Degree not a must, earn while you learn -- says Singapore PM

Degree not a must, earn while you learn -- says Singapore PM

Your child may officially no longer need a degree to be considered successful by Singapore and World standards. Read on for the full report...

earn while you learn

The formula for success may no longer include a degree.

If you have been saving up for your child’s university education and getting anxious about it, you may be interested to know what the Singapore government has to say about it.

As reported in a recent Bloomberg news article, the government is basically saying that people can still have a successful career without a degree. This is in stark contrast to the importance given to a university degree a decade or two ago.

The shift in direction comes as Singapore struggles with an impending oversupply of graduates and an undersupply of technically-trained workers.

Under the programme “earn and learn”, fresh polytechnic and Institute of Technical Education (ITE) graduates are encouraged to go on paid apprenticeships and earn industry-recognised qualifications. This scheme would match a youth with a suitable employer, which would give him training and mentorship as he studies for industry-recognised qualifications.

As a parent, you would naturally be a little confused about whether you should put in your efforts to help your child to get a degree or channel your energy towards getting him on a paid apprenticeship programme.

Find out why the programme “earn and learn” may be a good option for your child on the next page.

 A job with the right match guaranteed

earn while you learn

In the programme that allows you to earn while you learn, your child can find a job that well matches his skills.

One of the best things about the “earn-and-learn” scheme is that you need not be worried that your child would end up with a job that he is not trained for, or worse, not be able to find a job in a sea of similarly-qualified people.

The programme ensures that your child’s skill matches what the industry needs. He would be learning what is perceived as valuable to the companies and would therefore be very employable.

As Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wah, aptly said in 2013 in a Straits Times report , “If they cannot find jobs, what is the point? You own a degree, but so what? That you can’t eat it. If that cannot give you a good life, a good job, it is meaningless.”

Paid to be trained

earn while you learn

As an apprentice in the scheme that allows you to earn while you learn, your child will be given time to master the skill.

As an apprentice, your child would not be expected to get up and go once he starts on the job in the “earn and learn” scheme. Although it is an on-the-job training, there is an official validation that he is only an apprentice.

So, employers and colleagues would naturally need to give him time to get used to the work and environment. This may not be the case if your child is a fresh graduate who joins a company, where he would be expected to manoeuvre through the steep learning curve, in a short amount of time.

Not an academic course

earn while you learn

If your child is a hands-on person, he would probably be happier joining the “earn and learn” scheme.

Different children have different strengths and talents, and high academic ability is but only one of the different talents. If your child is not too academically-inclined, it may not make sense to pile him with tuitions and push him to make it to university. That would only add undue pressure on him.

The apprenticeship programme may be the right way for your child if he is more of a hands-on person, someone who learns by doing rather than by reading or drilling. Moreover, what is important is to allow your child to develop his full potential in his area of interest and talent.

What are some reasons  the “earn and learn” scheme may not be the best option for your child? Read on to find out.

Lower starting pay

earn while you learn

Non-graduates generally start off with lower salaries than their graduate peers, although in the long-term, this may not hold.

The pay will probably be your topmost concern if your child joins the apprenticeship scheme.

Based on a 2012 Straits Times report on a survey of starting pay, university graduates had a median monthly starting pay of $3000, with the pay moving down to $2100 for post-national service (NS) polytechnic graduates and $1600 for post-NS ITE graduates.

The lower starting pay may also mean that subsequent pay increases, assuming all else being equal, would never be able to match that of the degree holders’. This could put your child in a socially-disadvantaged position, having implications on the lifestyle your child would be able to afford.

Of course, the actual salaries would depend on other factors like the type of skill, type of degree and the organisation he works for. Your child could also go into business using the skills he has acquired.

 Not prestigious

earn while you learn

A university degree could be more highly regarded by society than a certificate in culinary skills.

A university degree is undoubtedly  a symbol of prestige. This mindset has been embedded into the DNA of most Singaporeans. You may even have caught yourself carelessly mentioning to your friends that your child has scored more than 90 in his recent Maths test but remain tight-lipped to “save face” when your child flunks the paper.

If you still hold on to the perception that a degree has a pedigree status, you would probably be pressured to give your child a university education.

Not for the academically-inclined

earn while you learn

Your A+ child would realise her full potential by pursuing a university education.

If your child naturally excels in the academic subjects, is a deep thinker and has an interest in research, then you would do well to steer him towards getting a good university education. Learning a pragmatic skill alone may not satisfy the thirst for learning in your child, and may leave him disillusioned.


As a parent, you are always bombarded with choices and you are compelled to make sound decisions. Steering your child’s education in the right direction is probably one of the most important decisions you would have to make for him. Make sure you make a well-informed, grounded one.

Do you think a university education is better than an apprenticeship training? Share your views with us!

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Written by

Shoba Nair

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