Mailbox: 'Culture shift' offers hope for non-grads

SINGAPORE - Dr Gillian Koh's commentary ("Making vocational ladder on par with the academic"; last Wednesday) provides a good insight into Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech.

Singapore has been a meritocracy for years, and academic qualifications have always been viewed as a "passport" to getting a good job.

Sadly, this puts non-degree holders at a disadvantage and causes them to be "short-changed" in their career advancement.

I chose the polytechnic route after my O levels even though my grades were good enough for entry to a top junior college, as a vocational education with more hands-on learning fit my personality better. However, I was unable to further my studies at a university because of family and financial commitments.

Not having a degree has disadvantaged me in many ways.

I worked in the civil service for more than five years. During this period, I was deprived of opportunities for career advancement even though my performance appraisals were above average. The reason given was that I was only a diploma holder.

My attempts to get a company sponsorship for further studies were also turned down.

I agree that it is difficult to attain perfect parity between the vocational and academic tracks, as local employers are still very concerned about academic qualifications and grades.

I also agree with Dr Koh that the ability to integrate talent from all backgrounds - vocational, academic, degree holders and non-degree holders - would bring about better talent management in Singapore.

During my 15 years in the workforce, I have seen many talented polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates who were on a par with degree holders.

Indeed, PM Lee's Rally speech, where he mentioned that non-graduates will be offered more career opportunities in the public service ("Better job prospects for non-grads"; Aug 18), echoed my sentiments.

I hope that with this "culture shift", employers will assess staff based on their job performance and abilities, and not solely on paper qualifications. Employers should also provide more opportunities for diploma holders and ITE graduates to further their studies.

-Vivien Tan (Ms)

This article was first published on August 26, 2014.
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