Saturday, October 22, 2016

Is A Degree or Diploma Necessary?

There have been a lot of articles lately on the mainstream media which talks about private degrees and local degrees etc.  In the year 2000, only 26% of Singaporean residents between the ages of 25 and 34 are graduates. Now, more than 50% are graduates. However, the problem is not all 50% jobs in the market are for PMETs, which means many are doing a lower skillset job than what they possess. There is another bigger problem with pursuing a diploma or degree. The problem is the world is moving too fast and the skills you learn in your 3-4 years course may become outdated too quickly.

Before we carry on further in this article, I have to clarify that I am not against getting a degree or diploma. In fact, it is a necessary certification to get our first job. What is important is we pick the right courses to study which will ensure the maximum return we have on that certificate which we spend a lot of time and money to obtain.

I was in a dialogue session with Minister Chan Chun Sing who was speaking on what the Committee of Future Economy (CFE) is doing. The CFE aims to keep the Singapore economy competitive by helping to position Singapore for the future, as well as identify areas of growth with regard to regional and global developments. One key message I got from the session was that many jobs will become redundant in time but that many new jobs will be created also. The global economy is shifting to a new phase which we, as a small country in Singapore, have to change too in order to stay competitive.

In any case, many jobs will be lost regardless if you have a Degree, Diploma or Masters. If you're in the wrong industry, there is a possibility that you will lose your job. In this article, I will explore what are the jobs which will possibly be lost and what are the new jobs which will be in demand. Hopefully this will help us to position ourselves better for our career as well as make better decisions in our education choices.

The Singapore Economy

To understand why some jobs will be lost, let's take a look at how the Singapore economy has progressed and changed over the years. The following information is reference from the Economic Development Board (EDB) Singapore:


In the 1960s there were a few developments which marked the start of Singapore’s industrialisation programme that began with factories producing garments, textiles, toys, wood products and hair wigs. Along with these labour-intensive industries were capital and technology-intensive projects from companies such as Shell Eastern Petroleum and the National Iron and Steel Mills.


Singapore's manufacturing industry evolved to become more sophisticated and included computer parts, peripherals, software packages and silicon wafers. Manufacturing eventually became the largest sector in the economy surpassing trade.


The 1980s was the start of the movement away from labour-intensive industries and the attraction to high-technology industries


EDB shifted its focus from manufacturing to strengthen the new key industries, namely chemicals, electronics and engineering. It also began leveraging its leadership in these industries to develop biomedical sciences; an area that included the pharmaceutical biotechnology and medical technology sectors


Most of the R&D activity were focused on environmental and water technology, biomedical sciences and interactive and digital media.

When will I become obsolete?

In this era where advancement is moving faster as compared to the past, jobs are becoming obsolete sooner than we think. In the past, jobs may last 10-20 years but now, today's job may be gone tomorrow. I still remembered a few years back when I was still in the army, the first 3G smart phone came out which was from Apple. The first ever iPhone was launched. Moving forward, every year there were new models and the technologies evolved as well. From 3G to 4G and even 5G in the future. Mobile data speed got faster and faster every year.

With technological advancement, many industries will be affected which will cause jobs to be lost. We are already seeing it happening now. The question to ask ourselves will be "when will I become obsolete?" Will my job last for the next few years?

Jobs which will be lost

If you realised, Singapore has transformed rapidly especially in the past 2 years only. Let me bring things into perspective:

  • Traditional taxi business has been disrupted. Now we have Uber and Grab
  • Credit cards can be paid wirelessly through paywave or paypass and can even be sync with a mobile phone for use on Apply, Andriod or Samsung pay
  • We can use our mobile phone to pay for bus and MRT rides instead of using Ez-link cards only
  • Self-payment machines are everywhere in Singapore including supermarkets, Macdonalds and Polyclinics/Hospitals
  • Macdonald has self-ordering system which eliminates the number of cashiers at counters
  • Self-driving cars, taxis and buses will become a reality in the next few years
  • Buying groceries online and getting it delivered to your house is becoming more common
  • Booking of apartments through Airbnb is an alternative to hotel stays
  • Food delivery such as food panda and Deliveroo is seen everywhere on the street
  • Buying a property without property agent is easier now with websites such as property guru and OhMyHome App
  • Food Vending machine cafe which opened in Sengkang
From the above list, there are going to be various jobs which will be lost. Property/Insurance agents, taxi drivers, retail assistants/cashiers will be greatly affected. Lesser manpower will be needed to perform the same function which machines can take over. This is happening now and it’s happening fast.

In our connected world, anybody can take over our jobs in another part of the world as long as it can go through the wire. This was what Minister Chan said. When asking ourselves "When will I become obsolete?" we should see whether our jobs can be done elsewhere in the world. For example, for website programmers/designers, if a designer or programmer in India can do the job, it would be a great risk. We are not just competing nationally but on a global basis. 

Jobs which will be in demand

Although some jobs will be lost, there will be new jobs created too. Industries such as healthcare will be in demand due to ageing population in Singapore. It is expected that by 2021, the local manpower will start to fall which means more people will be older and retired. Other industries such as IT/engineering, data/eCommerce and logistics will also be in demand.

With IT and wireless communications depended heavily in the future, more professionals will be needed in these areas. Infocomm and cyber security skills will definitely be in demand.

Is pursuing diploma or degree necessary?

Now, let's get back to the question of whether a diploma or degree is necessary? A degree and diploma is still important but it is also important to consider the career prospect of that education path. The skills which are learnt in the course should be relevant to the industry too.

If we are unsure whether we want to study that course, we can actually take modular courses first or take up professional certificates to get ourselves certified. For example, for data analysis, we can take up SPSS or Big Data courses or for project management we can take up PMP courses. Thereafter we still can take up the relevant diploma or degree to further deepen our skills and competencies.

The world is changing and in order to remain relevant, we need to re-skill or up-skill and even consider changing industries. The CFE will wrap up its findings by Q1 next year and propose to the government recommendations in order to keep Singapore's economy competitive. We should expect some changes and restructuring thereafter.

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  1. I have been interested in cyber security for awhile, been contemplating if I should take a diploma related course for it or just certs for it would be enough for me to get into this industry, what would be your recommendation? I am currently in a chemical related industry with a diploma related to it.

    1. Hi Zan,

      You can try taking some modular courses which will lead to a degree eventually. Since you're interested in this industry, its good to explore options which will lead to a degree. If i remember correctly, unisim has part time degree courses in cybersecurity. You may want to check it out.