This was sent to me recently by one of my readers. It’s a commentary posted in Facebook by a CEO of a local company and he appears to be lamenting about how challenging it is to hire native youths these days.

This post is to highlight that it is getting more challenging to attract quality local workforce over the years. The mindset and attitude of certain Singaporeans especially the young ones are appalling.
While I am writing this as the CEO of a company, I’m waiting for a candidate who is late for 60 mins (without informing). Most of the times when they do turned up, they “demand” unrealistic expectation with very little results to show. In fact, it seems that these young Singaporeans find working in an environment for more than 2 years disgraceful. In another word, “job hopping”, showing a lack of perseverance. Ironically, they dream about working 4 hours work week and yet becoming the next Mark Zuckerberg or Ma Yun.
I nearly flipped when one of them asked me about work life balance when she’s only 24.
One asked what can the company do for her? It seems the world evolve around her.
Another one looked daze when asked about his vision and passion.
One shook her head when asked whether it is ok to take on a slightly bigger responsibility.
The attitude of local workforce worries me.
The young people in Singapore worries me.
They lack of courage, hunger and fire in them.
It seems that they have been living in a cotton candy world called Singapore.
Is this the future of our country?
Can you blame company and entrepreneurs like us seeking foreign talents?
I’m concerned about our country competitiveness if this is the quality of our young generation.’

The question is do I agree with this CEO. To be perfectly frank with all of you. I don’t really know. What I do know is. There is no basis to take his rant seriously…At best it’s just a gross generalization….a gross simplification…a gross reductionism of what appears to be a very complicated problem. Definitely not something serious people would regard as anecdotal. Though I am very sure since the letter was addressed to the government of Singapore, it would undoubtedly be given serious treatment.

This should prompt us all to ask. If we had to boil it all down. What’s the crux of this CEO’s lament?

To me he’s just saying certain native youths these days just don’t have what it takes to make them appealing to firms. So he much prefers to place his bets of foreigners. To paraphrase, the hopes, aspirations and definition of personal success of native youths are simply irreconcilable with the goals of his firm. There is no way in which individual and firm can see eye to eye, let alone craft common ground to even work together and if this continues this will sound the death knell of Singaporean firms.

Since I run my own business. This is definitely not terra incognito to me lah. It’s really part and parcel of managing myself and others.

For me I don’t buy into the populist stereotypical view, youths these days necessarily suffer from an ‘entitlement mentality.’ They lack conscientiousness. Or they’re even somehow less worthy than the generation of workers that came before them. If anything they’re just not as gullible and even a tad cynical about their prospects when compared to the generation before them.

I mean this hardly requires any elaboration to the perceptive reader. Not when one considers many of these youths who are now entering the workforce all grew up sitting in the front row – watching in full technicolor and THX stereo – the sad life of daddy, mummy or someone who they once heard about being played out by the big bad company who rewarded their hard work, dedication and impeachable work ethic with mass retrenchments, cheaper talents, pay freezes and having to work till eight.

Having to live thru an age when all firms seemed to do was to chase unmitigated profit relentlessly at every turn and opportunity – till the timeless covenant that once cemented the worker and corporation became a joke has to be like going thru cancer of the confidence.

After all given that this generation that is now entering the labor market witnessed first hand – the equities of work along with how cold, calculating and heartless firms can be and how not even the once robust idea – if you work hard. You will be rewarded was just surreptitiously sweep away when the government decide to open the floodgates to FT. Wonder no more, why they’re now blasé about the whole idea of giving their all to a firm. Why should they? When the whole idea of hard work doesn’t even hold true to its promise of delivering the good life? How can anyone possibly blame them for smacking of self centeredness and even being pushy about their terms of employment?

The irony these days while millennials now entering the work force are consistently panned by firms as not having the ‘right stuff.’ But no one ever seems to ever these firms – why should any prospective worker with two brain cells to spare above the IQ of idiot have any good reason to place their mental and physical well being…let alone their future, in the hands of firms when all they seem to do is to squeeze every milliliter of blood from the worker only to throw them out like squashed oranges.

When one sees it from this vantage. Then it becomes all too clear – why things are the way they are.

Nope! My gut feel tells me. This is a generation that doesn’t need scolding. They need constant affirmation and understanding.

A little understanding goes a very long way….with perhaps some soul searching on the part of firms and policy makers.

