The traditional education system has long prioritised students who have excelled academically. Those who achieve good grades are seen as having a golden ticket to future success. Grades remain a good indicator of a person’s capability and coming from a renowned school and getting good results are often seen as a testament to their level of discipline and ability to retain information. Additionally, the Ministry of Manpower takes into consideration university rankings to select high-quality foreign professionals as well.

However, in today’s rapidly evolving job market, the goal post has shifted and evolved beyond just academic ‘book smarts’ to encompass a broader range of practical skills and attributes, also known as ‘street smarts’. While educational qualifications still matter, there has been a shift towards a more skills-first approach to hiring, with 60% of professionals in Singapore believing that a degree certificate holds less importance in landing a job when compared to 20 years ago. Rather, being ‘street smart’, which includes having a strong networking ability, a diverse set of skills, and a positive attitude towards continuous upskilling, is preferred among professionals. This shift has been acknowledged by DPM Lawrence Wong, who highlighted the need for Singaporeans to “broaden our conception of merit beyond academic credentials”.

Hence, there is a need for holistic education to hone both academic and practical competencies and future-proof the next generation.

Looking beyond academics

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While excellent academic results might give applicants an edge over others, especially when it comes to entering top-ranked universities, they are not the sole determining factor. University admission criteria have changed — even prestigious universities like Singapore Management University (SMU), have expanded their admission criteria to consider attributes beyond just academic qualifications. Many universities practise Discretionary Admission, where spots are reserved for applicants with outstanding leadership, community service, and innovation achievements.

This is evident in the workplace too, employers are increasingly prioritising graduates with interpersonal, communication, and strategic skills. Approximately 73 % of Singapore professionals surveyed believe that companies have become more comfortable with hiring people who are equipped with the right skills, even if they may not have relevant work experience or qualifications. Therefore, future graduates must hone these practical skills to distinguish themselves in the competitive job market.

Experience and accolades from these extracurricular activities can showcase one’s capacity to handle diverse responsibilities, collaborate effectively, and proactively pursue their interests. Hence, one effective approach is actively participating in extracurricular activities or competitions alongside their academic studies. Countless opportunities await, and students should expand their horizons by exploring programs beyond what their school offers.

Utilising third-party services, like Crimson Education, can open doors to even more opportunities for them to launch their own exciting initiatives, like website development, participating in diverse competitions such as public speaking contests and sustainability challenges, or securing valuable internships with globally renowned companies like PwC and Uber. These experiences enable students to enrich and strengthen their extracurricular profiles.

Cultivating independent children

In today’s job market, companies highly value self-starters who actively learn and adapt. Many entry-level roles, especially for recent graduates, require on-the-job training. To stand out, individuals must actively demonstrate their ability to learn independently through practical experiences like internships, extracurricular involvement, hobbies, or overseas education.

All of this falls beyond the purview of typical academic work, and venturing outside the current scope of learning demonstrates independence and initiative. To steer them in this direction, parents can foster a conducive environment for children to embark on passion projects and learn to navigate life independently. Encouraging children to step out of their comfort zone can be in the form of overseas education as well. Studying abroad provides opportunities for them to immerse themselves in a foreign culture, adapt to a different way of life, and gain access to diverse perspectives. This experience equips them with the independence needed to thrive in today’s competitive job market.

Building cross-cultural competence

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As the workforce becomes more diverse, cross-cultural competence has become a critical skill to hone. 81% of employers feel that cross-cultural competence will grow more necessary in the future, while 77% highlight multilingualism, emphasising the demand for fresh graduates who have a keen understanding of different cultures and ways of life. This becomes especially important when hiring for multinational companies. Experience living or studying abroad can develop the cross-cultural competence needed to thrive in a diverse working environment.

Studying abroad also motivates students to pick up different languages and meet people from various backgrounds. Creating these connections can be very helpful in both academics and their future careers, as they help students become better at building relationships and finding opportunities. Increased exposure to a diverse range of people also allows students to learn how to overcome cultural rifts, and language differences to find common ground with peers. Despite hailing from different upbringings and cultures, they learn to build relationships and work together on projects.

Striking a balance between book smarts and street smarts

The growing consensus is that the world has evolved beyond a sole focus on academic qualifications, both universities and recruiters have come to value a more diverse set of skill sets. It becomes essential for students to evolve in tandem by also developing practical skills such as interpersonal communication and cross-cultural assimilation in order to succeed. However, this does not diminish the importance of academic performance, which can showcase students’ tenacity and competence.

To strike a balance, parents might consider enrolling their children in prestigious overseas institutions which not only serve as a testament to students’ academic prowess but also provide a fertile ground for honing crucial life skills, including independence, adaptability, and cross-cultural competency. Engaging education consultants, such as Crimson Education, can help students navigate the complex university’s admission process and increase their chances of getting accepted. Securing a place in these institutions will allow them the opportunity to not only showcase their intellect but also demonstrate the ability to live independently, adapt to cultural differences and make meaningful connections — which has become of utmost importance to thriving in the years to come.


Contributor: Joanne Gao, Country Manager at Crimson Education (Singapore)

Joanne is a graduate of the National University of Singapore and boasts 7 years of experience guiding families through their overseas university journeys. Having worked with over 1000 families, in addition to tutoring students throughout university and beyond, Joanne has dedicated the bulk of her career to helping Singapore students access the best educational and professional opportunities around the world.

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