Graduate Unemployment

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The economist Wilson Wong brought up some interesting points about graduate unemployment in a recent opinion piece that he wrote for the Sunday Times. In the piece, he calls for a need to promote more vocational training and raise awareness of the fact that a degree is not always the best path for financial mobility.

To illustrate his point that too many degree holders can lead to a slowing of the economy, he pointed to Britain as an example, saying, “It is not uncommon for fresh graduates to spend extended periods waiting on tables while clinging on to fading hopes of finding the elusive dream job in keeping with their university education.”

His overall point with this example is that when there is overwhelming number of citizens with a university degree, there will not be enough jobs to fit their education and that many of them will end-up in jobs for which they are over-qualified. His answer to this problem is a shift in culture, where students seek out skills, training and education that are relevant, rather than chasing after a degree just for the sake of having one.

To demonstrate the success that this type of culture shift can provide, Dr. Wong used the example of the German apprenticeship model that has been so successful.

“This model has to some extent buttressed Germany from the ravages of the global economic downturn, which has left the rest of the euro zone with staggeringly high unemployment of 11-12 per cent,” he said.

In regard to the German system, he also went on to say that it was not a model that Singapore could adopt overnight and that it would take time to achieve this kind of societal shift. He notes that the German system comes from a long tradition of the master-craftsman passing his skills to an apprentice.

It will take time to convince many Singaporeans that a university degree is not the right direction for everyone. However, programs and reforms that are designed to raise interest in vocational careers and make them more desirable will be a good first step in making this culture shift.