Graduate underemployment climbs, causing concern among analysts


An annual survey by the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU) released on 26 Feb shows that the proportion of graduates who secured full-time permanent jobs has plummeted from 79.9 per cent in 2016 to 78.4 per cent in 2017.

10.6 per cent of recent graduates from the top three universities here (NUS, NTU and SMU) who were surveyed, reported being in freelance, part-time and temporary jobs. This figure is up from 9.7 per cent of graduates who reported the same in 2016.

This, compounded with the fact that the unemployment rate among those under 30 climbed to 7.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2017 compared to 7.1 per cent one year ago, has caused concern among some analysts.

Analysts speaking to The Business Times recently expressed concern that graduates appear to be resorting to jobs that they are over-qualified for in greater numbers now.

Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) professor Walter Theseira was one such voice who shared: “Standard surveys at best capture part-time employment as a measure of under-employment – they ask whether someone would like to be full-time employed – instead of part-time, for example and they don’t really get at this question of whether people are doing jobs they are overqualified for.”

Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI), also noted that the trend of recent graduates being underemployed is “beginning to be noticeable”. He added: “We’re producing more graduates but the economic structuring may not be enough to produce such jobs for their skills”.

Tan, however, offered that this trend could be driven by more younger people choosing to opt for jobs in the gig economy that offer them more flexibility and autonomy.

Maybank economist Chua Hak Bin echoed this sentiment and said that the statistics perhaps reflect the possibility that more young people are underemployed as they take up jobs in the gig economy as secondary sources of income as they further their studies.

On the other hand, Chua acknowledged that the statistics could reflect that some graduates who take certain degrees might really be struggling to land quality jobs: “There is some speculation that more millennials might be going for graduate studies, freelance or gig economy jobs and may not be counted in the data because part of that might be secondary or part-time jobs. But some could be graduates in certain degrees, such as in the humanities, who could be struggling.”

Is the gig economy to blame for graduate underemployment?

The Business Times article seems to draw a connection between the graduate underemployment statistic with more graduates joining the gig economy. Some analysts speaking to the writer opined that choosing jobs on the gig market is not necessarily a bad thing.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun felt that gig economy jobs may improve one’s skills and that it might be worth being unemployed if it paves the way for better opportunities: “Whether it’s informal or formal work, all these are work-life experiences…We don’t know whether we are going to be a Deliveroo rider or a banker forever. There’s no good or bad job – a job is a job, as long as it creates economic activity.”

Song’s views, while practical, may not be useful to graduates who do not resort to gig economy jobs out of choice.

While some graduates have reported that they prefer gig economy jobs, others have reported that they are forced to work in short-term or freelance jobs they are overqualified for since they are unable to find a full-time permanent job they are qualified for.

One recent graduate interviewed by the writer, Reuben Su, revealed that he decided to take on freelance jobs after being unable to find a job for about six months. Another SIM graduate who is still looking for a job said that most of the students in his programme are still on the hunt for jobs, with many taking on temporary positions in customer service.

This was echoed by a 2017 NUS graduate who shared that some of her classmates have not been able to find a full-time job and have resorted to working as tutors or as interns at firms that pay less than S$1,000 a month.

CEO of recruitment agency Achieve Group, Joshua Yim, reported that graduates of humanities programmes take up jobs as tutors, customer service officers, surveyors and Uber drivers – volatile jobs that offer little job security and lack of dependable career progression.

Measure graduates’ satisfaction with jobs: analysts

The task of tracking underemployment may be difficult due to the subjective nature of measuring whether one is over-qualified. SHRI president Erman Tan suggested that future surveys be tweaked to capture whether graduates are satisfied with their first job to better gauge underemployment.

SUSS professor Dr Theseira added: “I would suggest that we explore adjustments to the graduate employment survey and other labour market surveys that do this, even though such measures may be less reliable than the traditional employment measures.”


  1. The PAP government has a bad habit of flexing its political muscles domestically inward towards the people . Try playing their game of monopoly , with their set of rules, and you will probably find yourself at the losing end of the yardstick . Put them on the international stage and play by the renowned international set of rules , and you will find that their muscles will suddenly dissolve into a chunk of amino fats .

    • Hollowing out of the economy as quality jobs shifted out of the country while others increasing reliant on cheap foreign workers. Rather than moving up the value chain to jobs that require skills and sophistication, Singapore’s economy has degenerated to third world that competes on cost and cheap labour.

