How Important Is A Degree Now If A Garbage Collector Can Earn More Than A Fresh Graduate?
Singaporean society has trained us to think that garbage collectors are people that we shouldn’t aspire to be.
Much like the cleaners that some aunties would like to point to and tell their child “If you don’t study, you will grow up to be like them”.
There is a stigma that such blue-collar jobs are “low ses” and do not pay very well.
Yet, an ex-garbage collector, Danny, has recently revealed that his colleagues who were garbage truck drivers could earn “at least S$5,000 and it can go up to between S$8,000 to S$10,000”. Meanwhile, we’ve also heard of food delivery riders earning more than $8,500.
Hold up, isn’t that more than what our fresh graduates are earning?! Why are we studying so hard for a degree then?
Do we really need a degree in life?
Degree vs No Degree Pay
Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room. How much are degree holders making compared to non-degree holders?
Based on the most recent Graduate Employment Survey (GES) for fresh university graduates, the gross median salary is now at $4,200 monthly.
But based on what I hear around me, that number seems a little high as well.
So I dug a little more into how accurate this survey could be and found out that the GES suffers from sample bias. The response rates for these surveys typically do not go over 80%.
Think about it. If you’re earning lesser than average, would you be happy to disclose your salary? Most likely not. The reverse is also true where those with higher than average salaries are more willing to participate in the GES.
With that out of the way, let’s just assume that $4,200 is the median starting salary for a degree holder. That’s still a far cry from “at least $5,000” than what garbage truck drivers can earn!
I’ve also come across Ah Bengs or entrepreneurs without degrees who reportedly own multiple businesses and two to three times more than $4,200.
And of course, we all know that plenty of successful CEOs such as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs never had a degree.
While we may be in awe of such people who are successful without degrees, there is also a thing called survivorship bias. In essence, those who make it are often thrust into the limelight.
We don’t see how many people have failed or earned much lesser than those with degrees.
The harsh truth is that the average Singaporean without a degree earns less than those with one. The evidence is this:
According to the GES, the median gross monthly salary of poly graduates is only $2,600 compared to $4,200 for a university graduate.
Do You Really Need a Degree to Get a Job?
The problem with the above conclusion from GES is that most of the degrees and diploma courses only prepare you for certain kinds of jobs. A garbage truck driver would just need a driving license, not a diploma or a degree.
Even for PMET roles, degrees are not as important as we are accustomed to think.
According to a report released by the Ministry of Manpower revealed that among job vacancies for PMETs in 2018, a degree is not a main consideration for employers when it comes to hiring (for 52 per cent of the vacancies). This was up from 42 per cent in 2017, signaling the decrease in the importance of degrees for PMET roles.
Instead, many employers are looking for candidates with relevant skills, work experience, soft skills, and most importantly, the right attitude.
When it comes to hard skills, companies are also becoming more open to candidates who learned from reputable online courses.
Minister Lawrence Wong has also reinforced the idea by saying that Singapore must emphasise skills, performance, and contributions to society, rather than paper qualifications.
How Important Is a Degree Now?
At the end of the day, a degree in Singapore is but an “express pass” to certain jobs. Whether it is worth getting a degree depends on what your life goals are.
To some of us, a job is just to put food on the table and that’s okay. Be it being a garbage truck driver or a typical office worker, so long as you are earning an honest living, that’s what matters.
For others, we dream of marrying our passions with our work. If you have a burning passion to be a doctor, there is simply no escaping going to medical school and getting your medical degree.
Thus, you will have to ask yourself what a job means to you. Is it just a means for you to earn money? Or is it about doing what you love and having money as a byproduct?
Remember, there is no right or wrong answer to this. But once you have settled on an answer, the answer to how important a degree would be to you becomes clear.