More data needed on under-employed graduates: Industry observers

December 28, 201511:48 am554 views

Sarah* is a fine arts graduate who has been looking for a job since May.

Desperate, the 25-year-old recently took on a position at an arts centre doing administrative work.

Both the Labour Movement and training institute e2i said they have come across such cases, while the Manpower Ministry does not track the numbers.

Sarah’s case is considered non time-based under-employment. This means a person who is in full time employment but over-qualified for jobs they undertake.

“In a way it’s a mismatch of skills, and ability and experience,” said Mr Patrick Tay, Assistant Secretary-General, National Trades Union Congress. “So they are doing jobs that are under their abilities and therefore will result in employee motivation, in terms of salary and remuneration, may not be commensurate with the skills they have and how qualified they are, as well as their experience.”

It is something Sarah is grappling with. “It will be very demoralising to know that the industry is like that. I might want to go overseas, to get a job overseas and then come back after that,” she said.

Labour market watchers are calling for more formal data on graduates who may be in jobs that do not match their skills.

Those Channel NewsAsia spoke with pointed to anecdotal evidence of such cases, and raised concerns over a potential trend, if not watched closely.


Observers said graduate under-employment is not at a critical stage in Singapore, and overall, graduate employment is healthy.

In 2014, the proportion of economically active graduates was 89 per cent. The Manpower Ministry tracks only time-based under-employment. This refers to people working part-time, not full-time, and willing to take on additional work.

The time-based under-employment rate for graduates in June 2014 was just 2 per cent.

Observers said there may be a need to start tracking non time-based under-employment – people like Sarah, who work full-time, but are under-employed. It is especially relevant given the growing number of graduates in the country.

“Tracking is necessary because this pertains to the future of Singapore,” said Mr Paul Heng, Founder of NeXT Career Consulting. “But how to track, what to track, I think is the million-dollar question.”

Those Channel NewsAsia spoke with said under-employment is hard to define because of the subjectivity involved. This includes examining the motivation behind a person’s choice of job, as well as whether qualifications equate to skills and performance.

“There is no internationally established statistical definition and method for measuring non-time related underemployment. MOM tracks and publishes indicators on labour under-utilisation and employment outcomes. The statistics on time-related underemployment provide an objective assessment based on hours of work and using only the internationally accepted definition of underemployment. There is also information on employment by occupation and education, which will give an indication of the job preferences of individuals from different educational backgrounds,” said a spokesperson from the Manpower Ministry.

The Manpower Ministry said with more degree holders in the market, youths should be encouraged to pursue their interests, and go for substance when considering their education and career paths.


At the same time, MOM said there is a need to help individuals equip themselves with the skills to take on the quality jobs of today and tomorrow.

This is where the SkillsFuture initiative will hopefully make a difference.

“So one of the key things is to focus on the person’s skills, abilities as well as competencies, rather than paper qualifications … You look at a person’s innate skills, experiences as well as competencies. Why? Because if you look at a particular job, it’s not just (about) paper qualifications. You want that person to deliver on that job – to have the highest output and to be able to do that job competently,” said Mr Tay.

“So employers should look beyond paper qualifications and look at the skills, attitude and the experiences of particular PMEs to see if they are the best fit for the job,” he added.

Education and Career Guidance counsellors (ECGs) deployed to schools under the SkillsFuture initiative may also help.

“For ECGs, what the Government has started is to really move upstream and start that career guidance much earlier and get the individual to start thinking (about) what he or she would like to do – or is it the case of one qualification after another, and after that something will bound to happen, a job will come my way,” said Ms Kristin Loh Siew Lan, Assistant Director, Professional Search and Career Guidance, e2i.

“But if you only start to look at what you are interested in doing by then, and if the market is a down market, then things are not going to turn out well for you. So (it’s important to) get that thinking process started. Ask yourself, should I go and take a degree next or should I come out and work? At least put my skills to test first,” she added.

The Manpower Ministry added there needs to be a culture where workers are motivated to continually acquire relevant skills, to advance in their careers. This includes degree holders, who must take ownership of their careers and training development throughout their lives.

*Name has been changed for privacy.


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