A debate on the value foreign talent bring to Singapore has arisen following a parliamentary exchange this week between Workers’ Party secretary-general Pritam Singh and Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
Mr Pritam had asked the Ministry of Manpower to disclose data on the number of new jobs filled by Singaporeans, PRs and foreigners respectively for each industry covered by the Industry Transformation Maps (ITM), in Parliament on Monday (6 Jan).
While the Government provided some data, it did not provide a breakdown of how many new jobs were filled by Singaporeans for each specific ITM as Mr Pritam requested. When the opposition leader pushed for the information, he was told that the Government has nothing to hide and questioned about what the point behind his questions were.
Mr Chan said: “The ultimate competition is not pitting Singaporeans against the PRs, it is about the team Singapore comprising Singaporeans, the PRs and even the foreign work force…competing to give Singaporeans the best chance possible.”
Mr Chan, who also serves as the ruling party’s second-assistant secretary-general, had made a similar comment in August last year when he said that ‘top’ foreign talent are “competing for Singapore” instead of competing with locals.
In the wake of the clash between Mr Pritam and Mr Chan, one forum letter writer has urged the Government to educate Singaporeans on the value-add that foreign talent bring.
In a letter published by the national broadsheet on Thursday (9 Jan), Dr Patrick Liew Siow Gian extolled the benefits of attracting foreign talent to Singapore and said that the foreign workforce boosts innovation, creativity and productivity in Singapore.
He wrote: “The authorities have to continue to educate our people on the need for a pool of foreign talent…The quality of local and foreign talent in Singapore will determine the quality of our achievements.”
Another forum letter writer, however, had a different view. Responding to Dr Liew’s remarks with a letter of his own, Mr Lee Teck Chuan asserted that while there is no doubt that foreigners help boost the economy for all, the discussion on foreign talent goes beyond jobs.
Highlighting that the level of integration of foreign talent in society is concerning, Mr Lee raised several pertinent questions on the issue of the foreign workforce. He wrote:
“We may be small and have a relative short history as a nation. But that does not make us less of a people who should be treated with dignity, especially as host to guests in our own land.
“Has our warm hospitality been mistaken as subservience? Has overplaying the narrative of the need for foreign talent made us overly dependent on them? Do we ever graduate from being trainees to trainers in the process? If so, have we grown accustomed to this outcome over the years?”
Mr Lee also expressed concern that there are insufficient local employees to feed the economy despite the increased capacity of Singapore’s tertiary institutions. He added:
“This discussion is certainly not about “us” versus “them”. It goes beyond jobs, although to bring it up amid economic uncertainties may seem opportunistic.
“Undoubtedly, we need a solid Singapore Team to stay competitive. But on a day-to-day basis, how components of the team are interacting is cause for concern.” /TISG