Tag Archives: foreign talent

My reply to: “Tan Chuan Jin: Efforts to reduce number of foreign workers on the ‘right track’” on Temasek Times

Manpower – Stay Calm and Think Rationally

Of late, there have been a number of articles and news pieces on manpower, employment and the economy. The statistics and information presented paint a bright, yet somewhat bleak picture of what lies ahead for our beloved country.

Employers in Singapore are hiring to fill new positions and they are still looking to fill vacancies arising from staff turnover, yet SMEs are having a difficult time recruiting Singaporeans for middle management and professional positions. The Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (ASME) has acknowledged that the availability of cheaper (not cheap) foreign labour has resulted in wages levels (or salary offers) stagnating at less-than-desirable levels.

The Ministry of Manpower has reduced the growth of foreign manpower population, and have committed to reducing the foreign manpower figures further. This is taking place amidst a global slowdown and a time of uncertainty, and companies are hoarding foreign workers in anticipation of further foreign manpower quota reductions, thus risking the viability of these firms in the short to medium term. In case you’re wondering, the Purchasing Manager’s Index just shrunk, and this means the orders for locally produced goods are shrinking.

The Prime Minister has announced that two existing institutions, SIM University and Singapore Institute of Technology, will be converted into full degree-awarding universities to accommodate the rising aspirations of Singaporeans. This is in addition to places at NUS, NTU, SMU and SUTD. Bear in mind, there are other degree pathways available – Lasalle College of the Arts offers degrees validated by Open University and Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts offers degree completion pathways with Essex University. Curtin University, James Cook University and SP Jain Centre of Management have opened campuses here. Specialist institutions like Singapore Aviation Academy and the Air Transport Training College are co-organising degree courses too. Let’s not even talk about the private institutions.

Minister in the PMO (with or without portfolio, it doesn’t matter) has pushed for cleaners to earn at least $1,000 per month. This is happening while hawkers are complaining about higher hawker centre fees, PM Lee has warned that food prices (raw food supplies) will rise and Singaporeans are still eating the same amounts as they used to (or more). Mr Brown’s favourite bak chor mee may soon cost more.

We look at these occurrences and we all know that these are the changes that Singaporeans (if not all, then at least a “majority”) are seeking. But this may not be the best way forward for all of us.

If we cut back on foreign manpower in the wrong areas, we risk losing SMEs that rely on foreign manpower to do the jobs that Singaporeans would not want to do, either because of the low wages or other employment considerations. And if we artificially inflate the wages of our local workers, we will price ourselves out of the global markets. I am pro-Singaporean, but I think we, as a people, need to be careful what we wish for. There is only so much our Government can do, only so much this little red dot can influence, and if we screw it up, we are going to be in a heap of trouble. And by that, I mean shitloads.

At the same time, companies must look at paying what Singaporeans ought to be paid, rather than what the other guy is asking to be paid. If a foreigner is willing to accept a salary of $1000 per month, while a local chap is asking for $1,500, we should take the local’s offer and make sure he / she delivers $1,500 in value every month (excluding CPF). Profit is not the only thing that matters. A business model that relies on the assumption of continuous and infinite supplies of cheap foreign labour is not a sustainable one, and we should not support such businesses.

Increasing university places may look like a good idea. But the transformation into an economy where the majority of jobs are designed and salaried for graduates will not come that easily. We should be prepared for the eventuality of a graduate-heavy economy, but we must accept that for the first decade or so, as the industries move toward a knowledge and productivity-based economy, Singapore will see high rates of under-employment. This means that you will have graduates sitting on diploma-holder positions as these companies begin to re-structure the work their employees do so that graduates can sit on graduate jobs (and Herman Miller chairs) in the long run.

Singaporeans need to consider what they are asking for carefully. We live in a globalized world, a globalized economy. Not everything is a matter of the Government’s will or doing. Some of it is a bitter truth.

– Posted 3 Oct 2012 on Temasek Times

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My reply to: “PM Lee: ‘National Conversation’ is about managing expectations” on Temasek Times

I have to say that the article “PM Lee: ‘National Conversation’ is about managing expectations” did little to give an accurate analysis of the Prime Minister’s comments.

While I encourage my fellow citizens to examine the messages that the media puts out to us, it is important that we remain discerning and objective when reading and interpreting what the state media or the new online platforms publish.

Let us first take a close look at the article carried by Today newspaper. Comments about which the article is based on are:

“”But some stones, after we look at them, the original place was quite nice, we put it back. There has to be a balance,” said Mr Lee, as he pointed out that managing expectations would be a key challenge of having the conversation.”

