The expectation gap between graduates and employers has been aired over many decades and yet it persists. Graduates seek higher pay, status and career advancement. They expect degrees to deliver all these on a silver platter as in the past. But that was when degree holders were in short supply. Their ranks have swelled considerably over the years and now employers find many with tertiary qualifications are ill-suited for a fast-changing marketplace.
Worse, a new breed of graduates are proving to be fickle. In some places, more than half plan to job-hop within two years, and the rest want to leave within a year or as soon as possible. In South Korea, where the university participation rate is 80 per cent, the number of "economically inactive" graduates has passed three million. The disconnect between them and employers is acute, the sheer waste in public education resources is enormous, and the consequent disillusionment is deep.
Could a graduate glut appear in Singapore? Acting Manpower Minister Tan Chuan-Jin raised the concern in Parliament recently. Now, about 27 per cent of each cohort of students can get a place in a publicly funded university. By 2020, the proportion could be 40 per cent. In theory, a bigger pool of better-educated workers would better enable the country "to move up the value chain", noted Mr Tan. But this assumes the skills are work-relevant and good jobs calling for such skills are located here.
These are convincing reasons why degree seekers should see themselves first as either job seekers or job creators. This will help them to make good study choices to secure their own future. Some might find interesting and rewarding pathways via the polytechnics which provide a crucial layer of technical skills for the economy. Clinging to outdated expectations and prejudices about study and work is passe. In the new economy, the future belongs to the nimble.