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Singaporeans value new skills over pay rise: Survey

Bryan van der Beek | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Singaporeans show the most interest in upgrading their career skills in Asia, according to a global survey of 230,000 people by recruitment firm Kelly Services.

55 percent of Singaporeans surveyed said they would trade higher wages and career advancements for self-development opportunities, much higher than 43 percent in Malaysia, 42 percent in Hong Kong, 37 percent in Thailand and 30 percent in China.

"Climbing the corporate ladder is clearly important to people, but frequently not as important as developing the skills that will give them the capability and confidence to realize their long-term potential," wrote Mark Hall, Vice President and Country Manager at Kelly Services Singapore in a note.

The frequency of career development discussions with management factors into how willing employees are in broadening their skillset. 44 percent of workers in Singapore – mostly in marketing, engineering and IT – have career development discussions with their employers, putting the city-state 6 percentage points above the global average.

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Does age matter?

Singapore's baby boomers – born between 1946 and 1964 – are the most motivated when it comes to acquiring new work-related skills, followed by Generation-Y and Generation X, the study showed. Gen-X are born between 1966 and 1976 while the Gen-Y are born between 1977 to 1994.

"Baby boomers have a more tangible appreciation of how skills [can help to] realize long-term career potential [but] Gen-Y may find that the skills they acquired during their higher education are still relevant," Kelly's Hall wrote in an email.

"I'm inclined towards acquiring new skills to raise my negotiating power for better pay in the future. With skills, money will come naturally," said 29-year-old Mr Kua, the key account manager at a cosmetics and beauty firm in Singapore.

For Singaporean Phua K.W., Gen-X employees face age disadvantages and family commitments that discourage them from broadening their skillsets.

"Who doesn't want to learn new things but if I give up this opportunity for a promotion, will I still get it next time? Age is against me," said the 44-year-old. "Also, when you're at the age when you need to bring home the bacon, upgrading skills takes the back seat."

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Moving forward

This emphasis on skills will continue to rise as Millenials – the demographic cohort following Gen-Y – join the workforce.

"Younger workers enjoy teamwork and are constantly on the lookout for creative ways to solve problems. Hence, they look forward to opportunities to build new skills and stay ahead in a rapidly changing economy," wrote Stella Tang, Managing Director of Robert Half in Singapore.

Recent government efforts also play a significant role.

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"The recommendations from the Aspire Committee are very encouraging, and will make it even easier for Singapore's employers to support the continuous development of their staff," Kelly's Hall said, referring to the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) Committee who made recommendations to improve the job prospects of non-university graduates last month. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also mentioned last month the need for a "cultural shift" in employment practices and mindsets to focus on skills over qualifications.

"As competition for business and talent heats up in the region, the Singapore Government [is] helping Singaporeans acquire new skills and raise productivity in order to embark on new career paths and engage in higher value work to enable future growth," noted Tang.

Singapore has been trying to raise productivity levels in order to maintain economic growth amid an aging population. The Southeast Asian city-state has one of the world's lowest unemployment rates; unemployment stood at 2 percent in the April-June period compared with 3.6 percent in Japan, 6.3 percent in the U.S. and 6.9 percent in the U.K.