Employers and employees alike should cultivate a different mindset towards university degrees.
The Straits Times' senior education correspondent Sandra Davie said people here tend to think of them, ultimately, as pieces of paper to prove they are qualified for a job.
But employers should stop simply looking at the paper qualifications of potential candidates, when they are looking to hire.
"They should be looking at whether you can do the job, and if you can do it well," she told some 200 students, parents and working adults at the National Library.
Ms Davie, who has covered education for ST for two decades, was speaking last night on the topic: "Do you need a degree to succeed in life?" This was the sixth talk in the askST@NLB series, a collaboration between ST and the National Library Board (NLB).
Her answer: Yes, if one defines success as having a job that pays well so that one can have a comfortable life.
"A lot of employers, including the biggest employer in Singapore, which is the Government, still hire on (paper) qualifications," she said, adding that she hopes to see a change in that aspect.
Ms Davie, who was a teacher at Catholic Junior College before becoming a journalist, said success could be reframed by focusing on what one wants to do, and on finding meaning in doing it. Education has a central role in that journey.
More focus should be on the skills picked up in pursuit of a degree, rather than the pursuit for its own sake, she said.
"When you are applying to do a degree, what you should think about is, does this degree or this course teach me the skills that I need for the career I want?"
She said some people have had the courage to take the path less trodden and achieved success without getting a degree first.
While acknowledging a 2007 survey by the Ministry of Manpower that showed salaries increasing for every additional year of education, Ms Davie reminded the audience a decade has passed. Things are different now with a lot of disruption happening, so a longer education does not necessarily mean higher pay.
Engineer Kennedy Boh, 29, said the session changed his perception of the reason for getting a degree. "The world is changing very quickly, in terms of things like technology and AI," he said. "We need to not only pre-empt, but also embrace the changes."
The next talk will be held on Jan 26. ST's deputy tech editor Trevor Tan will speak on the topic: "Is your smartphone's camera good enough?"