Friday, December 13, 2013

Government should walk the talk

Minister Khaw Boon Wan said: “If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can't eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless,”

Rather than discouraging young people to pursue a meaningless degree, the Government can take proactive steps as follows:

a) Change the practice in the civil service of limiting the career prospects of non-graduates who have good experience and competency in their field of work

b) Provide opportunities for non-graduates to pursue a long term career in the public service by offering them apprenticeship to develop the skills for their field of work and giving them the assurance of a career with good salary and prospects.

If attractive alternatives to a university degree are made available to those who are not academically inclined, we will not see the wastage of resources.

Study options for a polytechnic graduate

About the writer: The writer is a final year undergraduate at a top university. He has many non academically inclined friends who put themselves in a meaningless ‘paper chase’. He believes that his friends would be better off acquiring real-world work experience in an industry which suits their talents.

Ben (not his real name) is a 19 year old Singaporean youth. He is an average polytechnic graduate with mediocre results – neither exceptional nor lousy. He is unable to gain admission into the NUS, NTU or SMU. Unfortunately, he does not come from a wealthy family to pursue an overseas degree. Recently, he came to me to seek advice for his next step in life. Here are his options:
Option 1 - Enrol into a Distance Learning (DL) Degree in UniSIM / other education providers
Option 2 - Find a job in his industry and get working experience
Ben tells me he is not alone. Many of his friends in polytechnic are in the same boat. He also tells me that many of his friends chose option 1 and encouraged him to choose option 1 as well.
I disagreed. I told him that he should not be blindly chasing after a ‘paper’ but be looking for an option that would benefit him most in the long run.

Practical Work Experience in Ben’s industry will benefit him more than a University Degree
Ben is not the type who learns best in an academic environment. He prefers a more hands-on learning approach which he obtained in his polytechnic years. Work experience will give him the “On The Job” training that will benefit him more in his career progression.
For example, Ben would be better off being a technician in the oil & gas industry and build up extensive knowledge in that area than study some abstract theories in chemical /mechanical engineering which is irrelevant.
Work experience will put Ben ahead of his peers
By the time his peers graduate from University, Ben would have accumulated 4 years of work experience and extensive knowledge of his industry. This puts him ahead of his graduate peers in 4 years time.

A degree will not guarantee a good job for Ben and is likely to be totally irrelevant

A degree does not and never will guarantee a good job. The only guarantee is lots of hard work for a not academically inclined Ben.
This degree does not come free; it costs a lot of money. Ben is likely to find his degree completely irrelevant and useless in his future career.

Job market for Fresh Graduates is highly competitive & Ben will be at the wrong end of the pecking order
Let’s get real. Would employers prefer to hire a NUS/NTU/SMU graduate or a chapalang university graduate? NUS/NTU/SMU takes in the brightest in each cohort while anyone who pays tuition fees can enrol into a DL degree. Remember the Garbage In, Garbage Out theory. Employers are no idiots.
There are many anecdotes of DL graduates who struggle to nail down their first-choice jobs online. Many arguably fail to even get their 2nd, 3rd or 4th choice and have to settle for a job that do not require a degree. Just Google search it.
I asked Ben, “Do you want to waste your parents’ hard earned money and 3 years of your time on a useless piece of paper?”
Khaw Boon Wan sums it up perfectly when he said “If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can't eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless,”

I wish Ben all the best for his future endeavours and hope that he will not be trapped in the paper chase that will do him absolutely no good.

Adopt the right approach towards learning

I have an attitude towards education which is quite different from most other people. 

When I learn a subject, I want to understand it, and to know how it can be used in real life. 

Whether I pass or not is less important. It is more important to understand the subject. It happens that when I understand the basic principles of the subject, passing was quite easy. 

I go for a pass and did not bother to get a good grade. 

For most people, passing the subject and getting a good grade is more important, regardless of whether they understand the subject or not. Some of them get a good grade without understanding the subject well, and they quickly forget the principles. The Chinese has a saying, "return the books back to the teacher".

I like to see more people adopt the correct approach towards education, i.e. to understand the principles and be less focus on getting the grades.

My experience in self learning

I left school and started work after secondary 4. But I continued to learn by reading useful books.

I remembered three paperback books that I read soon after leaving school, and the understanding of the subjects was useful to me for a lifetime. I choose these books because the subjects would be important for the working world.

