TL;DR – We change our mindset.
There was an article floating on social media about how a young gentleman found the Singapore dream to be dead. The writer recounted his experience as someone who is underemployed – a graduate, but earning far less than what most graduates earn.
The writer didn’t do well enough for A-levels to go to the NUS, NTU or SMU. He went to a “school of last resort” – a private university. He did a degree program in media management in Kaplan, hoping to be a journalist. However, after graduating, he had a very tough time finding a job. He couldn’t find a permanent job, and ended up doing freelance work.
And through it all, he continued to work on his ultimate goal – to be a fiction writer. He said that as he did so, he yielded a number of skills which were appreciated in other countries, but not in Singapore.
From his experience, the writer concluded that if you fall short any step of the way, if you fall off the bridge to cookie-cutter success, you’re on your own. And so, the Singapore dream is dead.
Not all degrees are equal…
But c’mon, can we really conclude that the Singapore dream is dead just based on the experience of one person? I don’t think so.
Of course I empathize and think it’s unfortunate that the writer hasn’t been able to get a job that pays as much as what other graduates get. However, it could be because he didn’t really get relevant skills from his degree programme for him to get a job that would pay as much as what other graduates get.
By the writer’s own admission, the degree programme the writer was on had minimal coursework, and the assignments and exams were apparently easier than what the writer did for A-Levels. It was also a part-time programme. In one year, you get a diploma, then one more year, a degree.
Erm. I would be surprised if such a degree programme would have equipped someone fresh out of A-Levels with sufficient skills to get a job that paid as much as what most graduates get. And especially to land a role as a journalist or writer with a well-established organization that pays well.
There is just no easy short-cut way.
And know what? It’s not like you just get one chance at success – that if “you fall short at any step”, there’s no way to succeed.
I have friends who screwed up their A-Levels. They did full-time private degrees. And they managed to become journalists. I also know friends who didn’t even complete universities, but spent hours and hours to develop programming skills on their own. They are now working as very accomplished software engineers, earning as much as or even more than most other graduates.
So it’s possible to take alternative paths and still be successful. But regardless of what path, one thing’s for sure. You need to spend the time and effort to get the necessary skills.
The reality of demand and supply
And it’s not just any skills. There are some skills that are more in demand than others. If you are able to master the skills that are more in demand, chances are, you are going to be earning more. But if you master skills that aren’t really in demand, well…
Let’s say I am extremely passionate about underwater basket weaving. I find the best underwater basket weavers. I spend years learning from them and become a master underwater basket weaver myself.
Can I expect to get a good high salary? Even if I can get a PhD for underwater basket weaving, I don’t think there’s any chance of me getting paid as much as most other graduates. I would be one of those “graduate underemployed”.
So it’s not just about picking up skills. It’s about picking up the skills that the economy is willing to pay for.
Yes. It can be difficult finding that intersection of what we are able to be good at doing, what we can grow to like (or at least not hate), and what the economy will pay you for.
Yes. You might not be good at what the economy is willing to pay you for. You might not like the what the economy will pay you for. But can you grow to be good at it? Can you grow to like it?
But how would we know where to start?
But how will we know what are the skills that the economy is willing to pay for? Will those skills still be relevant in the future? Those are valid questions. In this day and age of rapid disruptions, jobs that exist today may not exist in the future. Jobs that pay well in the future may not even exist today.
There are systems to help Singaporeans identify the skills that are relevant today and will continue to be relevant in the future.
For example, NTUC has set up a new Training Council which will focus on training workers to tackle future disruptions. The Training Council will take charge of curating and delivering training and certification through cooperation with Institutes of Higher Learning, professional associations and companies.
The Training Council will work with companies and training partners to identify the training needs and challenges of different sectors of the economy. NTUC will then step in to create training maps, communicate the training needs to workers and mobilise workers for training.
This will help today’s unemployed get new jobs and prepare Singaporeans for jobs of the future. That, according to Mr Chan Chun Sing, Secretary-General of NTUC, is something that the labour movement should aim to do. He said:
“We are not satisfied just to help today’s unemployed get a new job. Most importantly, we’ve set ourselves a high goal to help tomorrow’s unemployed into tomorrow’s job, ahead of time.”
“That will require us to identify the industries with the Government and the private sector … (and) to work closely with the training agencies to make sure we upskill our workers ahead of time.”
But no matter how good any system, any policy, any measure we can come up with, we ourselves need to put in the effort. We need to be willing to adapt. We need to be willing to do our part in finding out what we need to do to get the pay we want, to move closer to the goals that we have set.
If we don’t do that, if we aren’t willing to do that, then the Singapore dream is indeed dead.