Fresh graduates banking on finance sector for jobs

Tough competition as aspirations do not match hiring demand: Experts

After finishing a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering, 25-year-old Samuel Chan is ready to start a career - in banking.

The Nanyang Technological University graduate will join UOB Group's Management Associate programme next month.

As an undergraduate, Mr Chan had an academic interest in engineering. But when it came to jobs, he decided that the sector was not for him. "I felt that it was probably less commercial, less dynamic and less fast-paced than banking," he said.

And then, there is the pay. Industry surveys suggest that entry-level pay in engineering jobs is around $2,800 monthly, compared to over $3,000 in finance.

The job market for fresh graduates is seeing a mismatch between aspirations and employer demand. This may mean tough competition in areas such as finance, and too little in those such as engineering, say experts.

"Our engineering cohorts each year do not enter the industry but seek opportunities in other industries, particularly in the finance field," said managing director David Leong of human resource firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting.

Besides better pay, the finance sector is also perceived by some as being more attractive in terms of job scope and prospects.

On the Manpower Ministry's list of degree-level jobs with the most vacancies, engineering jobs took up three of the top 10 places last year. These jobs were in the fields of civil, mechanical as well as industrial and production engineering.

The other positions in need of workers included posts such as management executive, teaching and software developer.

So while jobs for graduates are not scarce, it could be harder to get the specific one young graduates want.

Despite anecdotes of degree- holders having trouble in the job market, such candidates are a small minority.

Last year, 85.6 per cent of graduates landed a full-time permanent job within six months of their final examinations.

The issue might instead be high expectations, said human resource experts. "They're demanding competitive salaries, immediate career growth and exciting job content - ideally wanting their first role to tick all the boxes," said Randstad country director of Singapore Michael Smith.

Kelly Services Singapore vice- president and country general manager Mark Hall added that graduates may thus take longer to find a job that meets their expectations.

Another issue is that in sectors such as banking, fierce competition may make it seem as though the market has worsened - even though most banks said they have not scaled back graduate hiring.

Some have even ramped it up. DBS Bank, for instance, hired 20 per cent more fresh graduates last year.

But the number of applicants is still far in excess of the number of places. Last year, there were nearly 7,000 applications for 60 places in two DBS Bank programmes.

Banks also welcome candidates from all educational backgrounds. Said OCBC Bank's head of human resource planning Jacinta Low: "We value diversity in our workforce."

This is good news for those without related degrees, but it could mean even more competition. If graduates want a less heated fight, where should they look?

Mr Hall suggested that it will be easier for them to find jobs in growing industries like hospitality, retail and the medical sectors.

Still, those with their hearts set on finance could consider specialist or niche roles in areas such as risk and compliance, which banks say remain hard to fill.

Demand for these roles seems likely to stay strong. Said Mr George McFerran, managing director for Asia-Pacific at finance job site eFinancialCareers: "Since the financial crisis, banks are facing more regulatory obligations, forcing them to increase the size of their compliance teams."