Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Graduates Are Wasting Their Time

At a dialogue session with Young NTUC, Singapore Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong was recently reported advising Young NTUC (Singapore’s only so-call union) members that in a downturn, one has to be flexible when job-hunting. He urged the people to “take up any job that is available”.

Technically there’s nothing wrong with this advice, but everything must be taken into context. Mr. Gan’s remarks came after a question from a participant in the audience. The question the participant asked was whether as a fresh graduate, he really has to accept a blue-collar job?

Mr Gan’s suggestion was basically yes, as there would always be “opportunities to upgrade later on”.

Personally I feel this is very bad advice. I mean why would anyone go to a university if they have to take a blue-collar job upon graduation. What image are you projecting to young people if you say that all a degree is good for is a blue-collar job? Why would anyone study for years to get a degree if it’s not a path to a better life?

A fresh graduate who read what Mr. Gan said must be cursing his luck and wondering what the hell he was doing for the past few years. According to Mr. Gan, he may just have been wasting his time.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

What advice would you have given the frest graduate? Hold out for a better job, and remain unemployed in the meantime? Having a university degree does not automatically entitle anyone to a white collar job. That's up to the supply and demand of the job market.

Anonymous said...

No amount of former education will guarantee anyone a promising career, though it may increase his or her chances. To think otherwise is either being naive or idealistic.

On the other hand, what constitute success to one's career? Besides opportunities, it is the person's character and attitude.

Gar said...

Education is a reward. Going to college for the sole purpose of getting a job is a bad idea to begin with.

If you have no desire to learn, you'll have no desire to work.

When I graduated with my Computer Science degree, I accepted a job working at a convenience store selling gas.

It's just something you do to eat while you wait for something better.

Ghost said...

Although having a university degree does not automatically entitle anyone to a white collar job, it is also a matter of aspiration. In Singapore you have to study for over 15 years from primary school to university. Why would anyone want to do that if all you get out of all that studying is a blue-collar job that you can get and do after just secondary school? I think Mr Gan’s suggestion to “take up any job that is available” is wrong here as why would any parent want their kid to go to university if a blue-collar job is the best they will get. There’s nothing wrong with taking a job working at a convenience store but you don’t go to a university for that. Instead of suggesting that Singaporeans take up any job that is available, what Mr Gan should be doing is to create more jobs in Singapore that require a university degree.
If the Singapore government can’t do that, then I think it’s time we close down a few of the universities we have here in Singapore because that means that Singapore don’t need that many degree holders.

Anonymous said...

Job creation is not going to happen overnight. Should Mr Gan tell the graduates "eh wait, garmen going to create jobs, later then you apply, meanwhile pls eat air"?

And job creation is easier said than done. I think every country is struggling with this right now.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Like it is so easy for the govt to create jobs. Excuse me, but the economy is bad now, and even if you can create jobs out of thin air, there's nothing much to do now. So those graduates are just going to sit there and get money from tax payers? The govt can only do so much, and I am sorry, but I do not wish to spend my tax money this way.

It is time to knuckle down and take things as they come. Take up jobs where possible, and treat every opportunity as a learning experience.

Nevertheless, I do not like the phrase Mr Gan used... "upgrade later on". What is wrong with a blue-collared job? It is a decent form of gainful employment. This shows disdain and a class divide. What he should have said is "change to a desired job when opportunities arrive".

Anonymous said...

No need to be so sensitive or politically correct about the term "upgrade". People use it all the time without necessarily implying that there is anything wrong with the current option.

For example, people often refer to upgrading from a HDB flat to a condominium. Is that wrong or offensive to HDB dwellers? I don't see why it should be.

Ghost said...

The problem I have is not a matter of white or blue-collar jobs. It’s a matter of the jobs you take after finishing your education. What’s the difference between going to university and going to secondary school if the job you’ll get after graduation is exactly the same? As for the problem of job creation; well Singapore do not seen to have a problem there as we are STILL accepting foreign white-collar workers in Singapore. Foreigners who had lost their jobs here in Singapore are rushing to get PR because they want to stay in Singapore. If Singapore is really that hard-up on job creation, why are we still granting PR to out of work foreigners? It seems a little rich to me that the Singapore government is asking new Singaporean graduates to take any job that come along, and at the same time allowing out of work foreigners to stay in Singapore so that they can look for work in Singapore in direct competition against the new graduates.

Anonymous said...

actually there's absolutely nothing wrong with gan's reply.

the problem only comes when he is still drawing a obscene salarly while telling us to settle for crumbs.

if he can't make sure everyone has a job, why is he taking 20 times more than other countries ministers??

Anonymous said...

Ha. Thought uni was a place to gain knowledge, self discovery and the ability of reason. stupid me.

Anonymous said...

