By Leong Sze Hian

During my talk on “Statistics and the Marxist Conspiracy” at Function 8 on 9 April, I met Vernon who subsequently sent to me, through Function 8, the link to the paper “Singaporean University Graduates in the New Century: Over-educated but Under-skilled?” (24 July 2004), by Stephen J. Appold, Department of Sociology, National University of Singapore.

According to Vernon, Dr Appold left NUS shortly after the publication of the paper.

I have reproduced extracts from his paper which you may find interesting reading.


Non-graduates income rose relatively more than graduates?

“The supply of educated labor increased even faster than the rapidly expanding demand.

Not surprisingly given the more rapid growth of supply than demand, although most resident Singaporean’s income has improved over the last 20 years, university graduates as a group have fared less well than some other groups. In 1980, the median income of university graduates was almost six and a half times as high as the median income for the work force as a whole (and over three times as high as those who had a secondary school diploma). By 1990 the ratio had declined to 3.2 times as much as the overall median and 2.76 times as high as those with secondary school diplomas. By 2000, the median earnings for university graduates was just over twice that of the labor force as a whole and 2.14 times as high as those with secondary school diplomas. The median income of those with university degrees rose 1.42 times during the 1990s; that of those without any formal education at all – those frequently held to be most disadvantaged by economic restructuring and by globalization – rose 1.47 times.

The position of university graduates in the labor market is significantly less
elevated than it was when expectations were formed in adolescence and at the beginning of many graduate’s careers.”


Older graduates were more likely to be unemployed?

“Contrary to the expectation based on the theory outlined at the beginning of the paper and contrary to popular perception, however, the incomes of graduates are rising less rapidly than that of those without any education. The income disparity between professionals and blue collar workers has narrowed over the past several decades (Ho, 2000). Rising Singaporean income inequality is, therefore, not necessarily due to differences in education (Department of Statistics, 2000).

Despite the up and down trend in the rate of retrenchment, professionals, managers, executives, and technicians (the most relevant category for which data were reported) comprise an increasing proportion of those being retrenched. In 2002 they were over one-third of those retrenched, up from less than half that in 1995. Moreover, this same group makes up an increasing proportion of those on short-term layoff and of those whose employment contracts were terminated. Those retrenched from these high-skill occupations were barely more likely to be rehired than those lacking qualifications. In the past, professionals and managers were often thought of as “trusted” employees.

They appear to be increasingly treated as proletarianized labor.

As of June 2002, for example, the unemployment rate (this includes but is not limited to those who have been retrenched) was twice as high for graduates under 30 as it was for those who were older. On the other hand, while young graduates tended to find employment quickly (median period of unemployment five weeks), the median duration of unemployment for those in their 30s was over three months and for those in their 40s and 50s it approached half a year. Approximately one-sixth of the unemployed graduates had been so for 40 weeks or more. The time to re-employment does not include those who have withdrawn from the labor force.”


Retired due to retrenchment?

“In the U.S. being retrenched is a significant contributor to retirement (Shapiro and Sandell 1985). The table suggests that may be true in Singapore also.”


Imported more foreign graduates than Singaporean graduates?

“Degrees granted to Singaporeans by foreign institutions added another 16,060 for a total of approximately 96,470 local graduates. The heavier representation of non-natives in professional positions than in managerial jobs is consistent with Kanter’s (1977) thesis on the function of social similarity in organizations. The major source of university graduates during the 1990s, however, has been immigration.

An estimated 147,000 graduates were added by the immigration of permanent residents and nonresidents. Nevertheless, non-residents contributed just over one-fifth of the university graduates in the work force in 1980 and 1990. By 2000, that proportion had risen to one-fourth with almost half of the university graduates in Singapore being non-citizens.”


Increasingly more foreign PMETs?

