University graduates are earning more, and their employability remains high, a joint employment graduate survey has found.
It polled 10,904 fresh graduates from Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore and Singapore Management University last year.
The results, released yesterday, showed that nearly nine in 10 graduates, or 89.7 per cent, found jobs within six months of their final exams, similar to previous years, while their median monthly salaries rose to a new high of $3,360, $60 more than in 2015.
But not all is rosy for the class of 2016, as more of them are taking on temporary positions until they land a job of their choice.
Of the 89.7 per cent with employment, 9.5 per cent settled for part-time, temporary or freelance gigs, compared with 6.4 per cent in 2015. This means a drop of about 3 percentage points, among those with full-time jobs from 2015.
Biomedical engineering graduate Mindy Tan, for instance, has been working as a temporary administrative assistant for the past nine months.
The 24-year-old, who has been diligently applying for jobs, told The New Paper: "This job will have to do until a more suitable one comes along."
This job will have to do until a more suitable one comes along.Biomedical engineering graduate Mindy Tan, who has been working as a temporary administrative assistant for the past nine months
Associate Professor Randolph Tan, a Nominated Member of Parliament, said graduates are not averse to taking up freelance gigs, which are on the rise, because they want to "shop around" for the best positions.
Taking on part-time, temporary or freelance positions allows them to try things out, the labour economist explained.
"The underlying reason this phenomenon increases during times of economic uncertainty - which last year would be easily characterised as - is also the same, namely the desire to search for a better 'deal'.
"Understandably, everyone wants to work for the top employers - top meaning those giving the best benefits and with the best workplace conditions," he told TNP.
SIM University labour economist Walter Theseira said demand for short-term contracts and temporary employment is also going up.
This is because many firms prefer to exercise financial discipline and will not create new full-time head counts, he said.
Associate Prof Tan said the jobs situation will improve only after the economy recovers.
"There is likely to be further delays this time around because of the added complications of restructuring.
"On the other hand, the labour market in some areas is still heavily in need of workers with the requisite skills," he said.
As fresh graduates are still relatively cheap sources of labour compared with mature workers, the bigger challenge for them is finding a job of the right fit, said Dr Theseira.
"Some popular and important industries, like finance, are facing difficult times and muted growth prospects. Even within industries, the in-demand skills have shifted.
"For example, within finance, there is great interest in exploring new business models facilitated by fintech, so graduates with both traditional finance skills, as well as knowledge of coding, are in greater demand compared to those who have only one skill set," he explained.
Mature workers who may be drawing relatively high pay but lack the skills required for the changing job market are more vulnerable, he added.
"Of course, experienced and skilled workers are in high demand, but many workers do not have the right experience and skills for the changing job market."
Marginal increase in median salary for graduates
Median monthly salaries for last year's university graduates hit a new high of $3,360, up from $3,300 for the class of 2015.
This according to the results of a joint graduate employment survey of over 10,000 fresh graduates in November last year by the National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Singapore Management University (SMU).
About nine in 10, or 89.7 per cent, found a job within six months of finishing their final examinations - similar to previous years.
Among the three universities, SMU graduates fared the best, with 93.8 per cent securing a job within six months of completing their final examinations.
The employment rate for NUS and NTU graduates hovered at the 90 per cent mark.
One year, 50 applications before he gets first job
When it came to job hunting, Mr Sin Xin Yi believed he had it down pat — a stellar co-curricular record, good grades, strong social skills, and a positive work attitude.
Alas, it took the 26-year-old almost one year and nearly 50 applications before he landed his first and current job — a project management executive at a research organisation.
“I felt demoralised, especially when people around me started landing jobs,” said Mr Sin, who graduated with a second class upper honours in psychology from the National University of Singapore.
“Personally, I thought I was a strong candidate for the job because I really prepared a lot for each interview and the process was pretty positive,” he told TODAY.
But then rejection letters came his direction, sometimes after the first interview; occasionally at the follow-up interviews with senior management, and it would be back to the drawing board.
Mr Sin said he had started the job-hunting process early, in February last year, even before graduation.
His reason: It is more difficult for arts and social sciences graduates like himself to land a job upon graduation.
Mr Sin said he had wanted to work in the research field, and had applied for research jobs in the civil service, as well as in sectors such as the social services and oil and gas industries.
He added that his peers from the university who had found jobs early on tended to land jobs not related to their disciplines. Those in a similar predicament as Mr Sin were graduates who had wanted a more specific field of work, such as research.
During the period when he was getting a lot of rejection letters, Mr Sin said he found solace in knowing that “good things need to go, for better things to come”, and so he pressed on. At that point, he was willing to switch industries just to get a job.
Then one day, Lady Luck came knocking, with an employment letter in hand. Mr Sin got his current job early this year, after applying for it on a job search website.
Looking back on the experience, he said: “I think it made me more appreciative of my current job. I am thankful that I had to go through all this, because I like where I am now.”
Mr Sin said he was “not surprised” by the news that fewer graduates secured permanent employment, given the tougher and more competitive job market.
He has this advice for this year’s graduating batch of students who might have concerns about a weak job market. “Work on how you present yourself, make yourself relevant to the job, and capitalise on your internship or work experiences.”