Saturday, February 04, 2023

On plumbers who emigrate to Australia to get $100,000 salaries

Recently, an anonymous poster claiming to have graduated from ITE bragged online about earning about $100,000 annually. This post attracted a lot of supporters and haters. 

Haters attempted to discredit the poster and combed through the post to see if there were any inconsistencies. One argument from this faction was that after paying income and consumption taxes, the numbers would not bad as favourable as they looked. Another argument was that this poster was lying. The weakness of this argument is that no matter how you play with the numbers, a $100,000 income after taxes in Australia would still be more favourable than the wages of a local ITE graduate. 

Supporters generally use this post as an opportunity to discredit the government, hinting that societies that respect trade labour exists and ITE graduates are better off emigrating there. To me, supporters are insincere. They do not consider some benefits of staying in Singapore - escalating real estate prices allowing wealth creation within a short time, and low investment taxes. If I look at social media and read about the pro-Australia folks in Singapore, I see a reflection of their dissatisfaction with society. While they might have a point,  I think it's more about them and their hissy fit than plumbers with a Nitec qualification. 

Looking at both sides of the argument, I think it is safe to conclude that an ITE graduate can take on a trade role in Australia and earn $100,000. But doing so requires overcoming some obstacles specific to that trade which has not been discussed in the original post. This will require some grit.

I think that if we can agree that my point is reasonable, then there may be some truths that we need to confront :

a) ITEs should actively encourage graduates to emigrate

Singaporeans have complained that Malaysians have been more than willing to take up blue-collar work here to keep services cheap at the expense of local tradesmen. If ITE provides such solid training in trade skills, it makes more sense for locally trained tradesmen to ply their trade in a country that pays them more so that they can remit their earnings back to support their parents back home in Singapore. This is straight from the playbook of Malaysians who work here.  

Perhaps a final-year module can teach ITE, graduates what steps to take to emigrate to Australia. When I was working for the unions, I met some union leaders who had fascinating knowledge about the Superannuation system in Australia, even though I suspect they don't know what CPF shielding is. 

b) It has to follow logically that our polytechnics must be terrible institutions

Recently we've been treated with very unflattering statistics about polytechnic graduates in Singapore. 

A diploma holder earns about two-thirds of a degree holder, and authorities are now coming alive to the idea that this gap can cause a serious fracture in society. In the 1980s, the polytechnics sent their lecturers to neighbourhood secondary schools like mine to tell us to aim lower in life and not insist on entering University. I wonder how they are reacting to the statistics now. 

Now things get worse. 

If the poster is right, an ITE graduate is better off skipping polytechnic and going to Australia instead. If this is true, then what does this say about the value-add of a polytechnic diploma in Singapore? As tax payers should be continue to expect our government to keep putting so much investment into polytechnic education?

I think this is something policymakers need to think about.  


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