Thursday, April 15, 2021

Is Blue Collar work feasible in Singapore ?


America is disillusioned about getting degrees. Unless you are going to an Ivy League university, the odds don't look good as you'll probably be saddled with crippling loans after graduation. If you study for some shit degree like Gender or Ethnic studies, things get even worse because the university is where you'll spend 4 years blaming all of your problems on white men. 

So Ken Rusk, a successful contractor, wrote a book to exhort Americans to consider good old-fashioned blue-collar work. The logic is quite compelling in America - if you are willing to get your hands dirty, you will be able to find a job that pays quite well and avoid getting into crippling student loans. Some statistics are super interesting. An air traffic controller does not require a degree but can earn an annual income of $108,000. Even an electrician apprentice can earn $48,250. Plumbers are also worth quite a bit at about $60,000.

Another compelling reason to consider blue-collar work is that about 4-5 years of work will make you an expert and you are more likely to upgrade by starting your own business. This is really all about the American Dream.  

I was attracted to Blue Collar Cash because I was wondering why polytechnic grads want to study for a private degree so much. The latest numbers look very bad on the mainstream news. Getting a private degree in Singapore is like putting a sticker on your head to tell the HR company to throw your resume away. So why not do blue-collar work in Singapore instead, start saving money earlier, and become a contractor towkay later in life?

Three words why this is not possible in Singapore - Cheap Malaysian Labour.

Half of my family is Malaysian, but I want to say that Malaysian Chinese contribute quite a bit to our economy. By keeping the fees low, Singaporeans pay less for contractor services and haircuts and a larger proportion of our workforce do supervisory and management work. The fact that a Malaysian can pop into the country to cut your hair, then go back to JB to spend their hard-earned SGD makes it impossible for blue-collar work to pay as well in the US.

So the bad news is that this book cannot be contextualised in Singapore :

  • Local universities are not expensive.
  • Blue-collar work does not pay well as there are plenty of Malaysians willing to do the work for half the pay because they spend in Ringgit back home.
If policymakers solve this problem by creating a licensing regime for work like plumbing and electrical services, it would be welcome by Singaporeans who love blue-collar work but it is highly likely that Singaporeans will end up paying more, so this is not something that can be solved without a proper study. 

Sadly the rest of the book is motivational in nature and lessons about grit, accountability and setting goals is not something specific to blue-collar work and too generic to be novel for the reader. I might be better off reading Angela Duckworth's Grit instead. 

Also, the author shared that his own daughter has advanced degrees in Architecture, so there was no attempt at eating his own cooking by making his kids follow the advice from his book. This is a major turn-off for me because I believe in having Skin in the Game. 

Nevertheless, it is very refreshing to read self-help for a segment of society and I will look for more books in this genre. 

Having an involuted society like Singapore that focuses purely on managerial and knowledge-driven work is unsustainable. We need good career pathways for folks who are good with their hands with numbers similar to the US.  

The salaries in the US look really yummy - maybe ITE grads may wish to start planning to emigrate and go work in the US with the aim to start a business before their mid-30s. I would not mind executing this plan if my kids are academically disinclined in the future. 

It may be a happier life as your work is less desk-bound and there may be less office politics.


  1. I know a couple of VITB (pre-ITE) contractors who lived for a time in Oz --- big bucks compared to what they got here. Easily 10X more in the 1980s & 1990s.

    Unfortunately they indulged in the stereotypical sins that we attribute to such folks e.g. spendthrift, alcohol, prostitutes, easy women, gambling.

    Both ended up returning to S'pore when age & competition caught up with them.

    So I believe those generic motivational "Suze Orman"-like or "Tony Robbins"-like spiel will be useful for them. They aren't stupid; they just need mental tempering.

  2. Our CPF system is all about mental tampering citizens. A better solution is not o let them return and let the Australian welfare system take care of them.

  3. Its not easy to migraIts not easy to migrate. If not a high flier, nursing is probably the most likely path.