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Five months ago: $60, 000/year NTU engineer, now: $1600/month technician contract job

Posted by temasektimes on May 28, 2012

Thomas came in to see me all perspiring after visiting Caliberlink at Brash Basah Road two hours earlier.

He also has to return to work at 2.15pm for the second shift of his 3-month-old technician job with a MNC. The second shift ends at 11pm but Thomas is not complaining.

It was something that he desperately took up as he didn’t want to go jobless for too long  after he was  retrenched from a lucrative $60,000/year IT engineering position earlier this year.

He has worked there for six years and was fortunate to come out with a reasonable severance package.

However, his wife is a home maker and it would be disastrous for two adult family members to go unemployed at the same time.

He has two primary school-going boys and it was a challenge to make ends meet  if there is no income for a prolonged period  –  to him the technician position was a God-sent.

“It was also something that kept me going even though the pay is 1/3 of what I earned,” he told me when I offered him a drink and tissue to wipe off his perspiration.

Its true that jobless PMETs who continue working  at lower-end jobs after retrenchment often feel energised and positive than those who simply apply for jobs and wait at home for the phone calls.

Looking younger than his mid-40s age, Thomas earned his engineering degree from NTU and life was rosy then as the lucrative semi-con industry has just took off and work was plentiful.

Nevertheless, all good things have to come to an end and he was soon retrenched from his engineering job early this year.

He has sent out numerous job applications as an  angineer but none came back  favourably so when the employment agent advertised for a technician position at $1600/month, he jumped at the offer even though the entry level is only a  diploma.

“Its more like a production operator job and even below that of a diploma holder,” Thomas told me.

How long do you want to continue in the job?  I asked.

“As long as I am still looking for a a permanent  enginnering position,” he replied.

He knew that his biggest competitiors are cheap thrid-world engineers from India, Philippines and India who will flock to our country for as little as $2000/month.

His current company also hires many technicians  but they are all permanent residents – mostly from India, Philippines and PRC China. They all earn around $1600 and below.

There are also many local diploma holders who just served out their national service working there but the turn over is high as the job is monotonous and does not require  much technical skills.

Thomas  has tried to request for upgrading courses from a few government aid bodies   in the  nursing and therapist profession but when he was told that the starting entry pay is not more than $1500,  he hesitated.

“I wanted to switch to another  line but it has got to be viable,” Thomas told me.

After studying full time for more than a year, the entry pay for many niche in-demand  fields such as nursing is not attractive enough to convince past high-income engineers like Thomas to make the switch.

He will continue  to look for engineering jobs but so far the response has being discouraging. as he has being rather selective in the positions that he applied for.

After speaking with Thomas  for about an hour, I must say that I was inspired by his zeal to survive even though he could onlty take  home less than $1200 for his efforts.

Transitioning has seen close to 500 clients of which at least half are with engineering background.

Some ended up driving cabs or become property agents even though they have engineering degrees from our prestigious local universities.

The semi-con shut down has truly affected the rice bowls of many of our engineers who took the cue from our government two decades ago to study engineering courses.

Now, they face the onslaught  of competition from many cheap young engineers hailed from third world countries who could ply their trade here   due to the ease in getting them work permits.

Looking at Thomas case, I feel that it will be a tall order for him to secure any engineering job despite his qualification and years of relevant experience and even if he manages to find one, the pay will not be anywhere near to his previous salary before he was retrenched.

Unless  the government drastically reduces foreign talents soon, we will see more Thomas running around – jobless and desperate.

We will also see more undergraduates opting to study the arts and social sciences in universities as this is the best way to gain entry to the secured  civil service sector.

Singapore will  in future face the unpleasant situation of not having enough local experienced engineers as currently most of the engineering positions are occupied  by foreigners.

The profession may also be cheapened by foreign hirings who may one day take their experience with them to other developed countries who will treasure their skills more.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

*The above article was first published on here


46 Responses to “Five months ago: $60, 000/year NTU engineer, now: $1600/month technician contract job”

  1. x12831 said

    Been there before. Lost my job in 2001. Sent out hundreds of job applications to no avail. Had to make ends meet and put food on the table in whatever ways possible. I eventually left SIN to live and work overseas. For good. The govt does not care and the union is useless.

    • Ken Lee said

      the union? o they now only support only the FT! check who is their head first! now call national foreign trade union.
      even their shop need employ for oversea already. one month S$940 S$70 allowance S$40 more if get shift work and six working day.

