Ex-NUS Graduate – I’m a failed product of our meritocratic educational system”

The following letter was first sent to Mr Gilbert Goh, president of Transition.org. We reproduce it with his kind permission.

Dear Mr Goh

Please publish my story under the name “Chua S” if you find it appropriate  for your site.

I am a 35-year-old male home-grown Singapore Chinese citizen. I graduated in 2000 from NUS Business School and harboured high hope of a good life afterwards.

However, when I started work in an operations position, my pay was only SGD 2100 – way  below the general market rate of SGD 2500  for fresh grads.

At that time,  job competition and wage depression were  prevalent and I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity as it was better that I have a job than nothing at all.

My situation may sound unbelievable to you but it is true – since then, I have been stucked in a prolonged underemployment and unemployment cycle of which I can see no light for the past ten years!

As of Jan 2011, I have been out of proper employment for 8 months after completing a contract operations job. Contractual work arrangement means that I will be working for a while and stay unemployed for another  long period  before I managed to secure another contractual  work arrangement again.

Its not ideal for work security  and there is no way  that I can even think of starting a family with such unstable job arrangement prevalent in our current work environment.

Relentless marketing of so-called foreign talent by the PAP has reinforced the view that foreigners are   better  even though they may  not be and their services are not actually   cheap either.

I have heard of foreigners earning $5000 when I could barely earn above $2000 and I hailed from the prestigious world-classed  National University of Singapore! Something must be wrong somewhere…

Local home-grown HR managers have told me that foreigners were being hired simply because these people were foreigners. Everyone liked the idea of a diverse workplace until they were badly affected by their adverse work ethics and knowledge.

When I was hired for contract positions, the supervisors were always anxious I would disappear suddenly and they had to find replacement. People of  my profile are  expected to cut and run after 3 months.

This was despite the fact that I have always completed my contract term. They just couldn’t commit to a more permanent work arrangement with me.

From my observation,  organizations generally preferred females (including foreign females) for the positions I applied for. These positions include administration, accounting, banking, finance, operations (office-based), human resources, retail services and sales support.

Organizations only employed males for engineering, sales and  technical positions. I did not have the relevant engineering and technical background.

I have also noticed  that more  sales positions are now occupied by females leaving me wondering what kind of jobs are available for guys!

The only sales area where males still maintain  the majority count was those of a self-employed nature.

I have also stopped applying to insurance companies because they were only interested in me becoming an insurance agent.

Some people have suggested that I go into teaching or tuition. The idea of exhorting young students to study hard for a brighter future is totally repulsive as I am the  clear example of a big failure from our renowned meritocratic educational system. We are encouraged to study hard, get good grades and graduate but in the end, we all struggled to get stable decent  jobs and this unpleasant   situation is not only unique to me… many of my peers are caught in the same tragic cycle too.

What good is it if you have all the A’s in your report card but you  could not find ready employment long after you have graduated?

Furthermore, the Ministry of Education is likely to reject me just like any other civil service or related positions  that I have previously applied for.

As I felt that  my NUS educational background has been either irrelevant or a liability, I have been careful in taking up any  upgrading courses. In 2003, I was even rejected for a position as I was still taking a part-time course!

Other people in my situation would have long  emigrated or become self-employed. I need not describe my frustrations further as this has been repeated by many people here.

I hope you are able to assist me. Please keep up the good work on your website. Thanks.


Chua S

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