I was in Sentosa over the last weekend and bumped into crowds of university freshies going about their orientation activities, and it suddenly hit me that it has been five years since I left school. How time flies! It honestly doesn’t feel that long ago when I was still whiling away in Europe on my grad trip.
I still remember how my mother was so insistent that I found a job before I left for my two-month long trip, fearing that “all the good jobs will be snatched up when you’re back!”
Thankfully that didn’t happen. In fact it took me all of two weeks to arrange for an interview and secure a job at a mid-sized organisation and I have been there ever since.
Here in Singapore unemployment woes definitely don’t cross our minds – in fact, one of my close friends from university days (let’s call him M) recently started his third job, all within a span of one year at yet another investment bank.
According to Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin, Singapore currently has one of the lowest youth unemployment rates in the world at 6.7%. Compared to European countries, where youth unemployment now hits one out of four youngsters, or 12.6% of young people are expected to be out of work in 2013, we really have much to be thankful for.
So I was puzzled when M recently posted up a status on his Facebook page about “having a pointless job just to lead a pointless life in this pointless country”.
Don’t get me wrong – working life certainly hasn’t been a bed of roses for me. I’ve had my fair share of late nights, enduring unreasonable demands from clients, and having to grapple with taking a pay cut doing what I like instead of what paid well (unlike most of my banking friends).
But compared to the other extreme, where colleague graduates in countries like the US and China fear the possibility of being unemployed or underemployed, I’d take my current predicament anytime, no doubts about that.
An interesting fact from Bloomberg: In 1970 in the US, only one in 100 taxi drivers and chauffeurs had a college degree. This figure has since risen to 15 in 2013!
Likewise in China, more than half of the seven million fresh graduates are struggling to find jobs. For example, Mr Wang Sheng, who envisioned becoming an economist after graduation, is instead brewing tea and running errands in a Beijing-based trading firm.
So why the great disparity between Singapore and the other countries?
I am no expert in this area, and obviously there are a lot of economic conditions at play here, but I do think that a contributing factor is the kiasu-ism in each and every one of us Singaporeans.
The students here fight hard to secure internships during their holidays, sometimes even as early as their first semester in university!
Grace Leong, 21, an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore (NUS), is currently on her third internship despite it being her second year in school.
Her rationale? “Internships act as ‘stamps of approval’ for future employers. When they take on a new hire, it’s always a risk. Experience counts for a lot of time saved in having to train someone from complete scratch, and time is money.”
That’s honestly pretty chiong if you ask me! I did three internships in total during my four years in school, but then I somewhat cheated by doing them overseas so they became part-travel and part-work for me. Well, more travel than work actually. :)
Another reason could be how students are so well-prepped in school for their grand entry into the labour market – from resume writing sessions to dressing and etiquette courses, not one single detail is left to chance.
Vivian Ang, 24, who’s in her penultimate year in NUS, is not worried about not being able to secure a job after she graduates.
“They [NUS] compile a list of summer internships every holiday and to access that list, they make sure students attend a sort of preparation course for resume writing to better our chances of getting the internships.”
Singapore also has other national initiatives which give comprehensive labour market information to help youths get ahead in their job hunt. For example:
Career Compass by Ministry of Manpower (MOM), which gives students a better understanding of job and training opportunities to make informed study and career choices.
Max Talent by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) to engage with youths who are interested to find out more about career opportunities in SMEs.
My only gripe would probably just be how these portals are not amplified as widely as they should be; surely casting a wider net would allow more students to be reached, right? I’d never heard of these initiatives until after I entered the workforce!
As much as we often complain about how terrible our jobs are and how our bosses should pay us more, there’s really a lot to be thankful as graduates in Singapore, simply because we are at least given an opportunity to prove our capabilities.