Singapore has always enjoyed a relatively low unemployment rate compared to other countries.
We know this for a fact - in the recently released labour market advance report, Singapore's unemployment rate is maintained at 1.9 per cent in the 4th quarter of 2015. This is significantly lower than some other countries such as the United States (5.5 per cent May 2015), Japan (3.1 per cent November 2015), or Australia (5.8 per cent December 2015)
While that's the case, there are still reports of how Singaporeans are unable to find the jobs that they want. According to TODAY, even though a majority of graduates are able to find a job, some are underemployed, be it by choice or circumstance.
In a recently held event organised by Young NTUC in line with the government-initiated SGfuture citizen engagement series, Roger Pua, Head of Communications of APAC at LinkedIn, shared with us the list of skills which are high in demand now, The skills include network security, search engine optimisation, digital marketing, and more. These skills are not really readily available among Singapore graduates.
With this in mind, we asked 15 Singaporeans what would they do if they could choose their courses all over again. We asked them 5 different questions:
1. Do you enjoy what you are doing now?
2. Is that related to what you studied in school?
3. If you could be a student or apprentice all over again, what would you study or learn?
4. Why? Do you have a university degree? Has it helped you in your career?
5. What advice would you give to your 10-years-younger-self?
Here's what they have to say:
Xinhui, 30s, Owner of agency Sugarquoted
"I have a degree in political science. It crystallized a routine in me, to always be hungry for news, eager to analyse people and their actions, and be hardly daunted by change. Everyday, we engage in some form of politicking (whether we like it or not), so yes, it has helped me in my current career.
In school, I excelled in languages (and swearing and hustling and partying) and compensated for that by suffering in Maths and Science. Today I'm a copywriter. so looks like at least half of what I picked up in school is applied. If I could be a student all over again, I would want to pick up the skills of the courses whose windows of opportunity closed pretty early in life or didn't open up at all, for example, a surgeon or a pilot.
I enjoy what I am doing now, and If could give my 10 years younger self an advice now, it would be that "you are exactly where you should be". I heard this line before but it was only just the other day that the philosophy of it really hit me. I don't do regrets, but I do think if I could've comprehended that earlier, it would have helped me navigate complex concepts like love, responsibility, respect, self-awareness much better."
Sally Go, 60s, Retiree
"I enjoy what I am doing now, considering that I am retired now. Prior to my retirement, I was in accounts and I enjoyed what I did. It was related to what I studied in school. If I could be a student all over again, I think I still want to be in the accounting line but I wish I had the opportunity to have studied the subject properly, pursued a professional certification or a qualification perhaps. I did not have a university degree as it was not common in my time to have one.
If I could give a piece of advice to my 10 years younger self, it would be to take it easy and travel more while I'm still fit and able."
Joyce Yeo, 30s, Left corporate job in 2014, owner, Joyce Yeo Make Up
"Yes I enjoy what I am doing now! I majored in Electronic and Broadcast Media in NTU, School of Communications Studies and I was exposed to the ins and outs of the media, PR industry and journalism. While what I'm currently doing now is not technically related to this specialised knowledge, it has moulded my thinking and character to be creative, to dare to be different, and stand for what I believe in.
If I could be a student all over again, I would choose art and design, because I do have a love for art since young, but was not given a chance or path via the conventional academic route then to pursue further. I was the typical Singaporean student who moved from Primary to Secondary to Junior College (studying commerce) and to NTU (Mass Communications).
Looking back, I'd tell my younger self to be willing to work hard, be humble and focus on how you are improving in what you do. Most of us are clueless as to what is our 'ideal job'. The key is to take on any opportunity that comes along, excel in it and prepare yourself to take on the next opportunity when it comes.
I love this quote from a philosopher, and President of Soka Gakkai International, Mr Daisaku Ikeda, "Everyone has a unique mission that only they can fulfil. That doesn't mean, however that you should sit around and do nothing, waiting for someone to tell you what it is. It is fundamental that you discover your mission on your own."
Zachary Yong, 35
"I enjoy what I do pretty much 90 per cent of the time. I can't say 100 per cent cause that would be a lie since nobody really likes their job every second of their life haha.