The books are on the following:
- principles of civil and criminal law
- practical statistics
- accountancy

As these are books written for the lay people, it was quite easy to understand the principles and was quite light to read. I learned these subjects well, and did not require the help of a teacher or to attend a formal course in the university.

My method of self learning was more useful that students who have to struggle with these subjects in the university, and who never really grasped the principles.

I wish to encourage young people to have the right approach towards learning - to learn for the sake of understanding, and not just to get a good grade.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A different path for career development

I started work at 18 as a clerk in an insurance company. My schoolmates went to A level and university and started work 6 years later. By that time, I had 6 years of working experience and was 70% qualified as an actuary.

I did not need a university degree. I know how an insurance company operates inside out, and was able to pass the actuarial professional examination easily, with the practical insights.

When I decided to leave school after secondary 4 to support my parents, the principal was surprised. I was among the top 5 students in Singapore in the School Certificate Examination (which was later changed to the GCE O Level).

It is possible to pursue a non-degree path. It worked well for me. It would be a better choice for other people who are not academically inclined.

But I am aware about the lack of career path for non-graduates in the paper oriented environment in Singapore. This is a mistake and is bad for our future.

Two different ways of developing people for their working careers

Let me post the options of a university degree as follows:

a) Mr. X struggles for 4 years in university and manages to scrap through with a degree that is hardly recognized. He is recruited into the police force.

b) Mr. Y, with the same academic standard as Mr. X decides to join the police force 4 years earlier as a non-graduate and goes through an apprentice course as a police for 4 years, spending half the time on actual police work and the other half of the time attending the police academy.

Who is likely to be a better policeman, Mr. X or Mr. Y? Who should draw a higher salary? Is it better for more people, who are not academically inclined, to take the route of Mr. Y, instead of Mr. X? Will it produce a more competent work force?

Public sector can take the lead to develop a more balanced approach in people development

Dear Mr. Tan,
I agree with what you said about university degree, and how it may be a waste of time, if the graduate does not apply what he learn in the job.
But, you must agree with me that without a degree, the progress may be hampered, especially in the government service. A non-graduate is automatically barred from promotion.
What say you?

I agree that the most damage is done by the government. By giving the signal that a degree is a MUST, they have led to many people pursuing the paper qualification, at the expense of real skills on the jobs.
For example, if there is a riot, we want the regular policeman to know what to do, and not to act blur, waiting from instructions. What is the point of having policemen with a degree, if they are not able to carry out real police work and control rioters and arrest criminals?

To solve our problem of recruiting people who can make a career in the police force, the government should be ready to recruit non-graduates and put them under a special training program to be a competent policeman.

At the end of 4 years of actual police work, accompanied by training in the police academy, and provided that the policeman learn the skill and competency, he should earn a pay that is similar to a graduate at that time.

We have to make it worth while for young people to choose a career in their specialized occupation and pay them as well as those with a paper degree, provided they do their jobs well.
The same approach can be applied to the work of a teacher, nurse, administration officer and other jobs.
If the government sets an example of training people for the job, the private sector can be encouraged to follow. It can be the apprenticeship system used in Germany.

This approach will allow us to build real competencies for the various jobs in the economy.
It is rather sad to see so many people getting, for example an engineering degree, and end up selling property and financial products - and worse, sell them wrongly, causing damage to the wealth of the customers.
It is time for us to review our strategy in the development of our human resource and have a more balanced approach, involving wider options than a university degree.

An alternative to a university education

Many American parents face this dilemma. Do I spend $200,000 to send my son or daughter to college (i.e. university) or should I keep it for my own retirement?

The problem is - after spending the money, the graduate may not be able to find a suitable job that can earn enough to pay back the money invested by their parents.

The student can take a loan from the government, but also has to pay back the loan with interest.

The high cost of university education will be a drain on the finances of many families, and may be a bad investment.

This problem is now being faced by many parents in Singapore.

There should be a way for people to find a good paying job, without incurring this high cost.

The German system of apprenticeship should be implemented in Singapore. It allows young people to opt for a career that suits their interest and ability, and to acquire the skills in the workplace under an apprenticeship system. On completing the apprenticeship, they are assured of a job from the mentoring employer.

This method will produce people with the technical skills that are needed in the workplace. Apart from manufacturing jobs, they are suitable for accounting, administrative, customer service and other office based jobs.

