A recent survey conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, in partnership with Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, revealed that a small group of graduates had fallen into involuntary underemployment, where despite working full-time, they earn less than $2,000 per month.

Based on a research sample of 1,626 Singapore workers, about 70 of them were considered severely underemployed. This group of underemployed were typically female (63%) and of a median age of 35 years. A majority of them (61%) also had no children.

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They had 10 to 15 years of working experience and were employed at businesses that serve mainly the domestic market. They also came largely from the health and social services sectors - followed by financial services, transport and education sectors.

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Surprisingly, despite their prior working experience, only nearly half (51%) of these underemployed graduates felt that their skills were being recognised at work. In contrast, 75% cited that their employers recognised their educational qualifications.


Additionally, these underemployed individuals reported lesser job and income security, and a high proportion shared that their status/rank at work is lower than it should for their ability and skills.

Furthermore, the survey showed that personal circumstance appeared to affect their work situation where physically, half reported to be in pain, and emotional issues caused them to accomplish less at work.  

On another hand, respondents also cited inadequate retirement savings as one of the challenges. More than half of the underemployed reported being worried about insufficient retirement savings. In fact over half of the norm group espoused similar attitudes, showing that the lack of retirement savings is a common concern.


The underemployed (60%) also reported lacking finances for daily expenses. The survey stated: “Unlike retirement savings, which evidenced little difference across groups, underemployment had a great impact on day-to-day expenses compared to the norm.”

The next challenge of underemployed individuals is income security. In this regard, the differences are marked. A small percentage (27%) reported income security compared to a majority (69%) in the norm who did.

Following that, job security is another important concern that distinguishes the underemployed from the norm. Less in the underemployed group (28%) reported job security as compared to the norm group (65%).

Despite the challenges they face, they have a remarkably positive attitude and resilience, a majority cite wanting to re-skill, up-skill and deep skill. With regard to learning new skills, the desire of the underemployed is as strong (86%) as the norm (90%). As for upskilling, the desire is strong with a majority (78%) expressing positive attitudes towards upskilling (e.g., I want to upskill to get promoted); while the re-skilling desire between the underemployed and norm is similar with a large majority (84%) reporting “yes” to re-skilling.

Likewise, deep-skilling desire remains the strongest (87%) as compared to re-skilling, and upskilling, reflecting the market demand for deep skills. According to the survey, these findings suggest the need for stronger recognition of skills by employers and greater awareness on the areas to upskill.

In a blog post by NTUC assistant secretary-general, Zainal Sapari on this topic, he commented: “For employers, the study suggested the need for stronger recognition of skills and greater awareness on the areas to upskill.  I concur with all the above statements – strongly, in fact.”

“As an economy powered by our people, we should assist this potential pool to level-up their employability. If health issues are the main contributing factor to their inability to carry out certain jobs, then employers should be encouraged to redesign these jobs. This is just one of the many ways we can help these underemployed graduates,” he added.

Lead Photo / Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute

Graphs / Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute