HR & EDUCATION | , Singapore
Marcus Loh

Making Singapore a talent development destination


Singapore’s new brand platform “Passion Made Possible” is an attempt at authenticity – taking on an approach that conveys a facet of the Singapore spirit that both Singaporeans and visitors admire.

Each year, research firm Kantar Millward Brown reveals the extent to which the world’s strongest brands would outperform both the S&P 500 and the MSCI World Index. This year, its study showed that while 10-year returns from investing in the S&P 500 and MSCI World Index stood at 82.1 per cent and 34.9 per cent respectively, the strongest 100 brands commanded an impressive 124.9 per cent return on investment. The same study found that “authenticity” was a key factor behind the value of these strong brands.

In a similar way, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) shared that Passion Made Possible is a platform that was developed from the inside: “STB began the journey by speaking to internal stakeholders, travel stakeholders, and of course, everyday Singaporeans. Also added to the mix were consumers from key markets…. EDB and STB asked what attributes these folks would use to describe us. (Many) stakeholders and Singaporeans felt that we needed a brand that was true to us and others could say ‘yes that’s us’.”

In an interview with a marketing trade publication, Lynette Pang, STB’s Chief Marketing Officer shared how Passion Made Possible is part of a longer term strategy to “tell a great Singapore story”. And to that end, may I offer one other angle – albeit less associated with tourism marketing – that Passion Made Possible could possibly tap on to form part of that compelling story.

Branding Singapore as a talent hotbed
According to a global study of nation brands by Brand Finance, Singapore had a brand strength index of 92.9, and has been found to be the only nation brand to have scored over 90 - boosted from its reputation for investing and nurturing an industry-ready citizenry. Brand Finance cited Singapore’s success in nurturing a skilled workforce through the country’s SkillsFuture initiative as a key contributor to the nation’s brand strength.

In line with Passion Made Possible’s approach of evoking Singapore’s best self, STB could showcase Singapore’s ability to not only develop a skilled talent pool, but also become a hotbed that attracts and nurtures talent from abroad to realize their aspirations in the global marketplace.

Spearheading SkillsFuture’s ambitious drive is Singapore’s ministry for higher education and its minister, Ong Ye Kung. He has shared about how higher education institutions can play a big part in transforming cities, as they help to translate knowledge into new ideas, businesses and jobs.

Citing the example of Pittsburgh, which had massive job losses and urban decay after the United States steel industry was downsized in the 1980s, Minister Ong referenced how universities like Carnegie Mellon introduced courses such as biotechnology, information technology and clean energy to explore high-tech sectors. The city has since attracted tech giants such as Google, Uber and Facebook.

While the demands of the New Economy has brought about a massive skills gap worldwide, research firm Parthenon-Ernest and Young found that higher education needs were significantly underserved in the region, where demand outstrips the available supply in local public and private institutions.

Parallels could be drawn from Pittsburgh’s transformative story if Singapore so aims to showcase how “Passion” could be “Made Possible” as a talent hotbed – where the very best and brightest people are attracted to acquire skills and higher education, be exposed to the best practises of winning organizations based here, and bring these experiences home, to contribute to their respective economies.

In fact, Singapore has proven to be an attractive destination for brand-name institutions and international students alike.

Partnering to make Singapore a talent development destination
Dr Sam Choon-Yin, author of Private Education in Singapore: Contemporary Issues and Challenges chronicles the journey of Singapore’s efforts in 2003 to become a Global Schoolhouse: “The goal set out to attract 10 top foreign institutions within 10 years. Yet in just four years into the programme, there were already 15 world-class foreign higher education institutions in Singapore offering niche programmes to both Singaporeans and foreign students”. 

But lessons show how these efforts, which were by-and large spearheaded by the government primarily through its public education institutions, less successful in helping these marque schools to be self-sustainable. For example, in spite of receiving loans, grants and other forms of generous support from the Singapore government, New York University decided to close its Tisch School of the Asia in Singapore, citing financial non-sustainability as the key concern.

As opposed to going it alone however, public institutions should consider partnering with its peers from the private sector in developing and communicating Singapore’s value proposition as a talent development destination. After all, while Singapore’s publicly funded universities have to navigate a fine socio-political balance of attracting the best students from abroad, and exuding the perception that local students are given priority for the limited places at these institutions, private education institutions (PEIs) have no such concerns.

Due to the cosmopolitan mix of their student populations, these institutions are accustomed to attracting, engaging and preparing their graduates to seize opportunities in the New Economy.

Market research firm idstats reported that over the past three years, courses offered at our institution had helped more than 70 per cent of international students obtain their current jobs, while around 77 per cent of them had secured employment within six months of graduation. 

These figures demonstrate how quality private institutions can credibly partner with its public counterparts to exude Singapore’s value proposition as a talent hotbed, for the next chapter of Singapore’s Passion Made Possible story.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Marcus Loh

Marcus Loh

Marcus Loh is Director, Asia Pacific Communication for global visual analytics firm Tableau Software. He was named a Linkedin Power Profile and was listed in Singapore Business Review’s top 10 “Notable Chief Marketing Officers under 40”. Marcus holds an M.S from Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School and won a scholarship for his second master’s degree from the Singapore Management University and Università della Svizzera italiana. He serves on various advisory capacities for academia and industry including, the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore, CMO Council, UOB-SMU Asian Enterprise Institute, Asia Enterprise Brand Awards, to name a few.

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