While this was published some time back and the local papers focussed more on the decline in Buddhism in Singapore, I found the following table more interesting:


If this isn’t a trend, then I don’t know what is.

Looking at the proportion of Unversity graduates aged between 25-34 years old, we see that (wow!) almost 1 in 2 Singaporeans have a tertiary education now. Compare that to the 45-54 or 35-44 years old bracket where the number is more like 1 in 10 or 3 in 1o. Either us young whippersnappers have gotten a whole lot smarter or University has gotten a lot easier to graduate from. My money’s on the latter but that’s not the point of this post.

Ultimately, most people graduating with higher educational qualifications do so for one reason- gainful employment. While there’s no doubt that short of dumb behaviour, most graduates from law school or medical school will do better than fine, most university graduates (like myself) come from non-professional disciplines. And it’s for these guys/girls that I worry for.

It is for this particular group of people where the piece of paper becomes nothing more than a minimum requirement for a job application. For what job, you may ask? Probably nothing more than paper-pushing. Ok, so what should one do to avoid being stuck with nothing more than a piece of paper that guarantees you at most a job interview? It all boils down to the concept of differentiation.

I would venture the following for a start (1 for those who can study and 4 for the rest of us mere mortals):

  1. If you can study, get insanely good grades and accolades. With so many degree holders, the absolute number of people with straight As increase as well. In order to stand out from the crowd, you’ve got to do one better- Be fluent in a third of fourth langauge, learn a skill outside of your discipline which has synergistic qualities with your main discipline. For example, learn graphic design or advanced powerpoint presentations so that your normally mundane presentations stand our and transmit ideas better.
  2. Pick up a skill and be good at it. You could good at the guitar or the piano. An excellent barista or bartender. It doesn’t matter which but if you’ve had the flair for that, why not be good at it? After all, I think I’d appreciate the services of a good guitar player or bartender anyday much more than the value of the output of some Economics professor. With so many entry level degree holders around, good guitar players and bartenders are even harder to obtain than over-qualified paper pushers.
  3. Network. The more people you know, the more opportunities you come across. It could be an opportunity for investment, an opportunity for employment, the opportunity might be only present itself in the future or it may never present itself at all. The thing is, even though the internet has broken down many physical barriers, us humans are still social creatures. We love to give opportunities to people that we know and/or like rather than a faceless email address. Plus, the more you network, the better your social interaction skills will get and that itself would give you an advantage in any job interview.
  4. Collaborate. The great big things weren’t built in a day and neither were they built by one person. Most times, we have to work with others in order to get things done and this is also where point #3 comes in. The more people you meet, the more chances you have to find someone that might be looking for someone with skills of your own or the more chances you have in finding people that have the skills and qualities that you are looking for.
  5. Start collecting cash-generating assets early. This is by far my favourite. If you understand the effects of compounding, you would start to do this for your children as soon as they are born. Of course, things aren’t as easy as they look. For starters, you would need to be able to identify what cash-generating assets are, which ones are worth collecting and the technicalities behind all these. Having said this, all this isn’t rocket science and there are many resources out there on the web that can get you started. My favourite, by far, is About Investing for Beginners which has everything you need to know.

That’s it! Those are my five ways (for a start at least) and if those in the 25-34 years old age bracket don’t realise this soon then woe be to their children because they will advise their children to take the same tried and tested path of studying hard (probably scarificing time to pick up a skill in the process) and getting a degree.