When it comes to graduate employment surveys, statistics published usually paint a rosy picture on the job market. Annual increment and high employment among graduates are usually the norm we expect, rather than the exception.
For example, a Straits Times article in February reported that almost 9 in 10 graduates (88.9%) who graduated in 2017 are able to find jobs within six months of their final examinations. It also reported that the medium monthly salary graduates from local universities is $3,400.
A person who looks at the headline statistics being reported and nothing else may be forgiven for thinking that the job market is good and that university graduates can continue to expect cushy full-time employment at a good salary upon graduating.
But is this really true?
Overview Of The Job Market For University Graduate
To get a sense of the overall job market for university graduates, let’s first take a look at the employment market in Singapore for PMETs.
Based on the information provided by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), the unemployment rate among PMETs in Singapore is at 3%.
This information, when taken in reference to the employment statistics provided by the universities, may give graduates an impression that it’s easy to find a job in Singapore.
Here’s the employment statistics reported by both local and private universities in Singapore.
From the table above, you can see that graduates from private universities (e.g. SIM, Kaplan) are also able to secure an employment rate of over 80%, though their starting salary are comparatively lower.
What Are The Statistics Not Telling Us?
Now that we have established what the statistics are telling us, let’s look at five things they are not telling us.
# 1 Unemployment Data By MOM Excludes Those Without Work Experience
The first thing to know is that the unemployment rate reported by MOM does not include unemployed residents who do not have work experience yet.
Hence, if a fresh graduate is unable to find a job, this will not count towards the unemployment rate for PMETs, even though there is an individual who is out there looking for a job.
# 2 Response Rate Among Graduates Is Not 100%
Unless a survey is made compulsory, it will always suffer from what researchers call a “nonresponse bias”.
Nonresponse bias is the bias that results when respondents and their answers are likely to be different from the people who do not respond. In this case, it’s possible that graduates who respond to the surveys are more likely to be employed as compared to those who do not respond.
|Private Education Institutions (PEIs)||68%|
Basically, the higher the nonresponse rate, the higher the chances that the results may be bias and less accurate.
# 3 Surveys Do Not Account For Graduates Who Are On Scholarships
One of the areas that is never reported in job surveys are the graduates who already have a job waiting for them upon graduation. These are the students who are on scholarship, such as SAF regulars, NIE teachers as well as those that are on scholarships offered by private companies.
For example, NIE graduates (i.e. MOE teachers) from NTU have a 100% employment rate. All these statistics obviously skewed the graduate employment results.
If you are a non-scholar graduate from a local university, then you need to be mindful that the graduate employment statistics reported may be an overestimate and that the actual figures will be lower once students who are on scholarships are excluded from the count.
# 4 Some Courses Typically Lead To Guaranteed Employment
Not all courses create equal job opportunities.
For example, if you are an undergraduate enrolled in a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (i.e. dentist) or Bachelor of Medicine And Bachelor Of Surgery (i.e. doctor) from NUS, you are essentially guaranteed a job upon graduation. Both these courses reported 100% employment rate.
We are not saying that we should deliberately exclude these courses from the graduate employment survey, as that will make the survey results inaccurate. Rather, what we are saying is that the overall number released may not be an accurate reflection on the ease of employment for individual courses.
For example, among Bachelor of Arts students from NUS, full-time permanent employment rate is at 61.9%, as compared to the overall 79.9% among graduates from all local universities. In NTU, Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Chemistry & Biological Chemistry graduates reported a full-time permanent employment rate of just 51.1% upon six months after the final examinations. This is a far cry than the headline figure of almost 80%.
# 5 Underemployment
Underemployment occurs when a person is employed in a role that isn’t a good reflection of the person’s ability or qualifications. For example, a finance graduate who was unable to secure a full-time job in a bank may end up taking other roles, such as an administration role.
This isn’t to say that being an administrative job isn’t a good job. It very well could be. Rather, what we are saying here is that graduates who end up taking these jobs full-time will not be reflected as being unable to find full-time job, because they already have a full-time job.
The statistics simply show that the number of people who have landed themselves a permeant full-time employment, even if most of them are working outside of their preferred area of expertise.
Look Beyond Just Headline Statistics
It’s wrong to entirely blame graduate employment surveys or headlines statistics for creating unrealistic expectations among graduates. Without these survey results, undergraduates may find themselves even less informed about their opportunities in the job market.
The problem arises when graduates look at these headline statistics and simply accept them as gospel truth, without probing further into the details and methodology behind how the results were obtained.
Articles which talk about these employment statistics should be seen as a first read to inspire younger Singaporeans to find out more about the job market for themselves, rather than for them to be relied upon as a lazy way for millennial graduates to set their salary expectation.
As a well-educated young Singaporean, you should strive your best to know your strength and your weaknesses well, and to manage your expectations beyond just is behind reported in headline statistics.
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