Tuesday, November 27, 2012

SMRT bus driver strike - 2 years early, but still proven right

Today, local media reported on a strike by SMRT bus drivers hired from mainland China.

Local media called it a "dispute". The headline on asiaone read "SMRT bus drivers refuse to go to work".

What's that called again? Yeah, in other countries, it would be called a "strike", specifically a "wildcat strike" (raise up your hands and do the air quotes, people)

More than 2 years ago, I wrote a post on the unintended consequences of immigration. You can read it here.

I was early by 2 years, but still proven right in the end. Since I was proven right, it's useful to go back to revisit what I wrote because even I can't remember what thoughts were percolating through my mind back then and what *other* predictions I made that may eventually pan out as well.

The pertinent section from my 2-year old post:

We know of wildcat strikes in China at Honda factories. For better or for worse, immigrants to Singapore are generally not as ... tractable ... as native Singaporeans. If a critical part of our infrastructure like the public bus transport network is heavily dependent on foreigners of a particular ethnicity or creed, what happens if they have reason to get organized and demonstrate, protest or go on strike? 

Like the Falun Gong demonstration that happened in Singapore a while back? Or the diplomatic fracas that came in the wake of the Flor Contemplacion incident? There would potentially be a lot more unhappy Filipinos on Singapore soil today should a diplomatic incident like that happen again. And frankly, before 9/11, Singapore was lucky to not have sourced for immigrants from Muslim states that might subsequently have found our staunch relationship with the USA ... objectionable. 

What about our other industries? Electronics, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, construction? Any possibility of some adverse event occurring simply because we are so critically dependent on "hired help" in those industries? Nobody knows, and the MOM a'int talking. Maybe we should start asking. Just sayin'.


Perhaps our numerous generals-turned-cabinet ministers can advise us on what the national security implications are of depending so heavily on foreigners, when fully one third of the warm bodies here are not your typical compliant docile Singaporeans. That should be one area that they can truly claim to have expertise in.

If there has ever been a national policy document that details the risk-adjusted cost-benefit analysis of mass immigration, I'd certainly like to see it.

Book List Refreshed 27/11/2012

I have removed:

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely
The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Currency Wars by James Rickards

I have added:

The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
The Vanishing Face of Gaia by James Lovelock
Treasure Islands by Nicholas Shaxson
The Porning of America by Kevin M. Scott and Carmine Sarracino

Monday, November 5, 2012

On the Narrowness of Job Descriptions

Given that my current job is pretty much a moribund dead end of a position (I previously described it as managing 2 aunties who have been doing the same thing for 50+ years between the 2 of them), I have been looking for another job.

I haven’t been looking very hard, largely because my current lack of industry-relevant experience and contacts makes it difficult to move to another position. How I got my current position was pretty much of a fluke really. To put it briefly, my current boss needed to fill the position at short notice and seeing as how there were no takers inside or outside the company (like I said, “moribund”), he thought it would be a good idea to put someone who had the maturity and capability to lead a team, but who wasn’t really in a position to bargain for better terms.

On hindsight, it really was something of a poisoned chalice.

To put it simply, I am performing a manager’s role with an executive’s pay. The money issue doesn’t really bother me nearly as much as the severe curtailment of opportunities for professional development. I am getting paid slightly more than a fresh graduate, but with very little direct supervision or work given to me that is interesting or important for professional development. And I have to deal with the aggravation of managing 2 aunties who are, to put it mildly, a little set in their ways. It’s likely that I will leave my current position in 6 months or less, new job offer or no.

But I digress from today’s post, which is on how absurdly unrealistic the requirements for some jobs are.

A recruiter contacted me recently regarding a position that had opened up, which he thought would be suitable for me.

I gave the OK for the recruiter to send my CV to the company, but quite honestly, I’m not expecting any callbacks. My CV is probably there to provide “contrast” to stronger candidates (not that I think there will be many serious CVs that actually fit the bill, you’ll see why in a moment).

The potential employer for this position is looking for a number of things. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that I don’t really meet many of the requirements in the job description. This post isn’t an exercise in sour grapes.

I’ve reproduced the job description below along with my interpretation of the requirements and my other comments. You can also find the JD here.


