'Views of grads and hirers are polar opposites'

At the end of his internship at one of the Big Four accounting firms last year, then-Singapore Management University student Tan Ghim Hwee applied for a full-time position.

The 25-year-old, who graduated in July this year, was due to start work at the firm this month.

Unfortunately, this was not to be.

When he called the firm in June to firm up his start date, he was told that the job offer no longer stood.

"I was shocked, I was told there are no new hires for September," he said.

"Apparently, the management consulting department was downsizing and it had frozen hiring for all associate positions."

Mr Tan is not the only fresh graduate in this predicament.

According to the Ministry of Manpower's Labour Market Report published last Thursday, the unemployment rate for degree holders rose from 3.5 per cent in June 2015 to 4.3 per cent in June this year - the highest since 2009.

This translates to about 25,000 unemployed graduates last June and about 34,000 this June.

Among degree holders, the increase in unemployment rate among those below 30 years old also rose, from 3.8 per cent in March this year to 7.1 per cent in June.

Fresh graduates seem to be among the hardest hit, job experts say.

Ms Chook Yuh Yng, country manager at JobsDB Singapore, told The New Paper: "Job posting for entry-level jobs decreased by 40 per cent from January to August last year as compared to the same period this year."

The figure is based on job openings posted by employers on the site.

"With so many graduates seeking jobs in a shrinking market, there may not be sufficient jobs for everyone," added Ms Chook.

Other recruitment firms like Careerhub Consultants have also seen a decrease in full-time hiring among fresh graduates.

Ms Wong Cheng Yin, 28, senior human resource consultant at Careerhub Consultants, said that placement for fresh graduates fell from 18 per cent last year to about 15 per cent on average for January to August this year.

Why are fresh graduates in this position?


Ms Wong said most fresh graduates who secure a job after graduating tend to have had good internship exposure that helped them gain relevant technical skills.

Miss Amelia Low, 23, a National University of Singapore graduate, felt that this is where she is lacking.

With only one internship experience, she took on a research position to beef up her resume. (See report above.)

But some graduates realised that their degrees did not equip them with the relevant skill sets for jobs in the workplace.

Mr Alston Lim, a 25-year-old computer science graduate with first-class honours from Nanyang Technological University, said: "I should have equipped myself with more technical skills like coding rather than just banking on my understanding of broad theories.

"To do well in school, students need to be strong in theory. In school, it's really just the big terms we understand and do research on, but theoretical knowledge does not suffice in the workplace."

Mr Lim has sent out more than 40 applications and gone for 10 interviews since January, but has not been successful.

Mr Oswald Yeo, 23, co-founder of graduate recruitment platform Glints, said: "There is a fundamental mismatch between traditional education and the skills needed in the workplace.

"For example, a lot of marketing graduates have broad marketing theory knowledge, but do not have digital marketing skills, which are high in demand now."

He advised young job seekers to clarify expectations with employers at interviews.

"Ask clearly about the job scope and what the job routines are," he said.

Recruiters also said there might be a mismatch of expectations between employers and undergraduates.

"We observed that the views of fresh graduates and employers are often polar opposites," said Ms Chook.

"Fresh graduates indicate salary as one of the key deciding factors in a job offer. They compare an offer to their expected salaries, but employers pick hires who display salary acceptance that are aligned with the company's offering."


Mr Koh Rong Ming, 26, recruitment specialist at Careerhub Consultants, said: "Graduates are often more idealistic in their job searches, making themselves more costly for employers to hire.

"This causes employers to instead pick experienced employees who require less training, but have lower or similar salary expectations."

With unemployment rate possibly remaining high among graduates in the near future, recruiters advised young job seekers to lower their expectations.

"Fresh graduates should place long-term career growth ahead of remuneration," said Ms Chook.

"Gain relevant experience first and you'll naturally be armed with better bargaining power."

Temporary job beefs up resume

The search for the perfect job has been tough for National University of Singapore (NUS) graduate Amelia Low, 23.

The NUS Merit scholar has sent out more than 50 applications since January, gone for 11 interviews, but to no avail.

"I got increasingly worried since graduating in May," said Miss Low, adding: "Some of my friends are in the same situation."

She said: "Applicants with experience are also competing with us fresh graduates for the same jobs, making it even more difficult for us."

The psychology major has taken up a temporary job as a research assistant at NUS.

"I took on this job even though research is something I have not done, but it is still a skill set that can help beef up my resume."

The move to take on a temporary job was suggested by her father, Mr Low Boon Leong, 54, a business development manager.

"The temporary job will keep her going and give her the flexibility to look out for other options," he said.

"As a parent, the only way I can help her is to be supportive and give her the confidence to continue applying for other jobs.

"I told her that if she gets a position she doesn't want, she should let it go because her interest in a job matters the most."

This article was first published on September 24, 2016.
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