Friday, 28 February 2014

The Missing Link

This blog gets about a thousand hits a day, but rarely do we come across genuinely thought-provoking comments. I am going to re-post one such comment made by 'Renard' in response to my previous post. Hope the discussion below will benefit other readers in his shoes.
Hello A & S,

I was brought to this blog after reading your exchanges with LIFT (those who know, knows). Kudos to the two of you for documenting your journey to the land of Oz and of course, for articulating the disappointment and resentment of many Singaporeans. I am one of the 'silent majority' who feels the brunt of everything wrong with this society and never have guessed that I would be making a comment on a blog or on any platform for that matter. Well, it took me this long.

Admitedly, I did not read the entirety of your blog and only managed to skim the highlights but I gathered that the two of you are now gainfully employed in Australia after crossing the immigration hurdles. Congratulations.

Having done a little research on the criteria for making the move a few years ago and after reading some blogs on the process (including yours), I'm still perplexed how the average Singaporean could have successfully migrated to Australia, university educated, no less. Allow me to elaborate on my doubts: the SOL clearly indicates a shortage in fields such as metallurgy, dentistry, rheumatology and welding among many others that we would normally consider 'niche' in Singapore. After all, how many metallurgists do we personally know of? Considering that job-search visas would not be granted for people who wish to 'try their luck' for a few months, how on earth do people actually set foot in Australia, let alone find a job at all?

Which brings me to the next question: we have obviously heard of people who are permanent residents of Australia working in jobs that are evidently not listed on the SOL, for instance, marketing (the infamous Amy Cheong comes to mind). I am going to assume that Amy Cheong obtained her PR the legitimate and legal way so it is all fair play here but I am quite certain office-based positions such as marketing, branding and what-nots are clearly not what Australia desperately lacks, so what gives? And I am not going to speculate that Amy Cheong was 'flexible' enough to retrain as a welder before receiving rights to remain in Australia and changing jobs thereafter. Obviously not.

The more I read about how people land in Australia without first having a job on the SOL, the more I feel something is not clearly explained; like the missing link in mankind's evolution for lack of a better analogy. It is almost as if a plumber told you he was elected to chair the committee of Genetic Research in Australia. We would be applauding and lavishing compliments for him having achieved that, and only to be struck by the realisation that something about the story is not quite complete. Not totally implausible for that to happen but you get the idea. What I am asking is, how would the average university-educated non-metallurgist non-cardiologist non-super-niche worker be able to gain entry into Australia? Would you like to shed some light here? Thank you.


 Hi Renard,

Thanks for the comment and the depth of thought put into it. You raised quite a few points and asked valid questions. 

1. Occupation Shortages in SOL

Besides metallurgy, welding, carpentry and other trade jobs on the SOL (which are admittedly not terribly glamorous and therefore 'niche' occupations in SG), there are also many jobs/fields listed on the SOL that Singaporeans could already be qualified in. These include:
  • Teachers of all levels (the number of staff in MOE is more than half the ENTIRE civil service)
  • Nurses
  • Accountants
  • Internal and External Auditors
  • Solicitors and barristers
  • Engineers (some more specialized than others)
  • Scientists
  • Many, many other occupations in the healthcare industry
Anyway, I'm guessing there are probably hundreds or thousands of already qualified / eligible Singaporeans who have thought of migration to Oz but keep holding back for various excuses reasons. I've spoken to quite a number of them when I was still in SG (mostly teachers, because of my background). After all, migration is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not everyone's cup of tea.

2. Job Search Visa

I'm not sure what you mean by 'job search visa'. If you are referring to working holiday visas, of course the chances will be slim because the employer will need to sponsor you if they hire you. If you are referring to tourist / visitor visa, I believe it is illegal to try to gain employment without first converting your visa to 457, which requires sponsorship.  There are plenty of locals/PRs who are already in Oz and qualified - cold knocking with the wrong type of visa is highly unlikely to achieve sustainable results. If you are referring to 457, then the comment doesn't make sense because those on 457 already have a job to begin with? Admittedly I have not 'studied' all the visas so there may be an option for job seekers I'm not aware of...?

3. The Missing Link

In response to your reading about how people land in Australia without first having a job on the SOL, let me state that my previous job in Singapore was on the Australia SOL, so I obviously do not belong to the special category you mentioned. I do believe at least one person in a family must offer an occupation on the main SOL or any of the State Nomination Occupation Lists (SNOL) in order to gain entry as a skilled PR under 189/190. Those who married PR / citizens or are children / parents of PR/citizens could also gain entry without being specially qualified (after a very long wait, but possible).

