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Companies say more advantageous to hire locals but foreigners may also be needed

Govt reviewing policies but says country cannot turn its back completely on foreign talent

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Singapore — While companies say hiring locals has more advantages, they add that having a solely-local work force will not be possible as foreigners may be needed to fill manpower and skill gaps, according to a report in channelnewsasia.com (CNA) on Tuesday (Sept 22).

With the economic impact Covid-19 has on the country, unemployment rates have grown, with data released last week showing 3 per cent overall unemployment in July, 4.1 per cent unemployment among residents, and 4.3 per cent unemployment among citizens.

And while perhaps the natural pivot would be to reserve jobs solely for the local work force, the Government has warned against completely shutting off from foreign talent, with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat saying last week: “We must not undermine what has made us successful, by closing ourselves off from the world.”

The report quotes Mr Lee Siang, the chief executive of the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS), as emphasising the importance of having a large local talent pool that  understands the context and culture of Singapore well, including its system of education. He also said that locals have longer staying power in the jobs and within industries.

In its earlier days, however, DAS had a number of foreign workers who were part of the team that had oversight of assessment and therapy programmes. They had been hired as psychologists and therapists who also functioned in the role of senior management executives. In 2003, half of the six people in senior management roles were from overseas.

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However, in the years since then, DAS trained local hirees with the intent of promoting them progressively to leadership roles, even funding their further educational pursuits in order for them to gain the knowledge needed to run the company’s programmes.

The chief executive said: “When the staff see that there are professional opportunities in specialised areas they can excel in and possibly lead the industry in, obviously it gives rise to a lot of commitment and morale.”

This allowed the company to gradually decrease the need for expertise to come from its  foreign employees. Today, all its senior management roles are occupied by locals.

The channelnewsasia.com report also cites the experience of other firms. The chief executive of the SF Group, which runs Collin’s restaurants, Mr Collin Ho, is quoted as saying having local workers has more advantages, as does Mr Lee Quane, ECA International’s regional director of Asia. The DAS experience is by no means a singular one.

At a webinar earlier this month, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing made points concerning the local and foreign workforce that were similar to those of Mr Heng, when he said that staying open to top international talent is vital in achieving the country’s aim of being an international business hub.

Mr Chan acknowledged that the issue of global talent has been one that has received “much scrutiny” of late, but he noted, “this scrutiny is not unique to Singapore. Every country facing economic slowdown and recession will have elements questioning the balance between locals and foreigners in the job market”.

He explained why it is key for Singapore to have international talent. “Let me be clear. We want the world’s best and brightest to be with Team Singapore — to augment our skills and capabilities, competing on our side rather than against us, and ultimately, to benefit Singaporeans, not to substitute or hurt them.”

However, he said, the emphasis is on the quality and not the quantity of foreign workers hired in Singapore. /TISG

Read also: Quality, not quantity, key when it comes to global talent in Singapore — Chan Chun Sing

Quality, not quantity, key when it comes to global talent in Singapore — Chan Chun Sing

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