Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin on Friday cautioned against Singapore producing too many graduates who can't find enough good jobs - a predicament South Korea and Taiwan find themselves in today.
"Their relentless pursuit of paper qualifications resulted in a glut of graduates," he told Parliament during the Committee of Supply debate on the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).
"The director-general of Taiwan's Ministry of Education stated that 'the abundance of (university) places had undermined the quality of degrees and created a skills mismatch in the job market. People became overeducated and underemployed."
Singapore should not take for granted that it would not face these problems in the future, he said. He noted that by 2020, Singapore would see 40 per cent cohort participation in its local universities. In addition, there would also be many pursuing private or overseas degrees.
"In theory, this can mean that we have an increasing pool of better educated and skilled workforce," he said. "We should be better able to move up the value chain."
But these jobs would only be created by good companies, he said. And these companies would be here only if there's a healthy economy and a business-friendly environment.
"If such companies are drawn elsewhere, those jobs will not be here," Mr Tan added. "Hence, we must ensure that our future economy will continue to generate good jobs for our graduate jobseekers."
Pointing to the potential danger of producing too many graduates, he said: "We will need to watch this development carefully and help Singaporeans make informed educational choices."
The minister also reported that the foreign-manpower tightening measures introduced over the past years are starting to "bite", with foreign employment growth at its lowest in five years. He noted that a number of the measures will kick in fully this year and next.
But he said there's still some way to go in reducing Singapore's overall dependence on foreign workers. Meanwhile, the Government is doing more to raise the quality of the foreign workers in Singapore.
"The measures that we have announced in the Budget this year signal our move to raise the quality of our foreign workforce and, by extension, productivity," he said.
The Government has unveiled a new market-based skills recognition framework for the construction sector, to encourage firms to retain experienced basic-skilled R2 Work Permit holders for a longer period and on higher pay.
"With this, companies can upgrade their R2 workers to 'Higher Skilled', or R1 status, and will not have to bear the higher foreign worker levies that we announced in Budget 2014."
This article by The Business Times was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.
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