It's what you choose to do when the odds are stacked against you that defines you. If your job is NOT on the SOL or you are not married / related to any Australians and you wish to migrate, what would you choose to do about it? S and I personally know a fair number of people who belong to this group and they chose status quo - to do nothing. We also know a very small number who are in the midst of taking IELTS, switching their careers or considering further study in Australia. Which group are you?

From the perspective from someone who has already migrated, I would say you can only complete the story when you are on the other side. The intangible missing link for us is faith in the unknown, living with uncertainty, determination to make it work and shattering the deeply ingrained Singaporean mindset. Each migrant's story is so different so each migrant's perspective after coming over may be quite different. Please do ask other migrants for their opinions!

I hoped I've answered your question(s) to some extent. To put it very bluntly, the average degree holder who is not particularly skilled/talented nor married to an Australian nor working in a job on the main SOL/State's SOL will find it very difficult to gain entry as a Permanent Resident or Temporary Resident. The average person is unlikely to migrate. The average person will find excuses and complain about his circumstances. The average person will probably not change his occupation to gain entry into Australia. The average person will live an average life and wonder why he is unhappy.

The extraordinary, however, will find a way. 

- A

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Initial Observations about Work Life in Australia

Hey folks. I've been pretty much busy with adjusting to my new work-life schedule for the last couple of weeks after getting the coveted first full time job in Oz! It's been such an amazing and eye-opening 3 weeks, learning new skills and gaining work experience, especially since I've not actually worked or lived outside Singapore for the last 28 years.

To respond to readers and friends (who have been asking "How's work??") it's probably timely to pen down my initial observations on working in Australia.

Disclaimer! Most of the observations listed are from my personal experiences and based on conversations with Aussie colleagues, friends and other migrants. Depending on your industry/company, it may not apply to you. In addition, do note that I'm working in a different industry now so if you intend to be a teacher in Oz, many of the observations may not apply to you directly.

#1. People value work-life balance.

My colleagues (generally) come to work and leave on time. Because of confidentiality issues, no one brings any work home at all. No one checks or sends emails after work hours. No one works during lunchtime and few eat at their desk. God forbid, but no one needs to feel bad about stepping out of the office before the boss leaves! (Especially since the boss leaves on time, too!!)

Finally found the right path after 4 long years.

#2. People value other people over work.

"Work is important but people are more important." Some of my bosses used to say this back when I was in SG but I feel that in Australia, people genuinely mean it. That's because they don't (just) say it, they show it. There is no emotional/psychological 'penalty' on employees on sick, carer or maternity leave. When the going gets tough and targets cannot be achieved in time, work does not suddenly get 'delegated'. All overtime work is optional. Colleagues who have not spoken to you before are interested in what makes you tick rather than whether you can cover their duties.

#3. People work smarter, not harder.

Point #1 may give you the false impression that Australians are lazy. Truthfully, they aren't. They just know when to work and when to stop. While they are working, they generally work smart too. Ergonomic office designs, using technology to maximize efficiency and having occasional group-led stretching really improves worker health and efficiency. During lunchtime, most of the Aussie colleagues go for their daily stroll in the nearby park or take a powernap on the grass! I kid you not.

I've yet to try it, but I will!

#4. Overtime 'Compensation' - What's that?

Overtime is paid???!!! Got the shock of my life 2 days ago when the team manager asked if I was keen to do OT today (Sat). Apparently lunch is provided, work hours are from 9 to 3 and the weekend work hours are paid 1.5 - 2 times the weekday hourly rate!

For all my non-Singaporean readers, I will point out the fact that a large proportion of employees earning a fixed monthly salary in SG are typically not entitled to OT compensation. Apparently, it is 'understood' that one is paid to do a certain amount of work then no additional compensation will be given for work that is 'supposed to be done anyway'. Never mind when additional work is given. Never mind that the work may be assigned last minute. No wonder Singapore has such a high percentage of unhappy workers. Money doesn't buy happiness but it sure sucks to be taken for granted most of the time.

#5. Rostered Day Off (RDO) - Huh?

A question for readers who have been working in Oz for a long time... Is having RDOs a typical practice? Apparently, some companies (including the one I work for) ask that each employee works an extra 45 mins a day so that they can get an extra day off each month (on top of annual leave and PH). To ensure you enjoy your day off, it is also usually scheduled on a Friday for a guaranteed long weekend once a month?! Talk about good welfare!!

#6. Trust - it works both ways

On my second day of work, I innocently queried a random colleague on how I should go about reporting daily attendance. She must have thought I was from outer space. Apparently the company never had a need to monitor punctuality. There is a shared calendar where HR updates all approved leave so everyone knows exactly who isn't around for the day. In return, I have observed that people are rarely late. (though 60% of my colleagues arrive 2-3 minutes before the clock strikes 9! Talk about precision.) The manager sends out an additional email on days where colleagues take emergency leave/report at a later time.