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‘Look here! This is not new – not at all. It’s just old dressed as new. Gripping about youths on the cusp of adulthood being bloody useless happens in every generation. The first graffiti archeologist found in Luxor when they were digging some tomb was, ‘fuck those young good for nothings! They don’t know a circle from a fucking square!’ That was a lament of an old master concerning his less than conscientious apprentices. And if you peruse thru the classics even before the birth of Christ – it’s a reoccurring lament in every age. It’s just a generational divide, that reflects the way old people have always seen young people.

No da Vinci code there lah. No mystery even.

Having said that. I will give you this! That doesn’t mean there are no differences between this generation of workers from other generations. Or that if there are differences they are only marginal.

No! You are all not listening to me.

There is a difference…but it relates to degree and intensity. If before the scale of the difference from each successive generation was 3 or 4. Then today it must be a perfect 10 lah! This accounts for why its so hard for millennials to dock with mindset of folk who run businesses these days.

So this should prompt intelligent folk to ask why such a big margin now, when before there was at least some resemblance of similarity that allowed for continuity and mutual gain.

The answer in my opinion resides in the changing attitudes of firms brought forth by the evil forces of globalization. Firms these days are just lousy purveyors of la Dolce Vita especially so if you happen to be young and just entering the workforce. Today these differences or a better word would be shift in working attitudes are so acute and disproportionally magnified. They even pose a real and present threat to the whole idea craving competitiveness for a nation. That is why they need to be understood. As if the imperative is to craft a solution – then we don’t need whiners like that CEO. He’s and others who regularly scold the millennials can never be part of the solution…because they are the problem. So they’re good for nothing in my solution workshop.

First of all. I don’t think it’s productive to be presentist about this whole problem. Not if we are going to get to the root of the causal factors.

As when one looks at the business landscape today and compare it with the past – it’s really not the same place.

Most the hiring managers I feel don’t consciously know how good they had it in their time – and this failure of imagination on their part to understand what youths are facing these days as they prepare to enter the workforce renders their power to influence somewhere at zero lah – wonder no more whenever they speak about this subject – they even sound like old soldiers talking about modern warfare in an age when war was still waged in trenches with fixed bayonets and horse drawn carriages. This can only exacerbate matters.

But these erudite lot are also the same people who are only to quick to forget – they were probably the most affirmed generation in human history.

We were all without a single exception from that generation, where it’s possible for one to believe wholeheartedly in the idea – a job meant security. Hard work pays out steady dividends. And being conscientious would get you that car and somewhere in that happy diorama of your life. A sweet girl in a short skirt could always be counted to appear and babies would just pop up like delicious hot toast from a toaster. Things were stable then…they were dependable and one felt, anything was possible….

This is what it means by not been presentist and understanding that every age has with it’s own unique drivers and histories that shapes attitudes and opinions.

But look around you these days. The only thing that is certain is there will be more uncertainty.

I am not saying the business landscape is bust! Far from it. Or that we should all shave our heads and go to some monastery and live on diets of sunflower seeds. But even you cannot deny. This is a certainly a less confident age when compared to past ages – as for firms. They can’t even be trusted to keep their end of the bargain that once cemented worker to corporations. That sacred relationship has been used and abused so many times by firms in the name of financial expediency to a point where it’s worthless and totally evacuated of meaning!. Firms these days are literally willing to do anything just to turn a buck. They hire and fire as if people are just faceless statistics on some excel spreadsheet. They put profit before people. There is this Cantonese saying – ‘mo Yang Cheng,’ – no honor. That is the age millennials live in.

Since the definition of organizational success just turns on one key performance indicator – money…money….money. That relegates the employee to just a very expandable asset – and that sort of shitty culture is bound to have a chelating effect on the human spirit along with corroding confidence, trust and perhaps even the making a mockery of the idea – if you work hard. You will succeed!

That why today you get these millennials asking shoot me in the foot questions in job interviews like – is there work life balance? What can you do for me? Can I have the least possible responsibility and highest pay out?

To me these are signs of disenchanted people who have simply grown cynical. Mistrustful and have zero faith in the system…they no longer believe, the firm is a reliable purveyor of the good life any longer. And that may account for the me, me and me…take, take and take mentality that is so prevalent these days with millennials.

To exabecerate that dynamic. It’s conceivable the digital revolution has created a new type of individual that human history has never seen before. Einstein once said his greatest fear was when technology overtakes mankind – I say we have already intersected that line 10 years ago!

So what are you dealing with! An individual whose not accustomed to bearing out with patience the beauty of the written word. The individual who flits like a butterfly wantonly between Facebook…work…and ten other distractions. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the millennials suffer from some form of mass dyslexia or that they necessary require Prosac just to get thru a working day.

