeling replaceable by robotics and artificial intelligence3. To cope with such anxiety, The National Youth Council’s YouthTech Programme identified the Information Communication and Technology (ICT) sector as a growing industry, equipping one thousand youths with digital skills to make them future-ready. Graduates from Institutes of Higher Learning can also upskill by taking free modules in digital know-how such as artificial intelligence and business analytics, to facilitate their application into the ICT industry.
To attract more youths into quality employment, flexible working arrangements and employees support schemes such as teleworking, staggered hours and gym facilities or early knock-off days are important when choosing one employer from another. In 2021, 31.6% of youths were able to work from home due to COVID-19, echoing the sentiments of many youths4 in the research from Nationwide and Ipsos, preferring a hybrid working model of three days a week or more working at home, while spending the rest of the workdays collaborating and connecting with colleagues face-to-face.
Having a work mentor also encourages constructive feedback and idea generation for youths, who find the communication refreshing as they seek for inputs on their new jobs. For instance, in the public sector, they have a buddy system which provides a person dedicated to ease them into their new role. Hiring youths can be challenging in this fluid labour market; it is only when employers stay tuned-in with youths’ needs, that they can leverage on youths’ new skills and perspectives, grooming them from the onset of their careers, thereby increasing the quality and quantity of the workforce.