Underemployment a problem developed countries face

The problem of rising underemployment among degree holders in Singapore is hardly surprising, as this has been a trend in developed economies for decades.

First World countries struggling under massive amounts of debt are unable to generate enough jobs for the cluster of graduates entering the workforce every year.

The situation is aggravated by the incompatibility between the content of university courses and the range of abilities required to fill job vacancies.

Only 26 per cent of Singaporean residents between the ages of 25 and 34 possessed university degrees in the year 2000. Today, more than half of this age group consists of graduates, and the trend is continually rising.

If only 50 per cent of available jobs are for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs), and almost 60 per cent of our population are tertiary-educated, then many of them are going to be doing blue-collar jobs.

There is already a substantial number of graduates performing white-collar jobs that require a lower skill set than they possess, such as engineers selling property or insurance.

However, many degree holders have been doing so for decades, simply because the potential commissions far exceed the fixed salary they could command in the vocation they were trained for.

The rising expectations of both parents and students have resulted in more graduates emerging with degrees in medicine, law and banking which - apart from the demand for more doctors - are creating a glut in the job market.

Underemployment is considered a major issue these days because PMETs are bearing the brunt of downsizing.

Last year, 15,580 workers were laid off, the highest since the global financial crisis in 2009, which saw 23,430 workers laid off ("Middle-aged execs caught in double bind: Survey"; March 22).

Nearly two-thirds of resident workers made redundant last year were aged 40 and above.

Whirlwind changes in the economy and disruptive new technologies replacing jobs are turning traditional economic sectors into sunset industries.

Emerging sectors create new jobs for graduates that require different skills, but mid-career workers are not upgrading themselves sufficiently to fill these positions.

As a result, many of these retrenched individuals end up in lower-level jobs that pay far less.

Like many developed countries, we now have an abundance of overeducated and underemployed workers.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Underemployment a problem developed countries face'. Print Edition | Subscribe