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HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Joshua Yim

Why job competition from foreigners is good for Singapore

BY JOSHUA YIM

It is no secret that many Singaporeans have been complaining about the phenomenon of foreign Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) taking away their job opportunities in the local employment scene.

After months of debate and taking into consideration feedback from the 'Our SG Conversation' national dialogue sessions, the government rolled out the Fair Consideration Framework in September last year, which outlines a set of new employment measures designed to ensure that Singaporeans and Permanent Residents are given fair consideration to employment opportunities, as well as the National Jobs Bank this July.

All these are to assure Singaporeans that their voices have been heard.

As a Singaporean myself, I would like to invite my fellow Singaporeans to consider a few pointers on this national issue.

The first is to understand the business dynamics behind the hiring process. When an MNC comes to set up shop on our shores, be it a technical support/service centre, sales or distribution hub, or any other type of business operation, it is quite certain they will need someone from their country of origin to head this local outpost.

After all, they are operating in a foreign land and would naturally want someone whom the management team is comfortable with and whom they feel they can trust. It is simply not possible to expect them to staff the entire organisation with only local workers, when they are just starting operations in a foreign country.

In the same vein, if one of our own Singaporean companies ventures overseas, it will have to initially send a few key Singapore-trained individuals over to the new country to be part of the senior management team to establish the new office there.

Being in the business of talent acquisition, I often hear people commenting that some foreign banks mainly hire people of their own kind, even going so far as to say that the whole office is of the same "colour". 

Again, it is probably the head of department or HR team's prerogative to choose who they feel comfortable with – whether they want to hire people from the same country, the same university, or the same previous employer they have in common.

It would be against sound business sense to over-regulate this practice, though the tighter foreign labor policies now do help to ensure that the situation is much more balanced.

In fact, the crux of the matter is that these organisations do bring jobs to Singapore. These MNCs will definitely have to hire Singaporeans for most roles, purely for cost-efficiency reasons. And many such organisations would prefer to localise their operations in the long-haul.

Thus, trying to over-dictate some of their refined 'global best HR practices' would actually be discriminatory and also detrimental to Singapore’s reputation as a business-friendly country.

As the leader of a recruitment and human resources firm, I am often invited to dialogue sessions with the Ministry of Manpower, the Singapore International Chamber Of Commerce, and various business associations and this is a hot topic that is always on the table.

I have personally heard from the management of some of these MNCs who feel both disillusioned and disgruntled over the recent government policies that are not welcoming of the foreign talents with the right work exposure or specific skillsets whom they want to bring into Singapore to head their divisions or to give their foreign employees greater international exposure.

Singapore is clearly an important hub for the Asia Pacific, but now some of these MNCs are questioning whether they should have their regional headquarters located in Singapore after all. They question how open Singapore's business environment actually is and have even been contemplating moving to more business 'friendly' and competitive cities around the region like Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Kuala Lumpur, which are offering them incentives to shift their headquarters or operations there.

With other cities' improved infrastructure and more welcoming business environment, they are beginning to look more attractive to the MNCs. These MNC honchos were literally asking if they really should uproot their headquarters for the Asia Pacific or their global operations from Singapore in view of these seemingly 'hostile' policies that the Singapore government has implemented over these past three years.

Let's call a spade a spade. Many countries have protectionist polices in place and we can witness how it affects their economies. Many are not moving forward and that is why they are presently in the economic doldrums.

The United States of America, on the other hand, stands strong over the past two centuries because of one important policy amongst many; they have an open migrant policy as opposed to countries like Japan, which does not favour foreign migrant talents or workers coming into their country, and this stifles their economic advancement.

In the long run, Japan's shrinking population will result in a dwindling economy while the USA will, on the contrary, get stronger thanks to their attractive migrant policies that attract talents into the country.

While it is true that there is increased competition from foreigners for jobs in Singapore, we need to have a balanced perspective of the matter. If these MNCs feel that they encounter so much protectionism with regard to labour policies in Singapore and make the decision to move elsewhere, we will lose all the jobs that they bring to our economy altogether.

I think it is important for us Singaporeans to ask ourselves whether holding such anti-foreigner sentiments will help Singapore move forward or is it a step backwards, resulting in a lose-lose situation.

From a practical standpoint, the reality is that there are certain jobs most Singaporeans just do not want to do. I have personally encountered complaints from many business leaders who experience such challenges in hiring Singaporeans for those jobs.

Thus, we should be realistic about the situation and be more understanding of the need for foreign talents in our midst. If we refuse to accommodate them, Singapore will lose its competitive edge over time.

As a country, we have been enjoying the fruits of economic success from the labour of previous generations over the past few decades. And I’m deeply concerned that many of us Singaporeans have become complacent and even have a sense of entitlement attitude.

We cannot assume that the country's success is guaranteed for future generations to come. History has given us very good lessons of many countries and nations that had achieved glorious success in the past but then their people began taking things for granted, resulting in their country's regression.

We should indeed to be mindful of the bigger picture and guard our thoughts for the greater good of our country and our people.

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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Joshua Yim

Joshua Yim

Joshua Yim is the founder and CEO of Achieve Group, an HR consultancy providing human capital solutions for national conglomerates and MNCs in the Asia Pacific region since 1990. The veteran HR professional has received several business awards over his career, including the Spirit of Enterprise Awards 2011, the Outstanding Entrepreneur Award at the Asia Pacific Entrepreneurship Award 2010 (APEA), and the Entrepreneur of The Year Award 2009.

His company, headquartered in Singapore with an office in Malaysia, has also garnered a number of prestigious awards including the 2011 Singapore Enterprise 50 Award, ASEAN Business Award in 2011 and 2010, and Singapore Prestige Brand Award 2010.

A prominent figure in Singapore’s HR community, Joshua is often invited as a speaker for HR and business events. He has appeared in interviews on national TV, radio, magazines and newspapers, and also actively contributes his industry insights to the various media both local and internationally.

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