Dun you know that for over 30 years, education in Singapore is not about gaining knowledge but passing exams? That's why graduates here mostly 'read dead books' (tug see chey - du si shu).

It's only recently that education minister Ng Eng Hen said exams should not be the only measure of success. Now that's gotten many students and parents a little confused and concerned.

Now what? Does it mean to say all along we're barking up the wrong tree?

Anonymous said...

There are many reasons for getting an education. Suppose we go with what Ghost seems to say, which is that getting an education is for the purposes of getting a job (very Singaporean, imo).

Even so, your choice in getting that education does not entitle you to any job. Say, you decide to apply for a bioscience degree because you think that sector is currently hot. Sadly, by the time you graduate, that industry has died or has moved to Zimbabwe. That would be unfortunate, but you would just have to adapt to changes. If you think the government owes it to you to 'create' bioscience jobs just because you decided to take a bioscience degree, then I would say you are mistaken.

As for foreign talent, consider this from the perspective of employers. They want to be able to hire whomever they wish, and they are able to do this in many other countries, including our Asian competitors like Hong Kong. If Singapore starts imposing protectionist measures and preventing employers from hiring foreign talent, which do you think will happen: (a) employers hire Singaporeans because they are forced to or (b) employers move to other jurisdictions? Singapore wants to be a financial centre, but how many international banks can be forced to employ locals? Such protectionist measures are short-sighted and will result in far greater harm to our competitiveness.

Gar said...

I very much like this last anonymous poster's comments. If we ever needed a world wide way of thinking. This hits very close to home.
Too bad she/he is anonymous. I'd very much like to hear more.

Ghost said...

I'm afraid most comments left by Singaporeans are anonymous. As for the reasons for getting an education, there are many but getting a job is one of them. Just look at the job classified and you will an education requirements there for all of them. As for it being short-sighted making employers hire more Singaporeans, well what's the reason of attracting all these foreign companies to set-up shop in Singapore if half the jobs they make will go to foreigners. Yes, I am talking about the upcoming Sentosa IR.

Anonymous said...

If the government attracts a foreign company to set up shop in Singapore and half the jobs go to foreigners ... guess what? The government has attracted jobs for Singaporeans too - the other half. This beats the government enacting business-unfriendly policies and creating ... zero jobs.

And that is just the benefit from the perspective of immediate jobs. There are also knock-on effects for the economy as a whole. Even if a foreign company sets up shop in Singapore and only employs foreigners, we would still be collecting taxes from them, and these foreigners would also be spending money in Singapore on goods and services. There will also be a gradual transfer of knowledge and expertise which is how we build up various sectors of the economy.

You should also consider that Singapore may not have the necessary talent pool - at least, not to start off with.

Do you think, for example, that we would be able to start up a biotech industry if we started off with the government declaring that all biotech companies must hire only Singaporeans? That would be a non-starter.

As for the IR - fact is, the service level of most Singaporeans is simply abysmal. And Singaporeans only have themselves to blame for this.

Ghost said...

You have touch on the one of the main things I disagree with on the government attracting a foreign company to set up shop in Singapore. The knock-on effects for the economy as a whole. The knock-on effects are secondary effects on attracting a foreign company to set up shop in Singapore. Go to any economic class anywhere and every lecturer will tell you that knock-on effects are secondary. In Singapore, there seems to be a thinking that these knock-on effects are the most important thing the foreign companies bring. They are not.
It’s like when you built a road. You built a road so that you can get from Point A to Point B quicker. The knock-on effects of building the road like pumping money into the local economy, sustaining the construction industry etc, are all secondary to that. If the Singapore government are attracting a foreign company and we are even footing the bill for them (as in the case of the IR) to Singapore, is it too much to ask that these foreign companies employ more Singaporeans than foreigners?
BTW, the other half of the jobs at the IR will not all go to Singaporeans. Half the jobs will go to Filipinos, but that doesn’t mean that the other half will all go to Singaporeans. In fact, I'll be surprise if it did.

Anonymous said...

Ghost, you seem to think that it is up to us (and our government) to dictate the terms. Fact is, foreign multinational companies do not have to come here. They will do so only if the terms are sufficiently attractive. The real choice may be between reaping the secondary benefits of the business versus having no IR and no benefits at all.

Ghost said...

Wait, so you're saying that we gave them tax breaks to set-up the IR here, foot part of the bill to built the IR, gave them easy credit when the credit crunch hit their construction plans; but we don't have a right to tell them to hire more Singaporeans than foreigners?

Anonymous said...

Sure, you can try that. But the government cannot force businesses to operate in Singapore if they do not want to. If the commercial terms are not sufficiently attractive, businesses will go elsewhere.

Ghost said...

How can anyone say that the commercial terms are not sufficiently attractive enough when we gave them tax breaks, foot part of the bill to built the IR, and then gave them easy credit when the credit crunch hit their construction plans? If we can't even tell them to hire more Singaporeans than foreigners after all that, what good is foreign investment then?

