The Big Read: Young, retrenched and ready to start over – a new norm for workers in a more volatile economy?

However, Mr Adrian Choo, chief executive of recruitment firm Career Agility International, believes that retrenchments now “are no longer necessarily tied to recession cycles”.

Instead, they may be due to rapidly changing technology or shifting of customer demand for products, which may sometimes result in the company closing entire business units and setting up new ones, he said. 

The recent spikes in retrenchment numbers could be driven by different forces.

Mr Linus Choo, executive director of recruitment firm Ethos BeathChapman Asia, said that the high rate of retrenchment in late 2020 was “largely due to cost pressures brought on by COVID-19’s disruption to businesses” he said.

“(Retrenchments from the) second quarter of 2022 onwards may squarely be pinned to the past quarter of interest rate hikes by the United States Federal Reserve, knock-on effect brought about by failures of some large financial institutions, and the war in Ukraine that has driven the cost of raw materials and commodities up.”

Some experts such as Mr Alex Holmes, a senior economist at Oxford Economics, also noted that the recent retrenchments were mainly conducted by a few specific industries.

Though given that Singapore is “a very externally focused economy”, he expects more jobs to be affected as “exports soften and global growth fades”.

According to the latest figures, Singapore’s non-oil domestic exports contracted for the eighth consecutive month in May, falling by 14.7 per cent.

“So at the moment, (retrenchment) is very narrow-based in certain industries … But I wouldn’t be surprised if it does start to widen over the coming months and quarters,” Mr Holmes said.

Mr Mark Teoh, organisation transformation leader at Deloitte Southeast Asia, added that companies may go through multiple rounds of layoffs instead of conducting a one-off exercise due to evolving business needs, market conditions, and restructuring efforts.

“It allows them to adjust their workforce gradually and align resources with changing priorities,” said Mr Teoh.

Mr Goh Jia Yong, people advisory services partner at professional services firm EY, noted that the industries driving the retrenchments “are observed to generally have good age and generational diversity”.

“Retrenchment efforts within these sectors will affect both younger and mature workers alike,” he added.

Independent human resource analyst Adrian Tan said that companies might choose to axe its older workers who tend to hold more senior positions and cost more on the payroll.

However, when entire departments or units get shut down due to “a business pivot”, then “young or old, (there’s) no discrimination” in layoffs, he added.

Companies in Singapore are obligated to inform MOM when carrying out retrenchment exercises.

MOM did not respond to TODAY’s queries on the number of firms which have conducted more than one round of layoffs since the pandemic, or whether the number of companies executing multiple rounds of retrenchments has increased over the years.  


An engineer in his 20s, who gave his first name as Muhammad, was made redundant this year during his company’s retrenchment exercise, less than a year into the job – his first since graduating from university last year.

Though he had tried to brace himself as best as he could for D-Day, as the impending layoffs were “announced beforehand”, he still felt the shock when the moment arrived.

“I was pretty much at a loss for words and was just trying to mentally calm myself down,” he said.

“Questions like ‘why me?’ ran through my mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask them. Perhaps because I knew they wouldn’t give a proper answer anyway.”

Meanwhile at job portal company, Mr Syukri Azman said there was already some writing on the wall – in the form of a hiring freeze from last November and growing chatter about “some reorganisation happening” – which left the staff simmering in uncertainty for months until the axe actually fell in March.

“But throughout the entire period, nobody knew (for certain). Even the regional senior directors had no idea,” said the 29-year-old, who was working in a training and people development role there for about 15 months.

Those who spoke to TODAY said they received severance packages that were largely tied to the length of their tenure in the company.

For the retrenched engineer Muhammad, this allowed him to take up courses and focus on his job search without worrying about having to take on a part-time job, as the severance package he received could have tied him over for “a few months at least”.

He managed to secure a new job in the same industry “within three to five months” of his retrenchment. 

As for Mr Syukri, having been in the workforce for about eight years, he took a three-month break from active job applications to pursue side gigs that he enjoyed, including working on his own lifestyle content creation channel, Syukeats.

More importantly, he also spent the time carefully thinking about his next career steps while speaking with people in the industries he was interested in to better position himself during job applications.

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