Channel NewsAsia

Disparity in how some employers reward grads and non-grads

This is according to HR experts Channel NewsAsia spoke with when asked about the call by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for employers to help their staff advance, regardless of their qualifications.

SINGAPORE: There is some disparity between how employers in the public and private sectors reward graduates and non-graduates. This is according to human resource (HR) experts Channel NewsAsia spoke with when asked about the call by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for employers to help their staff advance, regardless of their qualifications.

Mr Mokhtar Jaffar, 43, joined the People's Association (PA) as a programme executive 17 years ago, with a Diploma in Electronic Engineering. In 2003, he took a Sociology degree under a PA scholarship and soon after, another Diploma in Service Leadership.

He is now Constituency Director of Nee Soon South at the PA. "I like the job. There is passion in it, I work hard for it. I enjoy doing it," he shared. "That is most important: passion. I think they have promoted me about four times in total. A degree is something that you gain because you think that is an additional knowledge that you want or you like to pursue because that helps you in your work, in daily life, in managing your staff, managing your colleagues better or managing your grassroots leader. So the degree is basically additional knowledge for me, not really to progress in terms of career path."

At PA, graduates and non-graduates get equal opportunity to progress and are paid according to their job responsibilities. A spokesperson added: "PA also created more leadership positions in our field operation divisions to strengthen our field operations and at the same time, offer more career opportunities for our aspiring officers, regardless of their qualifications."

But not all public sector agencies do the same. A check on the Education Ministry's website shows different starting pay scales for graduates and non-graduates. For example, someone coming in as a General Education Officer 1 with a Bachelor's degree commands a gross starting pay of about S$3,000. A diploma holder gets about S$1,900 a month.

HR experts Channel NewsAsia spoke with said the civil service still lags behind the private sector when it comes to recognising and rewarding skills over paper qualifications.

Mr Joshua Yim, CEO of Achieve Group, said: "For some statutory boards, I think the policies are very structured. They need to have a degree first, and some even stipulate that they need a person from a local university." 


The Singapore Human Resources Institute said there is room to narrow the gap in starting pay. It added that with the right training, recognition of skills, job rotation and mentorship, non-graduates can move up.

Mr Erman Tan, President of the Singapore Human Resources Institute, said: "Instead of having a formal annual performance appraisal, I think it is good to have a quarterly, informal performance review. On top of that, you can also set up a KPI (key performance indicator) system to assess both task-based job performance that will include projects as well as tasks. Employers can also provide them with more on-the-job training, and at same time, some mentorship to ensure that those non-graduates' potential is being fully developed.

"The HR department should also understand some of these needs of non-graduates. Typically, they are not very qualified in terms of written or communications skills. So probably they won't be that outstanding in those areas, but their hands-on attitude and their experience will make them shine on the job."

The Singapore National Employers Federation’s (SNEF) executive director Koh Juan Kiat said: "Performance management is to help identify those with the potential to go further and development is to help the employees to achieve their potential." 


A tripartite committee led by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam will be formed to drive this effort. It will look at developing an integrated system of education, training and career progression for all Singaporeans. It will also promote industry support and social recognition for individuals to advance based on skills.

SNEF is ready to help, Mr Koh said. "SNEF can provide inputs on the HR practices of employers and how they can support development of skills, for example, apprenticeships, internships etc. SNEF can also help employers, especially SMEs (small- and medium-sized enterprises), to put in place a career management framework so that they can provide the career pathways to develop their employees."

Those Channel NewsAsia spoke with said that having a good grasp of theory is still critical for top leadership positions and for jobs in certain industries, such as the financial sector. So it is also about employers giving non-graduates who show potential the opportunity to get the required paper qualifications, for them to rise up the company ranks. 

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