Recently I had a discussion with some human resource experts and the boss of a training company. We were sharing opinions of how PMEs (Professionals, Managers and Executives) could face the challenges that are knocking at their doors. Throughout the discussion, three aspects of what we term as the ‘PME phenomenon’ surfaced. These are: skills upgrading (or lifelong learning), staying relevant, and under-employment.
The need for continual skills upgrading is something that all PMEs can attest to. As business and product lifecycles shorten, the shelf-life of knowledge, and even skills, also shorten correspondingly. I still remember very vividly that during the turn of the 21st century, Singapore’s infocomm scene was welcoming the introduction of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), which was publicised as the next generation mobile technology. Our polytechnics rolled out diploma programmes and many bright students applied to enter those courses. However, when the diploma graduates who majored in WAP technology tried to enter the job market in 2004, WAP was warped! It was time to welcome 2G, then 3G, and now 4G (LTE) – a whole new generation of communication technology every four years! I believe it must have been a rude shock to those graduates then, when they realised that the knowledge they spent several years acquiring had found no market and value.
So if knowledge and skills cycles have only half-decade lifespans, then the role of skills upgrading has to be critically assessed. What are the next skill-sets that a PME has to develop? We all can agree that time, resources, as well as personal and corporate productivity have to be sacrificed whenever one goes for skills upgrading. So what if after all the skills upgrading, and one is still lagging behind the business curve? Wouldn’t all the effort go to waste? This was when the next important concept of ‘staying relevant’ was discussed among the group.
While skills upgrading commonly carries the notion of one improving on his skills and knowledge, staying relevant is actually more apt in describing how one should ride the ebbs and flows of the turbulent economic cycles. Staying relevant means that one is able to understand the socio-economic trends and equip oneself with the relevant and necessary skills to remain employable. Staying relevant therefore is an important attribute of being employable. Hence, a PME who has a post-graduate degree in a sunset industry might want to consider embarking on a diploma programme in a sunrise industry, for example. While this might seem like ‘qualification-downgrading’ (synonymous to skills-downgrading), it actually allows the PME to stay relevant if the PME could remain employable in a sunrise industry.
At this juncture, our discussions became more intense, and I managed to toss yet another spanner into the gearbox: could skills-upgrading (which tend to lead to higher expectations in career remunerations) and the need to stay relevant (which sometimes have to be at the expense of qualifications) potentially lead to under-employment? Under-employment refers to the situation whereby a person’s job requirements and the skills or knowledge required to fulfill the job are sub-ordinate to the qualifications or skills and knowledge that the employee possesses and desires to exhibit. Oftentimes, job satisfaction fairs badly in under-employment situations, and the employee tends to be unhappy in the job, and he is unlikely to remain in the job for long.
At this point, the boss of a training firm started to relate a hiring experience that he had. He mentioned that he wanted to hire a training manager to manage his company. During the interview phase, all went well; until the potential candidate, a mature PME, revealed that he used to be the regional general manager of an MNC. At that instant, the boss said that he had doubts whether the potential candidate would be willing to remain in the training manager position for long, since this new role and remuneration was only able to match a fraction of his previous GM position. At the end, the boss decided to give the candidate a miss.
During the last global recession in the 2008/09 period, we witnessed many PMEs being caught in under-employment situations when they were employed as security officers or taxi-drivers. While under-employment has no impact on a country’s (un)employment statistics, anecdotal evidences point to the negative impacts that under-employment has on affected PMEs’ esteem, and their future employability, especially if the under-employment period is perpetuated. In more aggravated situations, the badly-bruised PME might even disassociate himself from the employment scene, and a state of chronic unemployment might set in. Under such a scenario, the chronically unemployed PME might not be able to, or not willing to, hold on to a job for longer than several months. In the worst scenario, the chronically unemployed might degenerate together into an unemployable individual.
Our discussions hit a road-block at this stage. It suddenly became very evident to the group that under-employment might be the challenge of the future for PMEs, especially if the birth of quality jobs cannot match the growth in skills and knowledge of the enlarging PME population. We did not progress further, as we had to part our ways. However my mind was already stirred by this issue…
How can a PME overcome under-employment? Can any PME even avoid under-employment as quality jobs become scarcer? I spent some time to reflect on this phenomenon, and I came to the opinion that PMEs need to look beyond relentless skills upgrading to stay relevant; PMEs need to appreciate the simple yet important concept of employability valuation instead.
PMEs should see themselves as assets that are subjected to valuation forces, just like any piece of property or investment instrument. A person’s employment value is never static, and never linearly appreciating. Rather, due to the forces of business cycles, the employment value should also mirror the cycles. Not only do PMEs’ skills and knowledge have to be relevant, their mindset and expectations also have to be congruent with business expectations. PMEs also have to acknowledge that hiring decisions are essentially valuation exercises, and valuation processes always take into account a plethora of factors, not just the traditional options of qualifications, work experience, personality, or other personal attributes.
Increasingly employers look for PMEs with versatility and ability to accomplish ‘speed-to-market’ expectations so that the enterprise as a whole can stay ahead of business cycles. Also, being able to detect market trends and be there at the right time, with the right aptitude and attitude packaging, will result in higher valuation for the PMEs. Hence, PMEs should think and behave like entrepreneurs, being prepared to subject to market valuation, and acknowledge that fitting their expectations to the peaks and troughs of business cycles can only lead to higher employability without the under-employment side effects, as every employment is an opportunity for higher employability.
Furthermore, it would be useful for PMEs to understand that there are two aspects of valuations: one is valuation of the PMEs’ personal resources, eg. their time, skills, and/or knowledge. The second aspect is the valuation of the whole person and the role he plays in the business cycle of the whole organisation. Hence, a company might pay a PME a certain salary because he is able to handle certain projects due to his skills or knowledge. However, this valuation will increase if the PME is able to help the company see the value he can create in the lifecycle of the company’s business. It is therefore not just about trading his personal resources for a remuneration or salary; it’s about being a part of, and partaking the necessary risks with, the company. Which company would not want such an employee, and which employer would not value such an employee?
Anderson Tan | Director, biipmi Pte Ltd
Anderson is passionate about Lifelong Learning for lifelong employability. He believes it pays to invest in gaining, retaining and regaining employment through marketing innovations. Hence biipmi. Anderson has a distinction in M.Arts in Lifelong Learning from Institute of Education, M.Eng and 1st Class Hon. Degree from NUS. He is a career coach, an adult educator, and an entrepreneur.