Problem of underemployment still exists

Many developed countries are unable to generate enough jobs for the cluster of graduates entering the workforce every year.
Many developed countries are unable to generate enough jobs for the cluster of graduates entering the workforce every year. PHOTO: ST FILE

Even as more job openings are created, the problem facing degree holders in Singapore is the rising rate of underemployment, which has been a trend in First World economies for decades (Mixed job prospects in year ahead, March 15).

Many developed countries 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 half of available jobs are for professionals, managers, executives and technicians and almost 60 per cent of our population is tertiary-educated, then many of them are going to be doing blue-collar jobs.

A false picture may also emerge from the significant decrease in retrenchments last year.

As few bosses relish the thought of formally terminating a subordinate, many companies prefer to pressure workers to resign by making conditions unbearable in the office.

Increasingly, I hear of employers resorting to creative ways to force older workers to resign or opt for early retirement.

These include making their position redundant, setting unrealistic targets, deliberately giving them poor performance appraisals and demoting and subsequently forcing them to report to junior co-workers.

Watching colleagues being laid off has a negative impact on the morale of the remaining staff.

Employers may choose to adopt the aforementioned unscrupulous means to compel employees to quit, so that internal administrative processes and legal risks that may arise from dismissing a worker or paying costly severance compensation may be avoided.

Also, retrenching a significant portion of a company's workforce in one fell swoop may shake the confidence of investors and shareholders.

More companies resisting the issuance of official termination notices could possibly explain why retrenchments are at their lowest for seven consecutive years.

Edmund Khoo Kim Hock

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2019, with the headline 'Problem of underemployment still exists'. Print Edition | Subscribe