COVID-19 SPECIAL: Class of 2020

Starting salaries mostly holding steady though a few show drop

Fresh graduates who become fresh hires this year may find themselves earning less than newbies last year as employers grapple with the effects of Covid-19.

Data from two recruitment firms show a slight decline in the average salary for top entry-level jobs such as information technology (IT) executives, accounting roles and recruitment consultants.

For example, JobTech chief executive Ang Wee Tiong says the average salary for entry-level talent acquisition specialists or recruitment consultants with degrees is $2,900 this year, down from $3,400 last year.

Meanwhile, for diploma holders, the pay is $2,300 this year, down from $2,600.

Mr Vinay Dua, managing director of CareerBuilder Singapore, says that based on entry-level jobs on the firm's portals JobsCentral and BrightMinds, the average salary for the top five jobs so far this year is $2,907, down from $2,935 for the whole of last year. These include customer service, accounting and clinical or medical jobs.

Still, eight employers - six large and two small - from industries such as banking and finance, accountancy and public relations contacted by The Sunday Times say they are not cutting starting salaries for fresh graduates.

Accountancy consultancy Bridge 2 Biz managing director Henry Ong says he is keen to hire polytechnic or university graduates to add to his team of eight. "Though we're small, if the employee can perform and there is work for them, we'll share the profits with them," he says.

Human resources expert Linda Teo, who is country manager of ManpowerGroup Singapore, also says there have not been significant changes to starting pay as companies still follow existing pay structures.

However, there are fewer jobs available than last year, she notes.

Mr Ang of JobTech, which specialises in talent development, also says: "With the grim economic outlook, fresh grads tend to be disproportionately affected in terms of hiring opportunities as the cost to train them is high, and employers are less optimistic about future growth potential in the near term."


To provide more opportunities for fresh graduates, the public sector is ramping up hiring this year.

A Public Service Division spokesman says there are a good number of opportunities available in areas such as science, technology, and engineering, information communications and technology, data analysis and management, industry and sector development, and accounting and finance.

"The public service provides market-competitive starting salaries to recent graduates commensurate with the size and nature of the jobs. Starting salaries of jobs with skills that are in higher demand will be correspondingly higher in response to market conditions," she says.

She adds that it has been recruiting since March to fill temporary jobs arising from Covid-19, such as those for safe distancing and swabbing operations. It is also recruiting Institute of Technical Education and polytechnic graduates as digital ambassadors for the newly created SG Digital Office.

Employers are supporting young people through positions on their management associate programmes as well as the SGUnited Traineeships programme.

Conglomerate Sembcorp Industries, for example, is starting the Sembcorp Graduate Programme this year to provide structured longer-term career growth for fresh graduates in engineering and business-related fields.

A spokesman says the multi-year training programme will help them upskill and learn about the energy, urban development and corporate sectors.

Public relations firm Rice Communications' managing partner James Brasher says that although the firm has currently frozen hiring, it intends to introduce a new scheme to hire graduates - and, potentially bring more on than it usually would. "But, at this stage, we've not worked out exactly how and when we can do this," he says.

Meanwhile, the national traineeships scheme, which was introduced in the Resilience Budget in March and enhanced in the Fortitude Budget last month, aims to provide 21,000 places in the next 12 months for recent and new local graduates. They can gain industry-relevant experience and build networks through professional or industrial attachments.

So far, over 11,000 traineeships are on offer from over 1,000 companies. These include large employers like the three local banks, insurers Great Eastern and Prudential, telco Singtel, Sembcorp Industries and property developer CapitaLand.

Small and medium-sized enterprises such as Carousell, Yang Kee Logistics, Spic & Span and SGAG Media are also on board.

Trainees receive a monthly training allowance, which varies depending on the scope of the traineeship and can range from $1,100 to $2,500 depending on qualifications. The Workforce Singapore (WSG) website states that the estimated monthly training allowance for each qualification is pegged to 50 per cent - 70 per cent of median starting salaries. WSG co-funds 80 per cent, with the employer paying the rest.

UOB's head of group human resources Dean Tong says the bank is offering close to 150 traineeship analysts' roles in data, user interface design, business, and risk and compliance.

OCBC Bank will be taking in a first batch of about 150 for over 90 roles in areas such as corporate banking and data and technology, says Mr Ernest Phang, OCBC Bank's head of corporate services for group human resources.

CapitaLand, meanwhile, offers traineeships in digital innovation, data analytics, operations, marketing and hospitality, says a spokesman.

DBS Bank and Singtel are offering 500 and more than 600 traineeship places respectively.

Mr Foo See Yang, managing director and country head for Singapore for recruiter Kelly Services, says many companies are exploring traineeships as the national initiative offers them access to guidance in structuring an effective traineeship programme.

"The flexibility and government co-funding are also highly beneficial in helping them balance their long-term talent acquisition needs against current business challenges, especially if these companies choose to convert these trainees to full-time employees," he says.

Subsidised or free training and paid positions on offer

A slew of help measures and programmes have been rolled out for graduating students:


• Paid positions at places including local universities, research institutes under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, and start-ups.

• Up to 21,000 places for Institute of Technical Education, polytechnic and university graduates.


• Pick from about 1,700 CET modules across areas such as data analytics, finance, professional communications and systems thinking.

• SkillsFuture Singapore will provide a subsidy of 70 per cent of course fee, with universities subsidising the remainder.


• A specially curated catalogue of 150 CET courses and over 20 certificates of competency for the graduating cohort, in areas like data analytics and business and management. Each graduating student will be given up to 26 free training days.

• They can also apply for 200 full-time positions within NUS. These include roles in central administration, 17 faculties and schools, 29 research institutes and centres, and the National University Health System.


• An extra $1,600 in credits to offset fees for courses graduating students can take as alumni, on top of the four CET ones they can take free; credits are valid until June next year, and are on top of the existing $1,600 in credits available to all alumni.

• Academic credits gained from selected CET courses can be stacked towards a MiniMaster's Certificate. A MiniMaster's programme has half the academic load of a full master's programme. Credits may count towards a full master's degree, which can be pursued later.


• A structured six-to 12-month hands-on programme to equip graduates with an entrepreneurial mindset and skills to start their own businesses. To be launched this month, it can take 30 students.

• A six-day hands-on workshop series this month and next to train graduates to start and run a gig economy business. They will learn skills like how to set up an online business.

Jolene Ang

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 07, 2020, with the headline Starting salaries mostly holding steady though a few show drop. Subscribe