Friday, March 4, 2011

‘Foreign’ doesn’t always mean ‘talent’

4 March 2011
Letter by James Ang to ST Forum, reposted on Temasek Review

WHILE I agree that Singapore needs foreigners to stay competitive, there are levels of foreign talent (‘Levy hike ‘not a push for locals”; last Thursday).

At a basic level, there is a need for work permit and S Pass holders in the service, construction and manufacturing industries, given the shrinking population and comparative lack of appeal for these sectors among most Singaporeans.

There should be some control to mitigate the negative effects of attracting foreigners at this level, like falling productivity; and this year’s Budget has started to address this issue with the revised levy. However, when it comes to foreign talent on employment passes, are we certain that Singaporeans who graduate from one of the best education systems anywhere are unable to fill such vacancies?

As much as we need multinational companies (MNCs) to invest and create jobs here, there must be a delicate balance to reap the optimum benefits of combining local and foreign talent.

To achieve optimum balance, the Government should have a process of checks to manage the quantity and quality of white-collar foreign talent. I have been working in MNCs for more than 26 years and my experience informs me that it is not always the case that the foreign help is cleverer or more productive than his Singaporean equivalent.

In fact, there are many Singaporeans who are better and cheaper.

In fairness, I have also worked with talented and experienced foreign managers from whom I have learnt much.

However, it is troubling when the term ‘foreign’ becomes synonymous with ‘talent’, though that is not always so.