By Serene Luo
WHILE university graduates are wallowing in self-pity over the latest news that more of them are unemployed than are polytechnic graduates, the latter group is laughing all the way to the bank.
The Manpower Ministry recently found that more than 20 per cent of the unemployed in Singapore were university graduates, while just 6 per cent were polytechnic graduates.
One common reason offered was that polytechnic graduates command a lower starting pay of between $1,600 and $1,800 a month, compared with a university graduate's $2,000 or more a month.
During a downturn, perhaps the difference in dollars makes sense.
But I say it's also because employers, who can pick and choose at this time, are valuing attitude over aptitude - and this has turned the tables on students who think that attaining a university degree is the end of having to work hard.
It's a common perception here, drummed into students' heads since young, that university graduates have the best brains, and this gives some of them airs and expectations.
But not all the top brains are going the junior college-university route. Some students with top O-level results have chosen the polytechnic route, recognising it as a hands-on, skills-based way to university.
The present-day diploma holders - the product of the past five years or so of the polytechnics' improved curricula, programmes and image - may be just as brainy as degree holders, but without the airs.
Without the expectation that a degree brings with it better pay, polytechnic graduates are more willing to work their way up, and are not so arrogant as to expect their own office with a window view from Day One.
Many of them have also held part-time jobs during their relatively longer summer holidays, doing anything from selling ice-cream to folding clothes and putting on shoes for customers as sales assistants in department stores.
Fewer junior college students, who generally have much shorter school holidays, have taken up such jobs - or even thought about doing such menial tasks, which some may feel are beneath their educational level.
So if polytechnic graduates are just as smart as university graduates, are willing to accept lower pay and have the attitude to match, why shouldn't employers value this segment of GenY?
I'm not thumbing my nose at university graduates but, guys, we should really look at the name we're giving ourselves.
I graduated from a Singapore university almost five years ago when the economy was still recovering from the Sars fallout. Many graduates that year spent months supposedly job-hunting, but more of them were taking month-long 'graduation trips' back to back.
When they finally landed jobs, many didn't stick with them once the economy picked up. They left as soon as positions with greater prestige, or which offered a few dollars more, came along - precisely what employers are now worried about again.
So eat humble pie, university graduates, because you can't have your cake and eat it too.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.