Don’t want to pursue a university degree? Here are six alternative pathways to career success
September 13, 2018
You may have chosen not to pursue a university degree for various reasons — perhaps due to financial limitations, academic requirements or personal reasons.
Whatever the case may be, a degree is by no means the only way to achieve career success. Neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs (to cite two famous examples) had a university degree — nor did Oprah Winfrey, Harrison Ford or Li Ka-Shing.
In fact, the latter dropped out of school as a teenager but is now Hong Kong’s richest man.
Here in Singapore, success stories include Mr Lim Hock Chee, one of the founders of Sheng Siong and its current CEO, who dropped out after Secondary 3 to pursue a vocational course and later started the supermarket chain with his siblings.
Here are six ways that you, too, can build a successful career succeed in your career without a conventional university degree.
Pursue a polytechnic diploma
Do not look down on a technical education. In fact, it can often be all you need to land a first job and get experience in an industry, especially if you have a clear idea of what you are interested in and would like to pursue.
You can begin a polytechnic diploma after your O Levels in secondary school, a programme which will last three years.
Many polytechnic diplomas have internship programmes of between two to and six months, so you will not only gain practical, useful knowledge but also the opportunity to apply it in a real-world setting.
The Institute of Technical Education (ITE) is also a viable option to consider if you are an N-Level holder or someone who does not have the necessary qualifications to enter a polytechnic. After this, you can choose to enter the workforce or apply for a polytechnic.
If you are already working, consider pursuing part-time polytechnic courses that will provide you with greater knowledge and formal qualifications without sacrificing your income.
Enroll in SkillsFuture programmes
Another avenue to consider is SkillsFuture programmes.
The Earn and Learn Programme is targeted at polytechnic and ITE graduates and National Servicemen within three years of either graduation or Operationally Ready Date.
Under this programme, you can kickstart your career by being matched with a job related to what you studied. You will undergo a 12- to 18-month structured training programme, after which you will receive industry-recognised certification and a career pathway within the company.
If you would like to earn a degree, you can do so in the Work-Study Degree Programme. Under this programme, you can pursue a full-time degree while working at a related company and receiving structured on-the-job training.
This works via either a term in-term out system, in which students spend one to two terms (or trimesters) in university followed by the same at the workplace, or a work day-study day system, in which students work for three to four days at the company and study at university the remaining one or two days of the week.
The National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) currently offer Work-Study Degree programmes.
Take online courses
In the digital age, obtaining knowledge and qualifications does not need to depend on a physical institution. There are many excellent courses available on websites such as Coursera, Khan Academy, Open Yale Courses and others.
While some of these websites, like Coursera, offer certification that you can use as formal qualifications, many others do not — but you can still learn useful, perspective-broadening things from them that can inspire you to explore a particular industry and give you the knowledge you need to get started.
Build your network
These days, what is important is not so much what you know as who you know. Building your personal network is one of the best ways to get a job opportunity.
Many qualified applicants are screened out by the initial stages of a hiring process due to poorly written resumes or bad interview skills in the preliminary rounds. Why not get an inside advantage by getting to know someone within the company? Doing so can put you on the fast track to an interview.
You can get to know someone by asking mutual friends for an introduction, by approaching someone on LinkedIn to schedule a chat over coffee, or by attending information or networking sessions where a company representative will be present.
Once you have a contact, you can ask them about the workings of the company or industry that you are interested in to get a better idea of what qualifications they are after and how you could be a good fit for their organisation.
Learn by doing
For much of history, people learnt not by going to school, but by being apprenticed to someone established in their craft — in other words, learning by doing.
Apprenticeships are still a viable career path today. For instance, the current group chief executive of Swiss investment bank UBS, Sergio Ermotti, worked his way to his current position via an apprenticeship.
Apprenticeship opportunities available in Singapore include the Creative Craftsman Apprenticeship Programme for those interested in the furniture industry; the AI Apprenticeship Programme for those who want to explore artificial intelligence, and various other company-specific programmes.
Start your own business
Starting a business nowadays is easier than before. With the advent of online marketing tools and easy-to-use website templates, you can get a site up and running in no time.
Or if you are the more creative type, Patreon and similar sites are a great platform to people who like you to support your work.