    • This golden mantra has not changed but it’s the PAP government that is unable to keep it’s promise of a swiss standard of living.
      A good education is even more important now, it’s up to sinkies to seek the next obvious step.
      You have to think harder what this is.

  2. PAP keep cooking their own logic, only cares about their own pocket.
    Apple the most profitable company in US now, spent 5 billions to build “Spaceship Campus”.
    In SG, KBW asks for 3.2 billions budget for LTA new Depot at Bedok.
    Is he building a SPACE DOOM in SG. Let see how he spurge our money and we have to pay for IT.

  3. go to changi business park and see for yourself just how many FTs there are working as PMETs. the problem is that govt refuse to put singaporeans first and pursue the gdp growth relentlessly without care to its people. But ultimately, 70% voters are getting just what they deserve. It is the 30% that get dragged down with them.

  4. This government has, for too long, pushed policies that enabled companies to adopt and perpetuate unfair hiring policies. Companies keep employment costs low by using cheaper foreigners, local interns, contract workers etc. There is little job security and benefits for such workers. As long as companies can hire cheaply, they will not be quick to pay fair wages or hire locals into permanent positions.

  5. Gov & tribalism FT management reserved many good posts for foreigners & their kins. In Chartered semicon, locals need 1st or 2nd upper class honors degree to get interview, Msian is employed even 3rd class.

    When one foreigner get a job, climb up, they quickly replaced all Sporean with their kins, HK, Msian especially, Indonesian, Angmo are all doing that aggressively. You will be asked to train your stupid replacement.

    To bring in more targeted migrants, gov gives very good scholarships to study in local uni, with well paid gov job to foreigners for 2~3yrs bond.

    Many employers esp retail lines are employing low paid foreigners $1k+ by falsely reporting their salary to meet PME $2500~3500 quota. Then employees paid back under table the different.

    FT are cheaper because they don’t care since their countries have no job, just get any pay to remit back.

    Outsourcing for cost saving. When all public sectors start to privatise, SMRT, SBS, SPower,..all making $B huge profit still cry foul want increase fees, they cut cost by bring in low labour, out source, standard drop but who care, they are monopoly.

    Many distant or foreign degree that are low standard should not be recognized. Check foreigners certificate carefully, esp Indian many fake. According to Myanmar Yangon University students they only study one month per year, then graduate without knowledge. then Come Spore get a $2.5k job. Some non graduate low standard one can get $3.5K job in ERP, LTA jobs that Sporean can’t get.

    Indians, indians, indians everywhere, with fake certificates…to convert Spore to Little India at Malacca Straits to choke China trade route throat. courtesy of CIA China containment Quart program. LHL is hamstrung, blackmailed into puppet. He is not stupid to break Spore rice bowl when China butter our bread, US only got weapons & wars to sell.

    See all your foreign Indians ministers, states ministers, senior civil servants, chief judge(Melon), high court judges, MAS chief, DBS chief,…look carefully, who are these Indians? Smooth talking but incapable like Shamuggan($M lawyer used to get scolded by judges), Vivian, Deputy PM(ex-secret leaker of MAS), …funny huh?

  6. Vote opposition let them have a more seat cannot up to PAP ownself say ownself agreed pass the white paper . 49 and 51 is the best, please don’t scare alway want other vote opposition u yourself vote PAP .u can see opposition lifestyles in his area still same as what PAP area

  7. Time for our graduates to look into the reason why they are not employed. They can change that by not voting the PAP who do not put you graduates first when it comes to jobs. Now you have been told there is no need for certificates? Huh? So means the only job available for you is security guard and plenty of vacancies, taxis drivers now also given to foreigners. It is already happening.

  8. Bold energetic unemployed graduates should look into a well paying part time political career as opposition MPs. There are many problems and issues made by PAP government. Resolving these problems will be fulfilling career. It will not be difficult if one is not greedy and not up to no good. This is a good opportunity to be rewarded with decent pay, a noble public service to weed out evil doers and liars, as well as able to serve the citizens visibly.
    Forget about the PAP tea party, special evil traits are needed to qualify. Trying to change PAP from within is futile and is just self serving wishful thinking. The fact that you are not invited is already a true blessing.