Singapore will be celebrating its 50th birthday in 2015. The nation and its citizens are one of Asia’s greatest success stories, transforming itself from a Third World economy with a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of S$1,374 (US$1,136) in 1961 to become one of the most competitive economies in the world, with a GDP per capita of US$64,584 (S$80,253) last year in 2013. No other nation state can match this record. Will we be able to repeat the same achievement for the next 50 years with our ‘Strawberry’ generation?
Have We Rested Enough On Our Laurels?
Yes, we have achieved extraordinary success but our own people particularly our younger generation seem to be pretty tired of hearing these success stories. With the ‘Papa, don’t preach’ mentality, they take our current economical status for granted totally ignoring the toil and sweat put in by our forefathers. ‘Relax’ they say, we have a good head start. It will take a while for our countries to catch up.
In the face of increasing competition from foreign talents, Singaporeans should be thinking of ways to enhance their own productivity and employability. Unfortunately, we are harping on less critical issues such as the crowded Mass Rapid Transit trains; the long wait for Housing Board flats; the traffic jams on our highways; the soaring COE (Certificate of Entitlement) premiums and so on.
No More Sugar Coating Of Hard Times Ahead
Young Singaporeans need to be told straight in the face that our success over the past 50 years was so ‘out of the world’ that it would be almost impossible for us to attain the same level of results in the next 50 years.
In his National Day message to the unionist, Labour Chief Lim Swee Say shared that although Singapore is currently enjoying low unemployment rate and higher wages, he hopes our Singapore story to be one about “higher re-employment age for mature workers, a more progressive wage ladder for lower wage workers, a more capable and productive workforce, and a more inclusive and gracious society that accepts, appreciates and respects one another.”
Our future generation will also be facing a bottleneck on land. This means that they are likely to be paying significantly higher prices for our residential homes and cars. We cannot be building condominiums for each Singaporean family and Singapore already has one of the highest car ownership populations for a city. As of April 2014, about 560,000 households owned at least one car each for a total of 605,184 cars!
Last but not least, our nation is losing its key top positions in recent years. Singapore was one of the first Asian countries to open our economy to global Multi-National Corporations (MNCs). Today every country does that and many are growing at amazing rate every year. It won’t be long before Singapore gets overtaken as the regional economic hub.
We lost our status as being the best in global services and logistics too. Dubai International airport has become a much busier airport with 67.3 million international passengers passed through Dubai, compared with 53.1 million through Changi. Emirates used to look up to Singapore Airlines for inspiration but now they have progress to be twice as big.
With our first mover advantage quickly eroded away, it is now time for all Singaporeans to ‘wake up their idea’ and stop lamenting on petty issues. The next 50 years will not be a pretty sight if we refuse to pull up our socks and rise to the challenge.
Dim Future With Our Strawberry Generation?
In my previous article on Will Singapore Degree Holders Become Maids Overseas One Day, I shared how many Singaporean parents today are unable to fully impart the same values of putting in hard work to build a stable and secured career to our next generation.
This new generation of Singaporeans is sometimes called the ‘Strawberry Generation’. Used initially by the Taiwanese, the term arises from the perception that these members of the generation have grown up being overprotected by their parents and in an environment of economic prosperity – just like how strawberries are grown in protected greenhouses and command a higher price compared to other fruits.
Growing up in such a ‘nurturing’ environment, we created tremendously hopeful kids with unrealistic expectations about their careers with little or no resistance to hardship and failures. These young adults “bruise easily” like strawberries. They cannot withstand social pressure or work hard like their parents’ generation and are often seen as workers who are insubordinate, spoiled, selfish, arrogant and even sluggish at work.
With rapid globalization and strong competition from foreign talents streaming into the workforce, our Strawberry Generation hardly stands a fighting chance.
All Is Not Lost For Singapore
Despite the negative general perception of Strawberry Generation, there are glimpses of hope among young Singaporeans who are aspiring to be better individuals in their lives, actively contributing to society’s progress and giving back to the community constantly.
Seah Keng Tia, Chairperson of Young NTUC, youth wing of labour movement in Singapore mentioned in his forum letter that Young NTUC have “seen young Singaporeans aspiring to be better individuals in their lives, (and) actively contributing to society’s progress and giving back to the community constantly.”
These young adults are brought up in a different environment from their parents. As a group, they are more educated, better exposed to global trends and highly tech-savvy. They may have different perception of the ‘typical’ career path set out by the previous generation but they are no less motivated for success. To progress with this new workforce, Singapore has to know how to activate their full potential.
1. Always State The Reason Upfront
These young adults want to find purpose in their toil and their career, which does not necessarily come from getting the highest possible salary or nicest office.
While their parent’s generation lives to work, our youths work to live. They are focused on making meaning, not just making money.
If you want them to be interested and work hard, you better share with them the purpose of their task and why it is important in the entire value chain. No more just handling down instructions.
2. Positive reinforcement.
To keep our young adults focused, we need to reward them frequently with positive feedback and citations for successful accomplishments and milestones on the road to longer-term achievements.
In daily operations, bosses should exercise clear authority but be approachable and willing to listen to their ideas and suggestions. They’re accustomed to the validation that comes from being heard.
3. Create A Team Environment
Our young adults tend to be highly social so create opportunities for interaction among colleagues. Open seating plans, monthly staff lunches or Friday morning coffee sessions will help them feel connected and make them more productive.
4. Showcase Their Growth Upfront
They are always asking this important question ‘What is it in for me?’ Show how they can grow from the role and task they have been appointed in.
Showcase your firm’s perks, such as in-house training programs or tuition reimbursement. Provide a comprehensive, formal mentoring program that pairs them with more seasoned employees who can help guide their professional development.
5. Challenge Them With Multi-tasking Roles
In general, try to give assignments that stretch their skills and allow them to develop multiple competencies, such as team leadership and project management.
Make sure these roles are diverse and interesting, this generation is not attracted to routine tasks and quickly becomes disengaged if not challenged.
6. Communicate Digitally With Them
Our young adults are big on technology and open to communications through all new communications platforms. Face to face communications and phone calls are sometimes deemed to be intrusive. So let’s all start a group chat on What’sapp to get things done!
Despite being sheltered from hardship and failures, I believe that Singapore’s future generation are still passionate about what they love. Their fervour will keep Singapore strong and equally successful in the next 50 year
So let’s not sabotage our nation’s future by refusing to adapt accordingly to this new generation. Instead of expecting this generation to change, let’s make adjustments on both ends and meet in the middle for a win win situation for our nation. If we work together, we can be an even more productive workforce and create a society that is more accepting and appreciative of one another.
We want to hear your views! Share with us through the comments section below.