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What Are the Best Jobs for Singapore Undergraduates?

Should you give private tuition, be a private hire driver, work in the F&B industry or take on some freelance projects?


For many undergraduates, its now the summer break. Congratulations on surviving conquering yet another semester! For some, summer break is an excellent opportunity to earn some money to fund late-night espressos during crunch time.

This article looks at typical part-time jobs and compare what different pay structures mean to you.

Private Tutor or Music Teacher

With a relatively low-barrier to entry (you just need to find a parent willing to engage your services) and relatively high per hour pay, it is not hard to see why giving tuition is one of the classic jobs undergrads undertake. Like National Service or queuing, it’s like a Singaporean rite of passage.

Rates: Typically $20/hour (for primary school students) to $35/hour or more (for Junior College level)

While the hourly rate looks very lucrative, there are a few caveats.

Each tutoring session lasts about an hour or two at most. Unlike other jobs, like in retail, you can’t work more hours just because you want to.

Next, there’s the time you spend travelling to and from your (relatively short) tuition session to consider, and if the location is out of the way, the time you spend travelling (which you are not being paid for) might match or exceed your total travel time.

There are also some opportunity costs you will be incurring as a private tutor. For instance, if you fall sick, you won’t have sick leave benefits (and hence, no income). Also, tuition is pretty much the same experience whether you just started or have been doing it for decades. You sit with your student and support them in their learning. If you’re interested to develop different skills and gain experiences that would help you in your future career, this might not be the best way to do so.

Private Hire Driver

It seems that becoming a private hire driver is becoming more popular with tertiary students.

According to a website that supports such drivers, the average hourly rate for drivers is around $27. That sounds very good, and if you have the stamina, you can ramp up and drive for many hours a day.

There are intangible costs that you would incurr, and if you’re not careful, being as a private hire driver might actually COST you money! If you are renting a vehicle, there is a minimum number of hours you need to drive to at least recoup your rental fees. But if you stop there, you would have been working for free.

If you have your own vehicle, you need to register it with LTA as a commercial vehicle and purchase commercial vehicle insurance. Parking, fuel and maintenance costs associated with increased hours of vehicle usage also need to be factored into your budget.

Lastly, when you’re on the road for a long time, getting into an accident, even a minor one, is a real possibility. Dozing off at the wheel and having car damage is definitely not profitable, unless you are running a car workshop.

Food & Beverage/Banquet/Retail Staff

Working at an establishment for an hourly wage is a decent and predictable way to earn – you just need to put in the hours.

Rates typically range between $6 to $10 an hour, though if you work as wait-staff for banquets or take late-night shifts, you would earn more. At places where there is the possibility for overtime, you can earn 1.5 or 2 times the hourly rate.

The lower per hour rate at these jobs are offset by the many hours you are able to work, if you want to. Each shift is usually at least 4 hours, and you can do even more if you want.

Other intangibles that different places may throw in include free meals at food and beverage establishments, transport reimbursement when working hours are irregular, and shared access to the tip bowl. Though don’t expect much for the latter, with Singapore not having a strong tipping culture, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Taking on Freelance Projects

Lastly, there is a lot of chatter about the “gig economy”. Basically, that is undertaking freelance projects (or “gigs”). Common ones that are always in-demand include website design/development, photography/videography work, copywriting, beauty/makeup services and even home moving and painting.

Doing such assignments are a nice way to gain experience and hone one’s skills, and often work hours are flexible though you need to be independent enough to manage your time.

The challenges of doing such work is that in certain fields, the supply of willing freelancers exceed the demand, leading to fierce competition and the difficulty of marketing one’s services. Also, when the barrier to entry is low and there isn’t a certifiable or measurable indicator of quality, potential customers might just go for the cheapest service provider. While some people choose to undercut the market rate to get a job, it is equally possible that prospective clients pressure one into dropping your prices for the same reason.

Being efficient in delivering your work product as a freelancer is essential as well. Taking twice as long to do something means that you effectively halved your hourly rate. That adds up!

At the end of the day, there are job opportunities out there for the enterprising undergraduate. We hope that this article helps you weigh the pros and cons of each kind of pay structure, and choose one that fits your needs and personality best.

So get out there and hustle! Share with us your experiences below!

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