I hope that our leaders aer aware of this problem and are open minded to look for a possible solution.

Difficult to find a job without working experience

Students spend 3 or 4 years full time to get a university degree. On graduation, they expect to get a graduate's pay which is likely to be 50% higher than a non-graduate. But, they do not have any working experience and employers are not willing to incur the high cost for an inexperienced person.

The graduates are not willing to take a lower pay, as they have spent much money and time (or their parent's money) to get the degree. As a results, many graduates find it difficult to get a job.

This problem is faced not only in Singapore, but in many countries around the world. It is the phenomena of the unemployed graduates.

Those who are academically stronger and did better in their exams are able to get a job.

The unemployment rate is higher among the weaker graduates. These students should have taken a different route, e.g. to acquire experience in the workplace through apprenticeship, rather than spend the time in the university.

We have to address the wastage of resources and seek a better solution.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

A more balanced approach towards developing our people

There are several ways to train people to have the knowledge and skill for the workforce. The university is one option. There are other suitable options, such as apprenticeship and on-the-job training. 

Certain people are suitable for academic and research work. The university is a good place for them. 

Other people are suitable for technical, marketing or service work. They need to develop skills in the workplace. These skills cannot be learned in the university.

We need to reduce the wage difference between the various types of jobs, to encourage people to pursue the careers that are more suitable for them, and not to pursue a degree that are not useful to them.

The gap between the income of graduates and non-graduates is too wide in Singapore. It encouraged more people to pursue a degree, even when it does not suit them. This is wasteful.

The time spent pursuing a degree is at the expense of developing the skills and experience that are more relevant to their careers.

We need to achieve a better balance in Singapore, so that our human resources are developed more effectively to produce the competencies that are needed in the economy.

We need more technicians rather than degree holders

We need to respect technicians for their knowledge in their technical field and recognize that they may be more useful than degree holders who does not have the same technical knowledge.

Here is the definition of a technician from Wikipedia.

A technician is a worker in a field of technology who is proficient in the relevant skills and techniques, with a relatively practical understanding of the theoretical principles.

Experienced technicians in a specific tool domain typically have intermediate understanding of theory and expert proficiency in technique. As such, technicians are generally better versed in technique compared to average laymen and even general professionals in that field of technology.

For example, although audio technicians are not as learned in acoustics as acoustical engineers, they are more proficient in operating sound equipment, and they will likely know more about acoustics than other studio staff such as performers.

Technicians may be classified as either highly skilled workers or at times semi-skilled workers, and may be part of a larger (production) process.

They may be found working in a variety of fields, and they usually have a job title with the designation 'technician' following the particular category of work.

Thus a 'stage technician' is a worker who provides technical support for putting on a play, while a 'medical technician' is an employee who provides technical support in the medical industry or to the medical profession.

An engineering technician in the UK is a highly skilled, highly educated occupation requiring 5-8 years post high school training in a formal apprenticeship and college of further education.

Apprenticeship scheme

Germany has a successful apprenticeship system that builds up the skill of their workforce. 

Here is a description from Wikipedia:
Apprenticeship is a system of training a new generation of practitioners of a structured competency a basic set of skills. Apprentices are set a strict training program so they can gain a set of skills to prepare themselves for their desired trade or certain career in which they wish to pursue. License to practice in a regulated profession. Apprentices or protégés build their careers from apprenticeships. Most of their training is done while working for an employer who helps the apprentices learn their trade or profession, in exchange for their continuing labor for an agreed period after they have achieved measurable competencies. For more advanced apprenticeships, theoretical education was also involved, with jobs and farming over a period of 4–6 years.
To be successful, the individual must have perseverance, ambition, and initiative. Like a college education, the successful completion of an apprenticeship term does not come easily, but is the result of hard work on the part of the apprentice. In practically every skilled occupation, more than fundamental knowledge of arithmetic is essential. The ability to read, write and speak well is beneficial in any walk of life, but in some apprenticeship occupations it is more important than in others.

A new way to train young people for the jobs of the future

We need a better way to plan the education and training of your young people. We have to train them for the skills and knowledge that they need for the suitable jobs, and assure them that they will be able to find a job, after getting trained. They should also have an idea of the expected income, which should be adequate to make a living. 