    • joshua said

      Jus like you I left Sinkapoor more than a decade ago to work overseas, sinkapoor govt turned me down for job, so I left again. Now I get paid more than SGD60k/yr doing simple job. Sinkapooreans are grossly under paid.

      • Dogmeat said

        Overpaid and a parasite on society for doing a simple job. I hope you use your money for charity to recover some karma.

    • Gaba said

      In Singapore, the union protects the employers and tells the employees “accept the offer else get fired!”

    • Eric Tan said

      Oh my Goodness! I am pretty concerned
      about my old age soon. I felt like leaving this country for good due to govt made an error and deny it totally………very scary after to your story and X12831 experience.

      • Hantu Singa said

        Eric, I have been working overseas too, I have been out of Singapore since 2006 after spending 20 years in a local retail jewellry firm. Retail industry is flooded by Malaysians, and now Filipinos and Chinese, a 45 year old man wont stand a chance against this. I have a good friend whose lens coating firm closed down, he was on SGD55000 a year plus car and now work 3 shifts for half that amount and he takes bus everyday, he is 48.

  2. dan2429E said

    ….once over 40, your market value drops exponentially……
    ….unless you have good networking…..
    ….like the ex-SMRT CEO Saw………

  3. Just spreading the word to other countries. said

    Don’t worry Singapore, I have been telling everyone who have been thinking of migrating to Singapore to reconsider since foreigners are a bane to its society.
    Current foreigners will be leaving soon too, if not, within the next few years at the least.
    Yours sincerely,

  4. KOmae said

    When it get tough, the tough get going… I salute you GG for your never say die spirit.

  5. saadawan85 said

    can any one give me a job?

  6. Ron said

    Avoid the electronics industry. It is very unstable and subject to firms shutting down or relocating their factories. Go to the shipyards (Keppel, Sembcorp) which have lasted for decades and will do so for years to come. Go to the petrochemical, pharmaceutical firms.

    And even when you have a job, always plan alternatives just in case you are laid off. For instance, even moon-light as a taxi driver just in case. That pays $3,000 or more. The hours may be long but then one can use the waiting hours for e-learning, for computer networking, even to do some pushups and light weights. Everyone needs to be creative. And finally, save, save, save for the rainy days.

  7. Mel said

    I have worked overseas for five years and returned to Singapore 2-1/2 years ago to spend more time with my family…and I’ve got more than I bargained for. 2-1/2 years on and still no job offers…only five unsuccessful interviews. I am not choosy, willing to accept a third of my last drawn monthly salary. I think I have to drive taxi soon, because at age 44 in Singapore you are deemed useless even though you are still fit with 20+ years of valuable experience. The employers seem to prefer third world young foreigners with unrecognized degrees or certificates from third world institutions.

  8. joker said

    1. how to survive? hdb 3-room costs > S$300000.
    2. sad story indeed.
    3. CHANGE now!

  9. Ron said

    Having worked a full career I retired and started up my international consultancy and busines development. Life has never been more wonderful. I do not depend on Spore but it is useful as a home. And even then I am now spending more time in another country which has great weather, great outdoors and ocean attractions.

    Spore is but a small red dot…. hence opportunities are limited. There is a big world out there. And Singaporeans should look overseas for work. Those who think work can only be found in Spore, has not explored the international arena.

    • J said

      Totally Agreed Ron! Singaporeans can offer more that FT. Only thing Singaporeans need, is to pick up everything and maKe the career move overseas…

  10. jaded said

    are you sure this is true? our govt says that there are plenty of jobs, just that singaporeans are lazy! singaporeans are choosy!

    I don’t know but since they are ministers, they make so much money, they are scholars and so smart, they must be correct.

    • Alan Lau said

      u must be one of those daft Singaporeans the Minister has talked about … daft people like you believed them and in return killed my of our own people … please open your eyes and see the real Singapore …
      Ask yourself this question, if you are a boss, will you hire a local who is definitely expensive or a foreigner who will take half or even less than what you give a local

    • Steve said

      Foreign talents are flocking into Singapore every single day and it is the war of only the strong survive 🙂
      Singaporeans are in some ways lazy and too complacent with life.
      Born and raised locally blinds the sense of competition in Singaporeans and if only we Singaporeans take a step outside to see how it is really like in developing countries, we will never understand the word “competition”.
      Degree fresh graduates getting paid equivalent to SGD $800/ monthly.
      No wonder they would take up any jobs that pay them SGD $2000/monthly and more of them are coming.
      It is a wake up call for all of us out there.

