Underemployment is still a growing concern among Singapore’s and Malaysia’s labour force.
A recent study reports that starting salaries for holders of diplomas and undergraduate, and master’s degrees in Malaysia have decreased in comparison to 2010 rates.
The report added that Malaysians seem to be earning less than their counterparts in benchmark economies such as Singapore. With an increase in supply of professional graduates versus limited demand for them, today’s graduates have fewer options and are settling for jobs for which they are often overqualified.
An example of the income drop is how Malaysian graduates holding a mkaster’s degree earned around S$899 in 2018 while in 2010, the average salary of this group was $S970. Experts believe this is cause for concern since Malaysians may be discouraged from pursuing postgraduate or even higher education altogether.
Singapore is not exempt from this alarming trend. Recent graduates of even Singapore’s top universities have had difficulty landing secure jobs that suit their skills and pay them fairly. Many are forced to take part-time or freelance jobs while still in the hope of finding decent full-time work. Internships and project-based positions are offered to recent graduates, often without the security of full-time employment.
Some are optimistic about the global developing trend of the “gig economy,” saying it teaches youth to be creative and resilient in making a name for themselves amidst a rapidly changing labour horizon. These young graduates, known as “portfolio warriors,” often juggle multiple projects with various employers and work their own flexible hours which can blur the line between work-life balance.
But, others believe the “gig economy” is glorified exploitation. Contracted labour, once only referring to manual labour, is now being adopted by companies to outsource creative, consultancy, or other relevant work that would otherwise be more expensive to maintain for regular, full-time employees. Part-time and freelance workers also do not have the security of tenure and benefits provided to full-time workers.
Despite the changing employment trends, the consensus is that a strong work ethic, interpersonal skills, and a willingness to learn are irreplaceable, and highly-valued traits in potential employees.
Some wonder if the underemployment rate is linked to an increasing mismatch between skills demanded by employers and those that graduates actually have. Those with highly-regarded specialised skill sets in the information and communication industry are entitled to demand a higher wage premium. Labourers with obsolete skill sets can face unemployment and underemployment due to technological shifts in various industries.
In which case, is our educational system then to blame for its failure to prepare and equip its citizens for a changing work environment?/TISG