Tuesday 27 May 2014

Will a degree still spell good pay?

By Jacqueline Woo and Lee Wan Sim, My Paper, 27 May 2014

PROSPECTIVE graduates in Singapore could see their salaries take a hit in time to come, as competition for entry-level roles here is poised to stiffen.

Singapore is set to churn out more degree holders, with 40 per cent of the cohort expected to participate in local universities by 2020. Many will also pursue private or overseas degrees.

This year, the Government is already providing 30 per cent of the cohort with places at publicly funded universities, up 1,000 from the 13,000 places available in 2012.

Most of these additional places come from the Singapore Institute of Technology and the new full-time degree programmes at UniSIM.

In March, Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin had flagged the potential problem of a graduate glut here, where there are too many graduates who cannot find good enough jobs.

Recruitment firms told My Paper that, with more graduates joining the workforce, "downward pressure" on salaries is likely to set in.

Mark Hall, vice-president and country manager of Kelly Services, explained: "Companies (will) have a larger talent pool to select from, and this translates to a more competitive graduate job market."

Jaya Dass, associate director of Randstad Singapore, noted that, already, there is an expectation gap among graduates here when it comes to starting salaries.

The Universum Top 100 Ideal Employers 2014 survey found that undergraduates in Singapore expect to be paid $3,308 on average each month. This is higher than the average monthly salary of $3,229 that fresh graduates actually draw, according to a separate graduate employment survey.

The gap could widen when almost half the cohort is armed with a degree.

"Graduates will need to adjust their starting salary expectations to a more realistic level," said Ms Dass.

Undergraduate Koh Luwen, 22, who studies business at the National University of Singapore Business School, is already feeling the heat.

"Competition (in school) is very stiff," he said. "One thing I'm not too confident of is whether everyone will get a suitable place in the job market."

For 21-year-old Charmaine Ch'ng, an undergraduate at James Cook University, finding a job could be a challenge compounded by the fact that she is schooling at a private university.

"There is a mentality among employers that students from local universities are better than those from private universities," she said.

Expressing similar sentiments, Management Development Institute of Singapore undergraduate Gopalkrishnan Poorvena, 21, said: "People from the local universities tend to be the choice picks for jobs, so I really have to outsmart everyone else to stand out."

Ms Dass said that degrees will start getting differentiated more sharply - between institutions and courses. "Graduates with technical degrees in certain professions, such as actuarial, engineering and accounting, will always be able to garner a competitive salary," she said.

On the other hand, those with general degrees may need to "temper their expectations if they have very high ones", she added.

Chris Mead, regional director of Hays in Singapore and Malaysia, said that fresh graduates here need to "manage their expectations and have a practical career development plan".

"Those that do well are the ones who understand the way a company operates, accept the best job offer they can get, and work as hard as they can to impress and start climbing the corporate ladder," he said.

How graduates can beat the glut
By Jacqueline Woo, My Paper, 28 May 2014

THE golden ticket to a good job here, in time to come, will no longer come solely in the form of a degree.

As reported by My Paper, Singapore could face a graduate glut - with 40 per cent of the cohort likely to participate in local universities by 2020. This could hit starting pay.

But to get ahead despite this competition, experts said would-be degree holders should stop their obsession with starting pay. They should focus, instead, on getting the right degree and on gaining work experience.

"Graduates need to realise that, while education is an important factor when entering the workforce, there is no substitute for hands-on experience," noted Chris Mead, regional director of Hays in Singapore and Malaysia

Such experience, he said, can be gained by taking on internships to "gain new skills and practical experience" during school breaks, or going into entry-level roles.

Jaya Dass, associate director of Randstad Singapore, added that local graduates should look beyond starting pay when looking for a job.

"For many Singaporean graduates, the focus tends to be on what employers can offer them, rather than how they are able to contribute to the marketplace or economy."

This mindset may put them at a disadvantage when it comes to getting job opportunities, she explained, especially with foreign graduates in the job market who "see the glass as half full" - a very attractive quality for employers.

"If (local graduates) compromise on salary or starting level in order to get into the right role, field, industry or function, their growth will definitely be quicker in the long run."

All the same, experts pointed out that certain sectors will face a "chronic shortage of talent" even in the event of a graduate glut - a situation that spells opportunity for graduates.

These sectors include information technology, construction, engineering, food and beverage, as well as hospitality. Up-and-coming ones include industries such as aerospace and biotechnology.

To prepare graduates for the evolving demands of the future economy, many tertiary institutions have added multidisciplinary programmes, such as those that marry engineering with business studies or life sciences, noted Mark Hall, vice-president and country manager of Kelly Services.

"These hybrid courses ensure that graduates can meet the demands of certain sectors moving forward, and that Singapore does not suffer from a brain-dead situation."

SIM University's Randolph Tan said: "If we have a stronger connection between evolving trends in industry workforce needs and university course development, way before a large wave of graduates trained in any specific field hits the job market, then the dangers of a glut could be moderated."

In a statement last month, the Ministry of Manpower highlighted the need for degree holders here to "gain both hard and soft skills to take on (quality) jobs".

Employers, for their part, should introduce more internship programmes to help graduates transit smoothly to full-time positions, said Koh Juan Kiat, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation.

On whether it would be difficult for Singapore's job market to absorb the projected 40 per cent of the cohort placed in universities come 2020, labour economist Shandre Thangavelu said it "might not be that serious an issue".

"In 2020 and beyond, we'll be looking at a regional, even global job market," he explained.

"What we should think about is equipping our graduates with portable skills, and gearing them up to be mobile workers who can go anywhere (in the world) to take up jobs."

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