If you look carefully at what the Prime Minister is saying, he has made it clear that we should be willing to leave certain issues be, if there is no need for a change.

On the other hand, the commentary by the newspaper or reporter noted that there will be difficulties in managing expectations in the conversation.

To put it in layman-speak, the conversation will not shy away from slaughtering sacred cows, but it will not go on a Sacred Cow culling exercise. At the same time, we must manage the expectation that the National Conversation will be about making any and all changes demanded by the vocal majority (as opposed to the silent majority), some of whom may already expect that their views and ideas will result in radical changes or immediate action, and are ready to dismiss the National Conversation.

Now that we’ve dealt with this confusion, I would hope that the Government will take note of the phrases they should avoid, because the citizens have begun to associate these words with negative connotations or negative experiences.

(1) Manage expectations – enough said. Citizens do not want to be heard only to have their expectations managed, they want to be understood, and have solutions offered, even if such a solution is actually an exception to a policy that must be applied consistently across the board.

(2) Xenophobia – the citizens do not fear foreigners. They fear the loss of their jobs, career progression, salary increments, seats on buses and MRT trains and the way of life they have built up and served to protect (militarily and socially). I think we can just call this “anti-foreigner sentiment”.

(3) Foreign Talent – citizens do not see talented foreigners as key contributors to the economy any further. Foreign talents are now merely new immigrants who compete for space, jobs, housing, education and more. Citizens seem to think of “FT” as wage suppressors, alternative to Singaporean voters, and more. Let’s call a spade a spade – FTs are merely “locally-employed foreigners”.

(4) Engagement – citizens seem to think of this as “I talk, government listens, in one ear and out the other, and they decide on whatever they feel is right”. No need to re-word this term though, we should just work on engaging Singaporeans.

(5) Opposition – while the legal or traditional term of the non-ruling party might be the “opposition”, this term seems to imply that the Government is calling the other parties “opposition parties” as the ruling party is unwilling to work with alternative voices. Since we are able to coin “Uniquely Singaporean” terms on our own (think ‘Integrated Resort’, ‘foreign talent’, ‘group representative constituencies’ etc.) I think we can acknowledge that the opposition parties are merely “Non-ruling Parties”.

(6) Integration – Singaporeans want harmony, but they do not want to be integrated with locally-employed foreigners, new citizens or other non-NS contributing groups unless their interests are taken care of. While integration is key, we need to give Singaporeans sufficient resources and advantages to survive and thrive on the very land they grew up on, defended, built on, and lived on. Only when Singaporeans are less disadvantaged will we be able to fully integrate and harmonize Singaporean society.

Just my two cents worth.


– Posted 11 Sept 2012 on Temasek Times

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On immigration, foreigners and the country we love so much.

Foreigners are but humans from another land living next door to you.

Yes, we will not like the fact the proportion of locally-born Singaporeans is fast dwindling, and the people standing to your left and right speak a different language or at least with a different accent.

But the thing is this – we should stop looking at the differences between us and them, and getting ourselves all worked up. I have read the posts on socio-political websites, forums, blogs, Facebook pages and other platforms, and I find it shocking that Singaporeans are behaving this way.

We were raised to be an honest, hardworking and resilient population, that could stare adversity in the face and meet any challenge thrown at us. It was on this basis that our country grew, and we became a dignified and respectful society.

And yet our reactions, our words do not reflect the character of our people.

I am not pro-foreigner. I am pro-Singaporean, and a firm believer that Singaporeans must come first. I have served my National Service and so has my father. I was born and bred here, my favourite foods are all local, my closest friends are a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian people.

But even then, being a Singaporean who faces the same competition as the rest of the private sector, it pains me to see my fellow countrymen referring to, addressing and discussing foreigners with words that should not come from a Singaporean’s mouth.

I for one, choose to look at the issues that we are facing – employment and employability, wages and income, standards of living, costs of living, an aging population, overcrowding and housing prices – and I prefer to look at the issues, constructively criticize where I feel it is necessary, and propose solutions.

As unhappy and as threatened as we may feel, we must think rationally and logically, and express our views respectfully. We owe ourselves that much – to not stoop to the very bowels of the monster we are fighting when addressing issues.

I will continue to pose questions openly, to answer and comment where I can, but I say this to my fellow Singaporeans – we are only human, but let us be dignified, civil humans.

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