What I do now is somewhat related to what I studied in school - I came from a computing background so the analytical and other soft skills did help me shape my ability to be more factual. I do not have a university but it did not severely disadvantage my career because i picked up the additional skills through reading and the Internet.
If I could be a student all over again, I would definitely pay more attention in my English classes or perhaps take up more language classes so I can be a more effective communicator. I admire the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew for his acute oratorical skills.
Advice for my younger self? The same advice Steve Jobs left for the world which is something I've been living by, "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish."
Betty Lee, 64, Retiree
"I was in the private banking industry and I enjoyed the relationship with clients, managing their investments and their wealth, and being a trusted advisor.
I did commercial Higher School Certificate (equivalent of A-levels) whereby management, economics and higher accounting were the core subjects. It wasn't as specialised as these days where financial subjects are offered for a finance degree. My highest qualification was HSC which is equivalent to A Levels. I was trained on the job on investment products, talking and listening to clients, managing their portfolio - a sharp learning curve.
If I could be a student all over again, I would pursue architecture. It was my dream when young but due to financial constraints, I could not further my tertiary education as I had to work immediately upon getting getting my HSC. Scholarships were unheard of during my time!
Advise to my younger self? "Lower your expectations and take it easy!!"
Chun Chong, 65, Senior Lecturer, Actor
"I absolutely enjoyed what I am doing now. Been at it for 27 years, and it is the best mid-career change I have made in my life. My career is in education and content knowledge is an essential requirement. Without my bachelor and master's degrees I would not have been able to become a senior lecturer in the School of Business.
If I could be a student all over again, I would study to be a doctor. A doctor saves lives and helps patients live better with good medical care.
Advise to my younger self? Get a mentor and ask him what he sees in life. I have three mentors and they are 12 to 15 years older. I ask them questions with the perspective that I will be thinking like them 12 years down the road so I can prepare for it now. I am still doing this. Their messages form a focal point from which I develop strategies on how to live my life for the next 5 to 10 years."
Joel Leong, 28, Cofounder Shopback.sg
"I've always been interested in internet companies since the dot-com boom and bust. Working for shopback.sg, which gives away cashback to incentivise people to shop online, definitely aligns quite closely to what I like to do. It's semi-related in that the internet space is considered new media but the content of what I study hardly relates to what I currently do on a daily basis. The degree itself has not helped much, but the friends, mindsets and thought processes that were acquired in the process of attain the degree was definitely useful in my career.
If I could be a student all over again, I would learn how to code, code and code. Technical coding is the foundation of every internet company. It determines whether your companies moves fast or slow and good coders are as rare as unicorns."
Shane Chiang, Head of comms, Honestbee, Ex HTC Comms
"I really enjoy what I am doing now. Although it is not directly related to what I studied in school of business, it is indirectly related. My degree did not really help much in my career but it was more about the experience and how we are responsible for each matter.
If I could be a student all over again, I would like to go back and study economics, I have a real interest in that area, and maybe computer coding.
Advice to my younger self? Dont stop studying and learning, keep exploring, keep wondering and seek our new adventures!"
Kelly Choo, 30s, CMO, Neeuro
"As the CMO of Neeuro, a Mind Wellness technology company in the Digital Health space, I get to learn new things almost every day in the fast changing tech industry. Working on marketing for both a consumer and enterprise product can be challenging yet rewarding on a personal growth and achievement standpoint.
I studied eCommerce from both Ngee Ann Poly and in NUS, which is a mix of business and tech education. I have not touched eCommerce since graduation and co-founding my previous company. At a fundamental level, my university degree has helped, but everything else has to be acquired along the way. Things in technology move quickly and the only way to be relevant is to continuously learn, un-learn and re-learn.
If I were a student again, I would definitely want to learn more about human psychology and behavioural economics because this is what I believe plays a significant part of marketing and sales. If you can understand why people might behave a certain way, then you can design better marketing campaigns. Today, I have to continuously read books and articles about these topics to stay updated."
Winston Tay, 38, Marketing Manager at local publisher Epigram Books
"I really enjoy what I am doing now, and what I do is related to what I studied-mass communications. But I've come to learn that what I studied isn't necessarily applicable to what I do. I do not have a university degree but not having a university degree (or for that matter, being dependent on the paper qualification I have attained) has helped me greatly in my career, because instead of looking for jobs a given degree would qualify me for, I get jobs I actually can and want to do.
