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Oral Answer by Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Minister for Manpower, to Parliamentary Question on the Issue of Graduate Underemployment

Notice Paper No. 346 of 2014 For The Sitting On 03 November 2014 Question No. 339 For Oral Answer

MP: Ms Foo Mee Har

To ask the Minister for Manpower (a) how can the issue of graduate underemployment be mitigated; and (b) what measures does the Government plan to put in place to ensure that the situation does not worsen.


  1. Graduate underemployment is an issue that many governments worldwide are grappling with, including in developed economies where graduates are experiencing challenges in securing jobs which match their skills and expertise.
  2. In many countries, graduate underemployment is due in a large part to a high or increasing proportion of degree holders entering the workforce, at a time where their economies are unable to generate sufficient good jobs for these graduates. This is exacerbated in cases where there is a mismatch between the courses of study and the skillsets required of the jobs available. The disruptive effect of technology on the nature of jobs also means that graduates who are unable to update and upgrade their skills may face challenges staying relevant in their fields.
  3. Singapore’s resident graduate underemployment rate1 is low and stable, at 2.3% in June 2013. While we are not facing the unemployment and underemployment problems in other countries, we will not be immune to these trends. The proportion of degree holders in our workforce has been increasing. We are seeing increasing access to private educational institutions or alternative routes which offer degrees of varying quality despite their slick packaging. Those who spend time and money going to these institutions may bear the greater risk of underemployment. Actually the market has begun to differentiate between degrees that carry their full worth in knowledge and skills, and those that are essentially paper qualifications. We should therefore encourage our young to pursue their interests, and go for substance when considering their education and career paths.
  4. We will also need to keep up our efforts at ensuring that graduates have the skillsets to take on quality jobs. Our first strategy is to keep our economy vibrant and competitive as that is the time when quality jobs can be created. This means we must press on with our restructuring efforts, as well as to continue to grow industries which offer good jobs for graduates and all Singaporeans. We need to attract the right companies to invest and grow their businesses here.
  5. At the same time, we need to help individuals to equip themselves with the skills to take on the quality jobs of today and also of tomorrow. The SkillsFuture Council will help spearhead efforts on this front to develop an integrated system of education, training and career progression for Singaporeans. This involves helping individuals to make informed choices on education and training, and strengthening the linkages between education and training institutions and industry needs. Employers also have to recognise the value in investing in the training of their workers and help them achieve mastery of skills. Overall, we have to create a culture where workers are motivated and able to continually acquire relevant skills and experience that will help them advance in their careers. This includes degree holders, who must also take ownership of their individual career and training development throughout their lives.

1Refers to time-related underemployment, which is the commonly accepted statistical definition of underemployment internationally. It examines the extent to which a person is insufficiently engaged in employment based on hours of work. Specifically, it refers to persons working part-time but are willing and able to engage in additional work.