      • Steve said

        sorry the above was meant to be a post.

      • uneducated singaporean said

        The whole issue here is not about competing with Fs, but the fact that garment policies make it too easy for the FTs to get employment pass in SG. The shift in policy is so obvious! Previously a company has to employ x singaporeans before the boss can even consider malaysians. Now is totally different. Why is that so? It’s not that singaporeans are not able to do the work, it’s rather the amount of money that we are getting to do the work.

        You mentioned that fresh uni grads get $800 a month, but how much does it cost to feed a family there? You are the one that needs to wake up. Or maybe you are the one that is living in a cocoon for the last 30 years?

      • Mel said

        You must be an idiot or a stupid fool!

    • Alex said

      U’re a stupid fuck

    • SarcasmSpotted? said

      Cant you guys sense the sarcasm…. Lol…

  11. 龙的传人 said


  12. Alvin said

    if i were Thomas..i’d apply for a job in another hesitation to leave this place but then again..his wife is are all here…sigh…

    if i could, i wish i were in thailand..God grant me this please..

  13. Adrian Pang said

    According to Bloomberg… of the 122,600 jobs created in Singapore last year, 70% went to Foreigners!!!!

    Bloody hell!! The PAP are bastards.

  14. Jason said

    Does this 1 case reflect/represent the whole population? How come there are no cases of average graduates getting good paying jobs cos I actually know quite a number of them. Objectivity is key, pointless posts just incite hatred.

  15. god said

    I think we should start to do some things. If not things will not change. We cant just sit there do nothing about our own country. We have to stand up. Now. Hope we have a proper channel to do this in a peaceful manner.

  16. Wake up Singaporeans - why you sleep so long liao said

    Wake up Singapore – If there is no job on OFFER for you out there – how about you MAKE your own…
    Create a start-up company – find something that people want, be it services or consultancy and then do it…
    If you have so much brains – and such big degrees – then you can do this easily…
    Oh – by the way – I have NO degree – just 25 years experience and I have plenty of job offers, but I wont stoop to taking only 150k SGD, far too beneath me…
    ohh – I’m also an Ang Moh – the kind you look down your noses at – that fills the jobs that companies cannot fill locally – that people like me with experience but NO DEGREE fill…
    My rice bowl is full thank you… and My MNC also has over 500 engineering positions vacant but you have to go overseas to fill them…
    Come-on smart people – IF you are so smart, fill these jobs for an MNC – starting pay – about 6 figures USD… the jobs have been advertised for over 4 months now…

  17. Wasted said

    It’s a no-brainer for employers to pick FTs over locals especially before they have fufilled their NSmen liabilities. Why pay the same salary to someone who will disappear from your company 2-10 weeks every year?
    On the other hand, the government will counter-reason with you that if wages in Singapore are not ‘artificially cheap’, MNCs will not want to set up shop here.

    The guy mentioned above has probably ROD-ed but the point is: he has done his fair share of work. The fundamental argument is that NSmen have made Singapore a desirable location to set up businesses for foreign MNCs as well as local businesses. Without military defense, who would plough millions of dollars into the Singapore economy? But in this climate, these ex-NSmen are forsaken due to this thing the politicians termed ‘structural unemployment’. This form of structural unemployment is not caused by Globalisation or changes in our new Knowledge-Based Economy. It is probably due to oversight. The problem shouldn’t be hard to fix, assuming that Singapore does have the ‘best talents’ in top-tier civil service.

    If we are to import FTs, we should at least level the playing ground. It is not fair for Singaporean men with NS liabilities (not to mention that NS also made Singaporean men older by 2 years as against their foreign counterparts) to compete against FTs who are younger and better educated. There should be measures in place to reposition the starting blocks fairly since men who did NS are severely disadvantaged.

    PS: 2 years plus 10 ICTs is a great opportunity cost especially in today’s globalised environment and Knowledge-Based Economy. An average university graduate, diploma holder or ITC/NTC holder could have upgraded their qualifications at least by 1-2 tiers with this amount of time. The 10 ICTs also happen during one of the most pivotal junctures of their careers. CEPs do not go any higher in the civil service after a certain age (say 45?). This is even worse (more cut throat) in the private sector.