Anonymous said...

I have already pointed out that there can be benefits to the economy beyond just demanding that only Singaporeans can be hired. Furthermore, you cannot really say that the terms will be sufficiently attractive even if the government imposes a requirement that the new jobs must go to Singaporeans. You can of course have your opinion but it is difficult to see how you can state that as fact unless you work with the top management of these foreign casino companies.

Furthermore, as I have mentioned earlier, Singaporeans do sadly tend to perform poorly in service/hospitality industries. It is therefore hardly inconceivable that forcing employers to hire Singaporeans may make Singapore an unattractive business location.

Ghost said...

I can say that the terms Singapore give are sufficiently attractive because we gave something no one else are willing to give. When the credit crunch hit them last year, Singapore gave easy credit to keep construction going. Macau refused to do so and construction was stopped in Macau. Giving easy credit when the banking system was frozen the world over; what more need to be said?

Anonymous said...

No point getting credit to complete a project if you are not convinced that the project will pay off, right?

Ghost said...

If they are not convinced that the project will pay off then why are they spending millions to built the IR. Hell, if they are not convinced, why are we giving them easy credit to built the IR? Squeezing some jobs for Singaporeans out of them is the least the government could do for all the goodies we gave them.

Anonymous said...

Hasn't it occurred to you that perhaps (a) the IRs are considered commercially worthwhile projects based on their current terms BUT (b) that may no longer be the case if they are forced to hire Singaporeans?

Not to mention that instituting this type of protectionist policy would probably have a chilling effect on all other foreign enterprises currently operating, or contemplating setting up, in Singapore.

Ghost said...

Sorry but I don't understand why you keep insisting this is a protectionist policy. A company setup in Singapore should have more Singapore workers than foreign workers within. This isn't protectionist; it's normal.

Anonymous said...

Making this a legal requirement would be a kind of protectionist policy. Sort of like the Malaysian requirements for bumiputra participation - and what do you think the international business community thinks of such policies?

Ghost said...

Hasn't stop Malaysia from having the the top Islamic banking sector in the region has it? If you take in all the advantages Singapore has to offer, I fail to see how asking the foreign companies to hire more Singapore workers will hurt us in any way or form

WhiteDuskRed said...

There's nothing wrong with encouraging MNCs to employ more Singaporeans when they set up shop in SG. End of the day it is up to them to decide if they want to bring in talents from other countries. I work in a Japanese company and they love having their own people take up all the top posts in the company. And the Japanese expatriate community bring business to the karaoke joints around Cuppage plaza...

Singov need the IR owners as much as they need Singov. Singapore want a casino to bring in the tourists. Singapore does not have the expertise in this area. Pretty much the same deal with the oil refinery business. You need external help from the beginning. Our own National Service got a little help from some of the best in coming up with the training regime...

As for degree vs blue-collar jobs, the whole world is in an economic downturn. No one wants their children to work as a waiter after supporting them through uni but there are only so many jobs for degree holders and if there are not enough jobs then one must choose either to starve or take up a blue-collar post.

If I were to choose between 2 young grads after the downturn, I will definitely choose the one who took up a menial post over one who bummed while waiting for the right job to magically appear.

Ghost said...

That's exactly what I am saying. Singapore should encourage MNCs to employ more Singaporeans. One of the reason the IR were touted as good for Singapore is the jobs that they will bring in. What good are they for jobs when more than 50% of the jobs will go to foreigners?
Like I said eariler, I have nothing against blue-collar jobs. It's still a good way to make a living, but it's a matter of what job you take after finishing your education. A degree holder who just finish university should not have to enter the job market in a blue-collar job. If he has to do so, then it just mean that there are more graduates than the local economy can afford.
If that is the case, we should close down a few university here in Singapore.

WhiteDuskRed said...

Singapore is a victim of its own successes. We are catching up with Japan in terms of the number of degree-holding road sweepers. There are many degree holders who work as production line workers or sales assistants in Japan.

Will Singaporeans be contented working as a waiter in the IR? Will a degree holder be willing to work as a waiter in the IR? That is a big question mark.

Japan is Japan and Singapore is Singapore. 2 countries facing similar problems in very different ways. They have a very protectionalist immigration system which doesn't allow foreigners (or aliens as they like to call outsiders) to easily obtain citizen/PR status. But due to their education system, most Japanese fail to make it abroad in a foreign company due to their weak English. Singaporeans have an advantage here. Don't want to work as a waiter in Singapore then you must venture overseas. In HK I can see many young caucasians seeking a job in the region. I feel that most Singaporeans don't have that guts to venture.

You don't see Japan closing their universities. Because much later on you will need a degree to sweep the roads...