We need people to do the various types of jobs in our society, including the manual and service workers. If these jobs pay adequately and fairly, they will attract people who are suitable for these jobs. These people do not need to pursue a piece of paper, call a degree, which is costly and are not useful for many types of jobs.

How can this goal be achieved? How can we project the demand for various types of jobs, and ensure that the wages for these jobs are fair and adequate?

This requires an innovative way of planning, which is market based, fair and transparent. It is now possible with the Internet.

It involves a system of licensing for all types of jobs. The number of licenses to be issued to the job holders will be monitored based on market demand. Only those with licences will be allowed to perform the job.

Employers should indicate their demand in advance and will be given the priority to get the employees with the licence.

The number of licenses to be issued can be controlled based on the market demand, and also to ensure that the human resources are optimally used. The system can be managed transparently.

An example of the licencing system is that used for taxi drivers. The same concept can be extended to other jobs.

I hope that this concept can be developed further to ensure that our human resources and training are put to optimal use and that people are assured of jobs that they planned ahead for.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Action needed on suspected abuse in recruitment of foreign workers

I do not condone rioting and violence, and agree that they have to be dealt with, according to the law.

But, our government should also take time to reflect on this incident, and also the previous strike by the PRC bus drivers. We have to understand their grievances - and see if there has been abuse and exploitation by the recruitment agencies.

We have to find a way to deal with the abuses. I suggest that all foreign workers should be interviewed by an NGO worker, and their statement should be taken down, in case there is any complaint about being misled on the salary and working conditions.

We should follow up with the recruiting agent in Singapore, who should be responsible for what is being said by the recruiting agent in the other side.

There is the possibility that the foreign worker may not tell the truth, but if several workers make the same statement, then there must be some truth to it.

It is wrong for our "authority" to close two eyes and two years and let the abuse continue for a long time. We must be proactive, and must use practical sense to deal with the problem.

It is time for our "authority" to wake up and do their duty.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Help small businesses to promote to the neighborhood

Many small businesses have to send flyers to the neighborhood. It is an economical way to promote their business.
However, the flyer is a nuisance. It is also largely wasted and environmentally unfriendly.
An alternative is for households to register in a website and for the businesses to send the flyers to them in soft copy by email.
If you support this Green Drive, you can register here,
If there are many people who registered in this manner, there is no need for snall businesses to send flyers to their neighborhood.

Getting people employed

Many countries have a problem of finding enough jobs for their people. In countries where jobs for existing workers is protected, there is high unemployment among the youth. 
In countries where there is weak protection of workers, such as in Singapore, there is high unemployment among the older workers. We now see this phenomena among the PMETs. 
Countries with high rate of tax, such as in Scandinavia, is able to handle this problem better. the high tax rate allows them to pay unemployment benefit.
It is a mechanism that those who are employed should contribute towards the welfare of those who are unemployed. If the wages are below subsistence level, it is better to draw unemployment benefit. Somehow, it ensures that the wages are kept at an "adequate level".
There is the risk that unemployment benefit can be abused by those who are lazy. But, some countries are able to manage the abuse quite well, while others failed in this task. It depends on the culture of the people and the Government.
We cannot rule out that unemployment benefit is bad and that the system in Singapore is good. Each system has its strengths and weaknesses.
I do not like the Singapore system, as it is not properly managed. Too much is left unmanaged. This is why the cost of living is too high, relative to wages.
I like to see a change in government, so that the social problems faced in our society, which has been neglected for two decades, can be properly addressed, and a new perspective can be considered.

PAP sets new direction

I am encouraged by the new goal that has been adopted by the PAP, especially the part about build a "fair and just society" .... provided they really understand what they are talking about. 


The People's Action Party (PAP) on Sunday resolved to uphold an open and compassionate meritocracy, and build a fair and just society in Singapore, as it adopted a significant resolution that will define its cause in a new phase of Singapore's development.

Explaining the reason for this move, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the PAP's secretary-general, said that while the fundamental goals of the PAP remain the same, and have been set out in its constitution and pledge, it is time to interpret and update them for a new generation.

These goals are to build a multi-racial, fair and just society with opportunities for all.

"I think we can all agree these are the right things to do... But what do these ideals mean tangibly, concretely, in this day and age? We must interpret these goals in a new phase and with a new generation," he said at the party's convention at Kallang Theatre.

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