SINGAPORE: Recent comments have implied that Singaporean students graduating from foreign universities through local Private Education Institutions (PEIs) have a harder time gaining full-time jobs than their peers in autonomous universities.
It has also been reported that these students receive a lower starting pay, take a longer duration to be gainfully employed, and so forth.
It is facetious to assume that the fault lies with the students.
Calls to upgrade themselves and create a better resume without looking at the wider context in which these reports originated will only serve to fuel the frustrations of our students.
STUDENTS' FAULT THEY AREN'T EMPLOYABLE?
In the future, a graduate’s employability will increasingly rely on their ability to pivot, be flexible, and pick up new skills quickly.
A traditional four-year degree will offer less return on investment compared with customised, regular, on-demand learning, which will allow workers to stay up-to-date with technological changes and new projects.
Thus, it is important to approach education by considering how curriculum translates to real-world performance, which also means that career and academic services must come hand-in-hand.
To meet the career aspirations of students and the needs of industry, career services departments are the cornerstone in many education institutions. They are tasked with accompanying students through their academic journey and preparing them to contribute to the workforce.
These departments maintain career portals and regularly host career fairs. Their work provides opportunities for employers to constantly have access to a fresh talent pool, while allowing students to seek internship and employment opportunities.
Without career fairs and internship opportunities, students from PEIs may feel that they are deprived of an opportunity to gain meaningful experiences, and are not adequately prepared to compete on a level-playing field with their counterparts in autonomous universities.
It is thus imperative for career services in these schools to convince industry players to participate in career fairs and conduct recruitment sessions for their students.
But when there are so many students competing for fewer jobs in the market, the pressure on PEIs to find innovative ways to market their students to potential employers is tremendous.
THE 'BIG BOYS' AREN'T INTERESTED?
Students will always want the big boys of the industry, such as Apple and Google, to be at career and recruitment fairs.
Discrimination of students from PEIs are rampant, they claim.
This is not true - graduates from PSB Academy have gone on to work in prestigious multinational companies without a hitch.
However, it is not about only having multinational corporations (MNCs) at recruitment fairs, and students should not think that only MNCs have the resources to provide them with a good learning opportunity.
To give students an edge in the job market, PEIs must build long-term relationships with a network of industry partners who can tap on students’ talents and qualifications.
By engaging with these partners and working out agreements, students can gain networking opportunities and even valuable internship opportunities that will provide them with relevant experience that helps with their job-seeking post-graduation.
As the nature of jobs keeps evolving, PEIs should consider including start-ups, small- and medium-sized enterprises and industrial bodies as partners as well.
PSB Academy has strong ties with industry partners like Bloomberg, StarHub, and NCS Group, and industry accreditation bodies, like the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore and the Institute of Engineering and Technology, to allow students to interact with industry professionals.
This arms them with industry insights beyond what they learn in the classroom, and allows students to differentiate themselves from their peers.
NO CHANCE FOR AN OVERSEAS EXPERIENCE?
Despite the clear benefits offered by an overseas experience, many students from PEIs gripe that they do not receive the chance to go overseas for exchange programmes.
This is especially true for students who belong to a fast-tracked programme in PEIs that lack the right infrastructure and support.
This is in stark contrast with many autonomous universities which readily offer exchange programmes and overseas exposure. However, this is not a blanket experience for all students in PEIs. It should not, and cannot be.
In a highly globalised world, many employers are looking for graduates with a global outlook. The QS Global Employer Survey Report 2016 reported that out of 10 employers, 6 will give a candidate extra credit for having an overseas experience.
Many of these companies require their employees to be able to work with teams from all around the world.
Due to this, hiring managers from MNCs look out for candidates with cross-cultural communication skills, social intelligence, ability to collaborate and adaptive thinking.
In this regard, it would be good if more young Singaporeans get the experience of living in a different culture and pick up a foreign language.
PSB Academy, for example, has a transnational campus programme, which allows students to transfer their studies to - and from - the campus of one of the international university partners to complete their programme.
Students need also to remember that having a global outlook goes beyond internships and work experiences in exotic countries – working together with foreign students in a group project can also lend great insight on how people of different nationalities think and work.
PRIVATE EDUCATION INSTITUTES AREN'T HELPING?
While PEIs can do their utmost best to help the employability of students by offering a future-ready curriculum, the buck still lies with students themselves.
Companies that we collaborate with, the likes of GallUp and OCBC Bank, do not have an obligation to provide a job upon the completion of an internship, and neither must they continue collaborating with us indefinitely. As with all partnerships, our students are our best ambassadors.
These companies have taken a chance on our students and provide the necessary support for our students, and it is natural for them to expect that our students perform on the job.
What PEIs can do is to constantly improve their own service and product delivery. PEIs must provide an environment where students can work creatively and mobilise all available resources to deliver higher education of good quality to students.
PEIs must manage expectations on both ends by looking out for industrial trends and roadmaps, and providing our students with in-demand skills that the economy requires.
This can be challenging for PEIs, given that a close partnership with both the public and private sectors is needed to ensure programmes offered closely map to the economy's needs.
Nonetheless, this is crucial for our students to be able to contribute to Singapore’s innovation capital almost immediately upon graduation.
While it is true that the onus of excelling in academics and career search lies with the students, we cannot exclude the responsibility that PEIs and industry partners must shoulder to provide our students with a leg-up on the career ladder.
Dr Sam Choon Yin is dean of PSB Academy.