THE gap in career prospects between graduates and non-graduates in the civil service is set to close, with the Government yesterday announcing changes to speed up diploma holders' promotions and raise their pay.

First, non-graduate teachers who perform well at their jobs can, from the fourth quarter of this year, be placed on the graduate salary scale. The change will take place at the classroom-teacher level, without requiring them to rise to leadership or senior teaching positions.

Second, non-graduates who join the civil service under the management support scheme and perform well can get their first promotion after two to four years, down from the current three to six years, from October. If they continue to do well, subsequent promotions will also be faster.

And the Education Ministry and Public Service Division (PSD) are studying ways to merge their graduate and non-graduate schemes to give officers a chance to progress on the same career track.

These moves follow Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's announcement in his recent National Day Rally speech that more would be done to support the aspirations of non-graduates, with the public sector to take the lead. They also come a day after the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review committee report which called on bosses to go beyond qualifications in developing workers.

Right now, non-graduates are on a lower pay scale. Teachers with degrees, for example, start on salaries of $3,010 to $3,310, while those without start at $1,480 if they have A-level qualifications, and $1,870 to $1,920 if they have polytechnic diplomas.

And before the latest changes, non-graduate teachers could not cross over to the graduate salary scale without a degree, although they could take on leadership or senior teaching positions.

As for management support officers, their starting pay is between $1,230 and $1,850 a month, whereas those who join the management executive scheme for graduates can get up to $3,260 monthly.

There are three agencies with single-track schemes for graduates and non-graduates: the People's Association, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore and the Home Team. National water agency PUB is also developing a single engineering career path.

In its statement yesterday, the PSD quoted its deputy secretary of policy James Wong, who said that "graduates and non-graduates can now progress at similar rates, based on their level of performance and potential".

The service would also develop good officers by letting them manage projects and lead teams, providing them with opportunities for further education and training, and helping them to take on bigger jobs when they are ready.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat said the aim of the review is to show that teachers are recognised "based on their performance and contribution, regardless of their qualifications". He added that regardless of their starting points, teachers will continue to have opportunities to grow and learn on the job, through mentoring, courses or part-time study.

Welcoming yesterday's announcements, Amalgamated Union of Public Employees general secretary Ma Cheng Wei said: "Now the true test of whether a person is promoted rests more on his consistent good performance and potential to do a higher-grade job, and not so much the paper qualification."