Associate - Innovation Solution Center (Strategy and Management) Asia, Singapore
Central (Singapore) - Raffles Place / Shenton Way
Associate - Innovation Solution Center

Center for Innovation, Strategy and Management; Asia - Singapore

Budget: S$5k to S$6k per month

Summary of Responsibilities:

1.        Develop algorithms, datasets and models that support Health and Benefits field consultants
         The employer is asking for financial modeling experience, specifically in the realm of Health and Benefits consulting.
2.        Build prototype tools to test new concepts and demonstrate potential functionality and assist in revisions and improvements to existing models
         They want rapid prototyping experience, as opposed to carrying out routine procedural work. This implies some form of concept development and/or creative input.
3.        Develop reporting templates and interfaces for use by field consultants and clients
         They are looking for skills in designing and developing reporting dashboards. This implies not just software engineering skills, but also some usability engineering expertise. Obviously, the knowledge of what goes into the dashboard needs to come from existing experience in Health and Benefits consulting.
4.        Document models and algorithms to facilitate programming by developers and educate client consultants about functionality
         They want solid communication skills, especially in technical writing. Not unreasonable to ask for, but technical professionals that are strong in both their technical skills as well as communication skills tend to be uncommon, and quite well paid.
5.        Work across multiple internal departments to develop and execute on project requirements and business testing
         They’re looking for some form of project management or coordination experience. This is not a formal project manager role, so this is probably less heavily emphasized, which explains its low ranking in the list of requirements.

  • Bachelor's degree in a Technical Science, Mathematics, Actuarial Science, Statistics, Economics or related field
  • Strong mathematical background and familiarity with insurance and financial concepts
  • Track-record of independent learning and technical problem-solving
  • Demonstrated ability to work collaboratively in a team
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Ability to develop and communicate creative solutions to technical problems
  • Interest in pursuing actuarial exams and certification is a plus
    • Though not particularly difficult relative to other technical fields I’ve experienced, completing the actuarial exams is time-consuming, tedious and arduous. It’s certainly not something that everyone would want to do.

Technical Skills: 
  • Strong understanding of software technology and computational models
  • Project experience in Microsoft Excel and Visual Basic for Applications
  • Project experience in Java, Microsoft.NET(C# or Visual Basic) or other object-oriented coding environment
    • Seriously, are they looking for an actuary/statistician, or are they really looking for a software developer?
  • Experience in working with and manipulating large data sets and/or databases
    • Is that code (sic) for experience with SAS, Oracle or some other database system? Why not just out-and-out ask for SQL fluency? It’s not like they haven’t already requested for familiarity with specific languages in the previous requirement (C# and VB).
  • Web development or mobile-development experience is a plus
    • So, application development for a Windows environment under the .Net framework isn’t quite enough, but they want some development experience with what essentially amounts to iOS and Android as well. Probably to cater to their smartphone-toting field consultants.

If it isn’t clear by now, I’m highlighting what are the unrealistically demanding requirements for this position, advertised for the “princely” sum of $5k to $6k per month.

This ad is targeted at least in part at actuarial professionals. As a benchmark, actuarial science fresh graduates with an average number of actuarial exam passes can realistically expect something in the low 3k range, with rapid salary increments once they start passing exams. And these are kids without any work experience, financial modeling-related or otherwise, and probably no formal training in programming in any language.

Heck, even your regular fresh graduate who finds work in a bank could probably pull down something in the 4k range.

And yet, for all that they are asking for, this potential employer is offering not very much more in compensation terms. Let’s not even talk about the opportunities for training and exposure that other roles may offer, or what this position essentially amounts to: a backroom support role to field consultants with probably limited opportunities for further development.

Salary aside, is it just me, or are job descriptions these days written so narrowly that no one could possibly meet all the requirements unless they were doing exactly the same things in their current or previous job? In the case of this particular job ad, I’m not even sure what they’re looking for: an actuary, a statistician, or a software engineer?

Seriously, if I was the hiring manager for this position, I probably wouldn’t even bother with placing job ads, not unless the salary offer was much improved. The fact that this job ad has gone out to so many different recruiters probably means the employer hasn’t been very successful in sourcing suitable candidates that tick all the boxes.

Bear in mind that in the more recent versions of this job ad (which has circulated far and wide among many recruiters), the ad calls for at least 5 years of experience. The part on the estimated salary of 5k – 6k was noticeably missing in those ads. I guess someone in the company got the memo on realistic market rates for salaries.

One thought that did cross my mind was that the hiring manager would probably have had better luck scouring the graduate student lounges of the applied math departments at the local universities. The grad students would at least have extensive computational and mathematical modeling experience, and fluency in a few programming languages. Granted, the average applied math grad student would probably have greater fluency with R or Python than C# or VB, but still, that’s way more programming proficiency than the average actuary based in Singapore, experienced or not.

And that 5k-6k package probably wouldn’t look shabby next to a graduate student’s stipend.