Recently, after I gave a talk to a group of university students on technology, a student walk up to me and asked if he took up a job in the company I worked, what is the length (how many years) is the employment contract. I told he there is no contract if people are hired, we prefer them to stay forever until they choose retire because we are working with high tech stuff that require extensive and continuous training. Unfortunately, the company where I work is fast becoming a rarity in its hiring policies. I've interviewed many young people in the past few years and became quite familiar with what employment is like for engineers and IT professionals in Singapore today. It is easy to find someone who had 4 different jobs in 6 years. One applicant came with a pile of certification and list training courses he attended, he told me he paid for every one of those because the short term nature of employment means that employers are reluctant to spend too much on training. Some companies hire people for the duration of one project and retrench them when the project is over. Increasing numbers are hired in temp jobs lasting a few months as employers are unwilling to commit to hiring full time.
While this phenomena is something that has occurred world wide, it is has become far worse in Singapore because having a large foreign influx means there is always a ready pool manpower available and employers do not hold on to workers during the bad times because they don't have to fear that they will have difficulty hiring during the good times. In good times, they have manpower from the foreign influx so they don't have to hire older workers creating a structural unemployment problem in Singapore.
This rising phenomena of "unstable" employment has been linked to falls in fertility (Job Insecurity and the Timing of Parenthood). So far all govt measures have failed to improve fertility and a few of the measures fail by design. Take the example of financial incentives in the form of tax rebates that has to be claimed within a limited time frame. This is clearly aimed at higher income individuals who need little financial assistance in the first place - how was it suppose to improve fertility rate by targeting certain segments of the population instead of all families? Here the govt mixes its social engineering goals with the measures to improve fertility. In the 80s, they wanted to implement the graduate parents scheme providing incentives only to graduate mothers to have more children. It is no surprise they can't make a dent on the low fertility problem because they are boxed in by one man's "hard truth" belief that graduate parents have smarter children. There is little wonder why we have made no progress to improve fertility rates in Singapore.
Today, the govt uses the low fertility as a justification for the large foreign influx. The large foreign influx results in increased competition for jobs and housing as well as rise in structural unemployment. It puts Singaporeans in a vicious cycle of lower fertility and increased foreign influx. There is little doubt if things continue, Singaporeans will be a minority in their own country. It would be fine if we are not a nation with little aspiration to become one. If Singapore is just an economy where people are free to come and go based on where they can find the best opportunities, we go back to what we were before independence when we were a trading post somewhere in the British Empire. Today we have Singaporeans who are the 3rd or 4th generation here. There is something worth protecting for the young men who serve their NS - that something is eroded away with each passing year....