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Be a plumber or be unemployed?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I read an article in The Straits Times today on how a 50 year old Chinese plumber makes RMB10,000 a month clearing drains in Wuhan, Hubei, China. This is about S$2,000 and about 5 times more than what a fresh graduate in China is able to command as an office executive.

The plumber has saved enough money to buy a car and pay off his mortgage, feats which Chinese office executives are envious of. So, could we expect more graduates to become plumbers in China? Most unlikely.

"Over a quarter of new college graduates are avoiding more physical work as electricians, plumbers, and drivers in favor of office jobs, according to the Labor Ministry, despite average starting salaries less than half of what’s on offer elsewhere."

It was reported that fresh graduates in China would rather remain unemployed than to take up a job that involves menial labour. A fresh graduate, after six months of being jobless, admitted that he could get a job as a blue-collar worker which would pay well but he would rather not do it. Why? It would not sound good when he tells people what he does.

Now, I wonder if we gave the plumber a fancy title, would that help? Sanitation Specialist? Does it sound better?

Anyway, this case is not exceptional as a survey found that 6 in 10 graduates in China would prefer to be a white collar executive making RMB 3,000 a month instead of a blue color worker making RMB 5,000 a month.

I don't think this situation is unique to China either. It is probably the same anywhere.

Is a society more advanced when its people are more concerned about class than financial well being? Class could take many forms, of course, and not just in the form of job titles.

What about the place of work and the dress code? Is working in the CBD and wearing a tie and jacket at work more prestigious than working in a warehousing district and wearing jeans and t-shirt at work? What if the latter were to pay twice as much as the former?

Should we care about how people look at us or how our bank account looks?

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Anonymous said...

Hi AK71,
Ha! Ha!
Plumber can hardly survive in Singapore. Joking only. But it may be true if you are not a "self-employed" plumber or a "blue-collar" technician.
72 trades, every trade has a "KING" among each of the trade. Sorli, my lousy English translation of Chinese wise sayings(Wisdom). i know i can be one if i really want to. i am ITE blue-collared. But it's very hard work man. i prefer moving money around even though it is not as easy as it seems. You may move your money to oblivion. Ha! Ha!
In short, to excel in life is never easy.

AK71 said...

Hi Temperament,

Honest hard work should be properly rewarded, I have always said.

Of course, we want to move towards having passive income as we age since hard work is harder when we are older. ;)

Singapore Man of Leisure said...

If I am cold, hungry, and desperate, I will do any job to survive.

But if I got parent to depend on, I can shake leg at home and patiently wait for my dream job.

AK71 said...


I guess you are right. It is a sign of an affluent society.

trashcup said...

in aus, a tradesman(plumber,carpenter etc) easily earn more den fresh uni grad

this situation is common in world class countries with limited foreign talent policy

note: in aus, construction workers is all caucasian australians

AK71 said...

Hi trashcup,

Thanks for sharing this. It seems that Singapore is not world class yet. ;)

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