  18. jt said

    The people of Singapore deserves to know the figure for under-employment in the workforce, instead of the useless 2.5% unemployment figure mooted by the MDM, which simply includes housemakers and prisoners. For the reasons mentioned in the article and many of the comments, being unemployed is simply not an option in Singapore due to the social context. Under-employment is a better measurement of the makeup of our workforce.

  19. seah said

    Sad to hear yr problem,spoream is really STUPID

  20. Boy said

    Why don’t apply in a engineering job in our local Defence industries, like SAF, ST etc?

  21. My advice said

    Thomas, go take up nursing course for the sake of yourself and your family. After you have graduated from the course, work for few years to gain the relevant work experience before you apply to be a real FT in Aust or NZ, they have shortage of qualified nurse there.
    Life is short but live it with dignity and sadly it can no longer be found in S’pore.

  22. yehta said

    Good for you for accepting $1600 job. I couldnt even get a job for $1400-1500 sal and forced to drive taxi despite being degree holder and 20 years PMET experience. Guess what, I even worked as car park valet for $5 per hour, no benefits,no CPF! Then when I apply e2i, was given interview at Marina Bay Sands. Come 2nd interview, i unfortunately broke my leg while driving taxi and asked for another interview date a month later. They (MBS) didnt even bother to call back despite my many reminders, See Sg how jialat??? Sporeans want job, go try all govt agencies like e2i,CDC,WDA etc will only offer u job as 7-11 store assistants or food court, all pay abt $1,000pm. So in the end can only drive taxi. I am older than u bro, am over 50 yrs old but now all kinds of medical problems as a result of driving taxi but o pian. We are all jobless bec of humongous nos of fts and cheap foreigners, even apply as a bell-hop in hotel, got no chance. Now tons of taxidrivers all younger and younger and very competitve. You must slog very hard to survive and always be alert. Soon even taxi job will be extra competitive as “new citizens” like PRC, Ah nehs and pinoys will also be able to drive taxis. A lot of my hongki friends now SG citizens also driving taxi.
    Take care, vote ‘wisely” in next GE!

  23. Zhang said

    suffer suffer more you lament the more you suffer…u blame about FTs and u all talk about going overseas as FTs. what the hell you will all be called as.. LOL no place for you guys ..GET OUT!!!

  24. loo said

    What can our goverment do to help citizens? Impose more tax incentives for coys to employ locals and offset with incresing tax on the wealthier Singaporeans? Establish a ratio of employability of citizens vs overseas nationals or PR for every coy? I think this is one of the meaning to building an inclusive society where we are in to solve the problem together. So how can the rich work with our govt to come out with a solution rather than the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer? Lets really mean We Are Singaporeans when we say it. So is this a good suggestion?

  25. nihon said

    fts come here are not talent, but like that sicko zhang who thinks he is. but singaporeans are valued overseas, as fts cos we really are more productive.

    • Ft is floor trap said

      Who say they have no talents? They have talents to rob your jobs, jack up your HDB resale price, breakdown your trains, take your govt scholarships and snatch your husbands.

  26. Hi..

    Competition is everywhere…Do NOT give up! DO NOT RUN AWAY from problems..Be Persistence…Patient…Keep going.
    There are always way out if we look in a different perpectives and take the next opportunity with an open mind…and if you see what I see. I was in the same mode of retrenchment, lower pay bla bla bla…but I am determine there will be something good for me, for family and others..Only WE have To DO IT!!! Have POSTITIVE THOUGHTS.

    A little sharing….
    S’pore CPF policy.

    In 2013 , policy holder who do not have $195,000 in their account at retirement age of 65yrs old , will not be able to cash out their hard earn money ,
    … policy holders will instead be given $5000 per annum for their old age from their CPF account.

    Meaning $5000 / 12 mths = $416.67 for monthly expenses.
    If we take inflation & medical cost at old age into account ,
    the money is not sufficient for us to retire at $65 yrs,

    we Must have enough saving , insurance policy or investment to ensure we can retire comfortably, If not we hv to look our self working at 65yrs old as a toilet cleaner , at fast food chain, parking attendant & etc

    Are you looking yourself as such???

    If so, do call me for a non obligation retirement plan,
    How you can earn extra $100 monthly,
    $500 monthly
    $1000 monthly
    $2000 monthly
    $5000 monthly or
    your comfortable sum of money that you want to have to spent monthly.
    Not at 65 years old, I can advice you how you can do it in just 1 year

    Feel free to drop me a msg for your retirement plan.


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