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Fewer fresh graduates started work within first 6 months, more choose freelance work: Survey

SINGAPORE — The proportion of graduates who started work within six months of completing their final examinations dipped to 88.9 per cent last year, from 89.5 per cent in 2016, according to a survey conducted by three local universities.

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SINGAPORE — The proportion of graduates who started work within six months of completing their final examinations dipped to 88.9 per cent last year, from 89.5 per cent in 2016, according to a survey conducted by three local universities.

Among fresh graduates currently in the labour force, 78.4 per cent secured full-time permanent employment last year, down from the updated 2016 figure of 79.9 per cent which marked the first time that the proportion fell below 80 per cent.

The 2017 figure for fresh graduates is the lowest since the survey was first carried out for the 2012 cohort. In contrast, the proportion of those doing freelance work edged up from 1.7 per cent in 2016 to 2.4 per cent a year later.

More fresh graduates chose to work on a part-time or temporary basis, as the percentage rose from 3.9 per cent in 2016 to 4.4 per cent last year. Those who were unable to find a full-time permanent job, and landed part-time or temporary employment fell from 4.1 per cent in 2016 to 3.7 per cent.

While headline employment numbers fell, fresh graduates who secured a job were paid slightly better. The median gross monthly starting salary for graduates in full-time permanent jobs rose S$100 to S$3,400 last year, while the average gross monthly starting salary rose from S$3,509 in 2016 to S$3,613.

The survey, which was released on Monday (Feb 26), was conducted by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), the National University of Singapore (NUS), and the Singapore Management University (SMU), which collectively polled more than 80 per cent, or 11,628 out of 14,287 of their full-time fresh graduates.

The Singapore University of Technology and Design, and the Singapore Institute of Technology will release the findings of their graduate employment survey at a later date.

In a joint press release, the five universities noted that the overall employment rates of graduates from NTU, NUS and SMU "remained high" last year, and graduates from these universities "continue to be in demand" in the labour market.

A higher proportion of economically-active graduates — three per cent — had accepted job offers, but had yet to start work at the time of the survey, compared to two per cent last year.

The three universities also did a follow-up survey with their batches of graduates in architecture, law, medicine, pharmacy, biomedical sciences, and Chinese medicine who had to undergo practical training, housemanship, or first-year residency training before they started in their professions.

Among 711 of 969 graduates who participated in the survey, the proportion of those who secured employment upon the completion of their various training stints dropped, from 97.4 per cent in 2016 to 96.9 per cent last year.

In their statement, the universities explained that "more graduates have chosen to work on a part-time or temporary basis voluntarily". This can be seen by how fewer respondents secured full-time permanent employment, as the figures dipped from 95.7 per cent in 2016 to 93.6 per cent a year later, although involuntary part-time or temporary employment fell from 1.1 per cent to 0.9 per cent.

Despite the decrease, those who found full-time employment received slightly higher salaries. The mean gross monthly salary for them was S$4,565 last year, compared to S$4,508 in 2016, while the median gross monthly salary stayed the same at S$4,500.

EMPLOYMENT MARKET STILL 'SOFT'

Economists told TODAY that the numbers were consistent with the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) quarterly labour surveys over the past year, which showed "soft" employment prospects.

Mr Song Seng Wun, director of group private banking at CIMB, said employers were "more selective" in their hiring amid a global economic recovery. "You still have the mindset that businesses are not quite sure exactly how well the economy is doing, how much they should hire, or they do depend on their existing labour force until they really need to (hire)," he said. "It's no surprise that graduates took a longer time to find work."

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah said that last year's batch of fresh graduates could be competing for vacancies with professionals who were laid off.

"For the last two years, retrenchment numbers for PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) have been very high," he said.

"So in some way, this actually creates some sort of competition with fresh graduates... given that these are retrenched professionals with a wealth of experience. Although the jobs they go for could be very different, in some way, some companies may not mind paying a bit more for someone who is a lot more experienced."

Commenting on the increase in fresh graduates choosing to pursue freelance or temporary part-time jobs, Maybank Kim Eng economist Chua Hak Bin said this was indicative that millennials were picking it as a lifestyle preference, "in part because of the flexibility and the freedom that they may entail".

He added: "Previously, we wondered if (the trend that more are engaging in freelance work) was a short-term blip due to the worsening job market in 2016. But in 2017, the economy did pick up (with prospects in the financial sector seen to have improved).

"So it's still rather surprising that those finding permanent employment are still taking a longer time to find a job."

Mr Song added: "Disruptive technology and e-commerce has offered new opportunities, which perhaps were not abundant five years ago."

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