It just means the whole idea of how millennials define personal and organization success is so radically different from the last or any generation. It’s conceivable for firms to leverage on their strengths meaningfully – they too need to think radically about how to attract and retain talent in this age.

Gone are the days when youths will just take a run with what you have to say. You may say, no need degree go and work and you will succeed….and they will just give you the finger and go the opposite direction as there is a chronic deficit of trust of officialdom these days.

Because in the mind of the millennials, this whole idea of being able to reach for the stars along with the Hollywood promise of redemption and getting that girl that my generation believed in is broken…it’s kaput….finito. If anything that idea these days sounds valedictory and belongs to a bygone age.

Many things these days that we once took granted. The youths of today can never aspire to own, cars, houses, the very idea of being your own man who lives life under your own terms….Let’s not even discuss the complexity of trying to juggle work, life and play in the world most expensive city? That’s why millennials don’t plan to start families these days – even Sengkang Sally these days is opting to hang up her eggs, because just to make the wheel of life turn is so darn hard.

When we look at the problem from this vantage. Then it’s has more to do with a crisis of confidence that the two dimensional stick argument that is usually forwarded – millennials don’t have the fire in their belly. They are lack conscientiousness. Suffer from an aversion to hard work and can’t seem to get it together to perseverance — if anything this attitude has more to do with the recognition that no company they decide to work for can actualize their hopes and aspirations any longer. If they don’t fuck me in the ass by working me to the bone. I should consider myself lucky. So they don’t look at work in the way our generation did – as a magic carpet that makes the whole idea of upward mobility possible. No they don’t. To them it will always be a grind. That to me is the attitude of defeated people.

To me it’s conflictual at so many levels of understanding – the mental…spiritual….and what it means to suppress and kill one’s hope in an age when everything is so far from one’s grasp. As one instinctively knows it’s unreachable…unattainable even. So why even try, like a crie de couer and that is something that will always be very sad to me…..very very sad.

Because if I had to start life under present day conditions like many of these millennials. I really don’t think I would have lived my life that way I did – For starters I wouldn’t even dare to dream. I would probably work for a few months in a fast food chain, save up, travel and try to find some sliver of happiness somewhere in that life of dissipation. After all what’s the point when everyone is out to screw the shit out of me!

The pathos our time when seen thru the eyes of youths these days is not the rosy picture that I had. It can at best be summed up succinctly in Yeats dystopian poem.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all doom and gloom. Or that from now it’s downhill all the way to long kang land. No far from it – that’s only possible if you believe millennials have nothing to offer – but they do. They can multi-task effectively unlike moir. They’re sublimely clever when it comes to cooperating and keeping the peace unlike all of us who are busy sticking daggers into each other’s backs. And they’re nibble to change. If we lost our jobs. It would probably hit us hard. But to them it will bounce off like shell on a Tiger tank. Good to go again!

So to me they have a natural built in resilience…we just need to work on their strengths and fill out those deficits. Black holes like – lack of hope and faith in the whole idea of a better tomorrow. And that in a nutshell is the executive summary of how I see the problem!

Hope and very idea of faith in the idea of being able to create a better tomorrow is key.

I mean if you give me human material with a hope and faith deficit and expect me to make things happen. It’s like giving micheangelo clay to work with and denying him fine Italian marble – he would just turn out great flower pots and no more. Understand this! We can’t send young men to Africa to farm…not if they do not believe in the idea they have no control to better their lives. Not It’s not good! It’s infanticide!

So do you all see why ‘hope’ now needs to be seen in terms of a strategic asset. A strategic precondition before anything can even be done. When I once spoke about the idea of ‘hope,’ restoring the traditional patriarchal compact between the corporation and the worker – you all called labelled me ‘Adolf hitler’ in the Imperium.

No gentlemen. These days I am not so sure any longer the way to progress meaningfully is by barreling headlong mindlessly on the path to globalization that seems to chelate everything that makes life worth living. I have already written tomes to sink a battleship concerning how this is at best a fail human experiment and today we have arrived at the endpoint when this circle has closed.

Rather I believe as I have always believed – when we vex endlessly about how difficult it is to get millennials to lead purpose driven lives these days – the perverse result may well be the firm or political outfit that can revive the old compact between worker and firm and citizen and state in the traditional way I once mooted in this house…..is set to win. To put it another way. To make progress by going backwards….and that my friends would certainly be irony of the highest order.’