Social work

Low regard in Singaporean society for professional and social work


Singaporeans’ longstanding obsession with paper-hunting has often led to a misconception that people in technical, service and community care positions are less brainy and don’t have a bright future.

Carpentry, on the other hand, is a profession that is not highly valued in Singapore, mainly because the work of carpenters is often overlooked, said Mr Ziyad, who has a degree in anthropology.

“Before I joined the industry, I never thought about the people building the cabinets in my (public housing) apartment…it was like an invisible workforce,” he said. .

Mr Ziyad said that while it may not be difficult to learn the basics of carpentry – he started undertaking projects independently six months after starting his apprenticeship – it takes a lot of time and commitment to perfect the craft.

“The deeper I got into the industry, the more I realized that the best carpenters are versatile tradespeople. They know a little electrical wiring, a little plumbing and a little air conditioning piping,” he said, adding that there is more to the trade than people realize.

Another underrated role is that of a community care worker, with friends of Ms Shai, 28, describing her job, which requires caring for elderly people in an aged care centre, as ” boring” and “doesn’t require much thought”.

Ms. Shai, a social work graduate from the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS), earns around S$3,000 a month.

Although many of her peers have passed her, she has stayed at work as she has bonded with most of the elderly people she cares for, said Ms Shai, who declined to give her full name.

“I would be lying if I said that I don’t feel jealous (of my higher paid peers). But my job brings me great joy, that’s why I stayed for so long,” said Ms. Shai, who has held her current position for three years.


Over the past five years, the starting salary of ITE graduates in full-time employment has increased by around 10%, the MOE said in response to media queries.

This amount was lower than the starting salary of graduates of polytechnics and autonomous universities, which had increased by about 15%.

The MOE said the median salary of ITE graduates has increased by about 40% over the past decade, “a higher percentage increase than that of polytechnic and autonomous university graduates.”

Based on publicly available data, SUSS economist Walter Theseira said the pay gap between workers of different educational qualifications who had served national service remained broadly similar or narrowed slightly over the past decade, in terms of what polytechnic and ITE graduates earn as a proportion of what university graduates receive.

Over the past 10 years, polytechnic graduates have earned around 70% of what university graduates earn, while ITE graduates currently earn just over 60% of what university graduates earn, compared to less 60% ten years ago.

However, in absolute terms, the gap has widened: for example, polytechnic graduates earned S$850 less than university graduates in 2008, but S$1,000 less in 2018.

“So just keeping the same proportional difference results in a larger absolute gap over time and overall salaries increase,” Associate Professor Theseira said.

He also noted that the pay gap between people of different education levels in Singapore is a topic that is not well understood.

For example, a critical issue is not just income upon graduation, but income throughout the career, as DPM Wong noted in his keynote.

Prof Assoc Theseira said there was no publicly available evidence on this in Singapore, while in many other countries studies have been undertaken to understand the lifetime earnings gap between workers with different educational qualifications.

In a recent commentary published in TODAY, Professor Assoc Terence Ho of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy noted that salary disparities between professions are also greater in Singapore compared to other countries.

For example, the average monthly earnings of professionals in Singapore were around 2.9 times those of service and sales staff in 2020, while this ratio was 2.4 in Thailand, 2.3 in the UK and 2.0 in Switzerland.

While occupational pay disparities can be greater in a city-state than in larger countries, Professor Assoc Ho said one of the factors contributing to this disparity is the culture of Asian societies, which is often said to they value cognitive work over manual or artisanal work.

In East Asia, some point to the lingering influence of Confucianism, in which academic-civil servants were held in high esteem, and national examinations offered people from more modest backgrounds a reliable path to progress in life, a he declared.


Even though Singapore has one of the best vocational training institutes in the world which is highly admired by many foreigners, the perception of ITE graduates has not changed much over the years which again reflects the party taken from society against “hands-on work,” the experts said. interviewed.

In its response to questions from the media, the MOE said it recognizes that the growth in starting salaries for ITE graduates has moderated in recent years and it will continue to strengthen their career prospects.

The new structure of the three-year ITE program, which leads directly to higher Nitec certification, “will equip graduates with deeper, industry-relevant job skills, while providing a stronger foundation for continuous learning and improvement. skills throughout their careers. .

ITE students can also improve through technical diplomas and ITE work-study diplomas. The median starting salaries for graduates of these two degrees in full-time, permanent employment are comparable to those of polytechnic graduates, the MOE said.

Currently, more than seven in 10 Nitec graduates progress to higher Nitec or pursue other publicly funded developmental pathways during their careers, such as polytechnic degrees or work-study degrees from the University. ‘ITE. Some of them do so after working for a few years, the MOE added.

Human resources expert Adrian Choo, founder of career consultancy Career Agility International, said the continued drive to increase the employability of ITE graduates can help produce more “business-smart” individuals. career”, more enterprising and knowledgeable.

“During Covid, the government has given grants to companies hiring new graduates to make them more ‘affordable’ during difficult times,” he said. “Perhaps this could also be done for ITE graduates, to make them more competitive against their cheaper overseas counterparts.”

Associate Professor Irene Ng from the Department of Social Work at the National University of Singapore noted that different pathways have been established through internships, internships, on-the-job training partnerships and training programs. workplace studies.

However, several issues still need to be addressed. These include: How many employers are on board and engaged in these initiatives? What proportion of ITE students are eligible to follow such programs? What are the completion and placement rates? How much do ITE graduates earn after completing these programs?

“The answers to these layers of questions can help us begin to understand and address the challenges of making these pathways to placement and progression viable and effective,” she said.

Experts TODAY spoke to highlighted the need to raise wages for technical and professional jobs as Singaporeans grapple with persistent inflation.

Professor Assoc Theseira said: ‘I don’t think society is talking about ‘upgrading’ the status of technical and professional jobs until those jobs are better paid.

“There are a lot of bad jokes about lawyers, but at the end of the day, almost every parent in Singapore would be happy to hear that their child is dating a lawyer, as we know the profession is associated with financial security and to success.”

He cited nurses and early childhood educators as examples: They may feel that their work is socially useful and respected, but many of them probably don’t think that respect is fully reflected in their pay.

“Talking about improving the status of professional jobs without improving wages is really putting the cart before the horse; respect alone is not enough to provide for your family,” he said. “What you don’t want is for professional work to become much like being a classical musician or a traditional craftsman. “