If I could be a student again, I'd study psychology. As broad and varied as the academic discipline presents itself to be, the science of human behaviour is invaluable knowledge in the life-long, day-to-day interactions we have with our society, communities, inter-personal relationships and even our own selves. Also, it's a damn effective trolling tool; have you watched The Mentalist?"
Derek Tan, 30s, Owner, Viddsee
"I'm enjoying what I do at Viddsee now, though it is not exactly related to what I studied. What I got out of school (in engineering) is processes and thinking that applies to starting up a company. University definitely helped my career because going through university or school gives one the space to experiment.
If I could be a student all over again, I'd still choose engineering, but maybe more computer engineering. I'd also tell the younger me to "keep doing what you are doing, it may not make sense now, but it will in the future."
Yvonn Ong, 20s, Marketing at Oddle
"I do enjoy what I am doing but I miss school life terribly. I'm doing marketing now and it's related to what I studied in university, but it is totally irrelevant to my secondary school or primary school.
If I could be a student again, I would still pick what I studied which is business and marketing because it is what I am most interested in. And I would want to pick up coding and do better in my math.
To my younger self, I'd say, learn as much as possible because when you grow older you have lesser time and energy, and you will take a longer time to learn."
Teo Cheng Yoke, 20s.
Do I enjoy what I am doing now? Yes and no. It's always a love and hate relationship with work. I have a bachelor degree in business admin and the knowledge from school is useful for my day-to-day operation. However to build a long term career, it takes more than just a paper qualification. Things that you don't learn from school work matter more. For instance, managing people relationships, taking risks and adapting to change for the better.
If I could be a student again, I would have taken up an engineering course alongside my BBA. It has always been my childhood dream to build something amazing with my hands. I like DIY and was a prop master for a drama club back during my JC days. If I could turn back time, I wish I would have been more daring to pursue what I liked.
Advice to my younger self? Observe and do more, don't be afraid of making mistakes."
Rina, 20s, Marketing Manager Zenrooms
"I'm doing marketing in an ecommerce tech company that selects the best budget hotels, and I really enjoy it! In school, I took an Accountancy diploma and Entrepreneurship Major Business degree, so it is not entirely related to marketing which I am doing now.
In school, marketing did not interest me as much as entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship. However, the dots connected somehow. I picked up most of my skills at work and through the various internships I took.
If I could be a student all over again, I will not change anything. It is not on the learning; it is on the passion and application. There are many online courses that one can equip yourself with. Knowledge and understanding can be self learnt.
Advice to my younger self? Start internship immediately from 16 years old, begin exploring more on your passion, start honing experience and waste no time. Relevant experience gives you more moolah!"
Shawn Wong, 35, Assistant Team Lead
"Yes I enjoy what I am doing now, although it is not related to what I studied in school. I don't have a university degree but if I can be a student all over again, I would have chosen to pursue an economics or communications related academic profile due to the ever changing economic landscape, and realising how various form of communications affect political or business outcomes.
Here's what I'll tell my younger self: understand and widen your bandwidth of knowledge and application. Also build on your communication and soft skills.
A typical degree course usually spans for approximately 3-4 years. However, by the time you have graduated, political, technology and business environments would have changed. Would the knowledge acquired during your time in school still be relevant? Most probably not - but the foundation that you have gained would still be applicable. So be ready to unlearn, learn and relearn to stay relevant."
Commonalities And Lessons Learnt
Through our conversations, we found out that while university is important, most of the interviewees agree that skills is a lifelong learning process, and it is important to continuously pick up new skills in order to stay relevant in this economy. Of course, there are already many programmes in place which you can leverage on, most noticeably, through the S$500 in free SkillsFuture credits as well as the UTAP (Union Training Assistance Programme) which further funds your course fee up to S$250 per year.
University degree is not everything - and it does not guarantee a job security. Don't take it from us, but take it from those we spoke to, whom have walked down the road. If you are thinking of picking up your passion and skills again, ask yourself this: what's stopping you today?