“In1980, 12 percent of managerial jobs were filled by non-citizens (permanent residents and non-residents) and 12 percent of professional and technical jobs were filled by non-citizens. In 1990, there was little change in those percentages, 17 and 13 percent, respectively. By 2000, however, the change was substantial. 27 percent of managerial jobs, 38 percent of professional jobs, and 20 percent of technical jobs were filled by non-citizens. While permanent residents supplied only 7 percent of labor force, they comprised 12 percent of the managers (almost half of the proportion occupied by non-citizens) and 18 percent of the professionals (again, almost half of the proportion occupied by non-citizens).

The Singapore Department of Statistics does not publish statistics on the number of daily commuters from Johore and they are not included in the employment figures.

The Malaysian government estimates that 40,000 workers commute daily to jobs in Singapore. They include 27,103 non-skilled workers, 10,235 skilled workers, and 2,832 professionals (Straits Times, 2001). They may be important to manufacturing and other sectors. Similar conclusions could be drawn from a study of incomes.

In 1982, non-Singaporeans (permanent residents and non-residents) accounted for nine percent of the paid labor force but 40 percent of those earning $3,000 or more per month (at the time, the top 2.6 percent of the wage distribution). In 1988, non-Singaporeans made up 10 percent of the paid labor force but 25 percent of those earning $3,000 or more per month (at the time, the top 5 percent of the wage distribution).

In 1982 non-Singaporeans were just slightly over-represented among those earning less than $400 per month but by 1988 non-Singaporeans comprised 34 percent of those earning less than $400 per month (by then 14 percent of those employed). Unfortunately, data for more recent years has not been published. 18 percent of labor force, they comprised 12 percent of the managers (almost half of the proportion occupied by non-citizens) and 18 percent of the professionals (again, almost half of the proportion occupied by non-citizens).”


Need for foreign PMETs not justified?

“By one measure, the university educated migrants are not needed in
the Singapore labor market at all. Less controversially, they are not needed in the large number in which they are found. While cases of a shortage of persons with particular types of training or with specialized work experience do arise, such shortages do not appear to be the major contributors to the importation of foreign educated labor. Nor is the reliance on foreign graduates necessarily the result of a shortage of work experience. If migrants were used to fill senior positions requiring experience based skill that younger natives did not have the opportunity to gain, the migrants would be significantly older than natives in the same occupational groups. The reliance on foreign graduates is not necessarily the result of a shortage of specialized training. Non-resident graduates are overrepresented in sectors that are not expanding rapidly and they are over-represented in sectors, such as manufacturing, construction, and business services, which have well-developed domestic university programs meant to meet labor force needs.”


Aggressive recruitment of PMETs overseas?

“Despite the high employment growth, a surplus of university graduates were chasing the available jobs with the predictable effects: soft average salaries, the downward filtering of graduates into the less-desired jobs, and the proletarianization of educated labor. Nevertheless, university-educated migrants were actively recruited from abroad. At the same time, residents of two of the world’s largest producers of human capital, China and India, were willing and able to leave their own countries for opportunities elsewhere. The migrants smoothed the overall age distribution (of residents) somewhat but their numbers created a higher level of job competition for everyone, even if the younger cohorts of university graduates – who should have benefitted the most from the sectoral shift – were perhaps the most stressed. The disproportionate placement of the migrant graduates in high value-added sectors where wages were strong indicates that migrants enjoyed a favorable place.

Singaporeans are sensitive to the difference between credentials and knowledge. Jack Neo, a local film maker and actor, has played two different immensely popular film characters who had skill and intelligence but lacked the required pedigree to get ahead in their careers. in the labor queue and that migrants provided a combination of skill and work motivation that could not be found locally.”


Dependence upon immigration – uniquely Singaporean

“Despite the unemployment of university graduates, the need for highly-skilled foreign labor does not appear to have slackened and the competition from non-natives in the labor market (and in the classroom) has become a contentious topic of discussion.” “The high level of dependence upon immigration to solve the dilemmas of patronage and productivity may be uniquely Singaporean.”

My gut feel is that the labour issues and problems that we have today may arguably already be evident, about 9 years ago in Dr Appold’s paper.

Like they say, perhaps “the writing was already on the wall”, but we may simply have been blind!

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