#7. Taking Sick Leave aka 'Sickie'

To add on to my point about trust, employees are allowed to take sick leave with no documentation for up to 3 consecutive days. Documentations may be required only if the company deems that an employee has taken too many days of sick leave in a year.

No need to 'chao keng' / pretend to be sick in Oz!

#8. Emails are short, sweet and polite. Meetings, too!

The longest email I've received so far had about 3 paragraphs of content. Typical emails are 2-3 sentences and straight to the point. The longest meeting I've had so far is 15 minutes. No one took minutes/notes, everyone who had something to say gave their input and the session was conducted using a small whiteboard. Apparently, the longest meetings are no more than 30 minutes and meetings are held no more than once a fortnight (where I work).

It just makes sense, right? Fewer/shorter meetings and fewer/shorter emails = more time to do actual work. 4 years working in Singapore and I can conclude with certainty that Singaporeans are way behind in this aspect.

Asian logic: More meetings are good! Longer meetings are better!!

#9. Salary and Benefits are NOT a secret!

Most policies to do with leave, benefits and especially salary are considered extremely confidential back in SG when I was working in HR. To my utter amazement, such policies in Oz are discussed between the employer and union and the details of the agreement are readily available online. Click on this link to view a list of actual union agreements for some TAFE institutes. Most of them include the salary ranges and detailed work rights and entitlements, to ensure fairness to employees and for benchmarking purposes.

#10. Hierarchy and Salutations, or the lack thereof

This is something probably not that common in Oz I would think, but definitely one aspect I am extremely thankful for at my current workplace. Our department has just one manager, with the rest of the department (all 30 of us) holding the same position. There are no multiple layers of middle managers, no complex organizational charts and no troublesome job titles to deal with.

Everyone calls everyone else by first name regardless of age or position (no more calling others Sir / Madam / Mrs so-and-so). It is just such an indescribable relief not to bother about your lady colleagues'/bosses' salutations any more. People in the HR line in Asia will know exactly what I'm talking about. I'm sick and tired of remembering that this manager prefers to be known as Mrs Lee instead of Mdm Wong while that director wants to be known as Ms Chia, not Miss Chia because she doesn't like to be reminded that she's not married. Oh good grief. That was quite a challenge when I had to remember the correct salutations for all 150++ lady teachers in the school.

Good morning Mrs Tan... or is it Mdm Ng... wait, it could be Mrs Tan-Ng...

Come what may, I will always be thankful for this awesome opportunity to work and live in Melbourne. I recall just half a year ago, many well-meaning, 'all-wise' friends and relatives have cautioned against leaving the iron-rice bowl ie teaching job in Singapore, telling me I will regret it, there is too much uncertainty and that the grass always seems greener on the other side. Guess what? I am now on the other side and it IS greener here. I am in a honeymoon phase now, you say? Perhaps, I will admit. Only time will tell. But it is hard to argue against work-life balance, being compensated fairly for the work I do, being treated with respect and most importantly, being trusted and given the benefit of the doubt. Of course I'm not deluded and working life here ISN'T PERFECT, but sure is as close to being perfect as I could ever have imagined.

Comments, anyone? Would really love to hear from local Aussies or seasoned migrants in the workforce. 

Cheers, all!
- A

My letter to school

Hi ___!

I’ve been enjoying the Automotive Cert III course tremendously so far. ____ has been a fantastic teacher and he really knows his stuff well. He’s also very entertaining. No he did not ask me to say anything good about him! haha

Anyway I’m sending you this email because we’ve had prior correspondence before. Just want to say that while the pantry facilities are generally ok and I really appreciate the two microwave ovens there, they are probably overdue for a replacement.

The white one on the left hardly heats food, even at full power. To heat a good meal requires well over five minutes. Its shell has also cracked and I’m concerned about microwave leakage.

The one on the right is considerably more powerful, but it could use a comrade-in-food heating. Actually it could also use replacement as the turntable no longer works. Heating is thus quite a bit more uneven than it should be.

Both serve our needs now, but anecdotally (I don’t have official numbers or a petition!), we really could use new machines for the pantry. There’s also space for a toaster oven and demand for that, should there be the budget!

Since you have read this far, can I enquire about my eligibility for a subsidised Cert IV in Automotive, and the cost? Also what’s the schedule like? I’m considering my options whether to do a cert IV or just focus on working full time as a mechanic after I complete my course :)

Menzies Automotive Student

That's me having fun pointing at a dismantled turbocharger. Yes I dismantled it... and broke it too.