How Do We Create Good Jobs for Singaporeans?

The following story of the 4 guys is fictional, and cannot be POFMA-ed.

There are 4 guys sitting in a kopitiam — a civil servant at EBD who brings in global companies to Singapore, a recruiter, a Singaporean jobseeker, and a cynic.

EBD guy says, “Tech Company X wants to set up shop in Singapore, they’re bringing in shitloads of investment and will create 1000 jobs here. Exciting right?”

The recruiter says, “I hope you need me to find jobseekers. I have tons of applicants from Singapore.”. 

EBD guys replies, “Definitely! Out of 1000 jobs, 800 jobs are for Singapore residents. The tech company will fly in 200 of their own global talent to set-up, do onboarding and establish corporate procedures to guide the new recruits.”.

The jobseeker starts to ask a question on what jobs are available and how to apply, but is cut off by the cynic.

“WHAT? You’re bringing in 200 foreign talents? We are sick of foreigners. Singapore for Singaporeans only!” the cynic huffs.

“If we don’t let the tech company bring in their existing talents, who is going to train the locals? Don’t forget about the other 800 jobs for residents that will be created,” explains the EBD guy.

“Are the 800 jobs top posts? Can earn $10,000 a month or not? How much are the foreign talents earning compared to Singaporeans?” presses the cynic.

The EBD guy explains, “There are several senior executive jobs available, but not every one of the 800 local jobs will be top posts or pay $10,000. There will be a range of salaries and job grades available for jobseekers at different levels of qualifications, skills and experience, with the average salary at $7,000. 

“If a Singaporean candidate can demonstrate he is better qualified than a foreign candidate, such as having global experience and skills-in-demand, he has a good shot at the $10,000 job. But if not, we hope that helping him clinch the $7,000 job now will give him a shot at the $10,000 job in future. 

“As for the foreign talents coming in, they are existing senior executives to guide the new recruits,” says the EBD guy, who proceeds to elaborate but is shot down by the cynic. 

“Huh, foreign talents get paid more than Singaporeans again? Then the 800 jobs, only for Singaporeans right? No PR right?” asks the cynic.

“The 800 jobs will be available to Singapore residents. Of course, we hope Singaporeans will get good jobs, this is why we work hard to find multi-nationals to set up here. As for PRs, having a wider pool of talent makes Singapore more attractive to global firms,” explains the EBD guy.

“There is a Fair Consideration Framework that companies have to go through to give Singaporean candidates fair consideration before hiring foreigners. It is not that easy to give jobs to foreigners,” says the recruiter, having experienced hiring for other multi-nationals before.

“You got to be kidding me! First 20% of the jobs go to foreign talent, and you’re telling me there is a chance a foreigner will get the $10,000 job while Singaporeans are only good enough for $7,000 job? Then you cannot chope all 800 jobs for Singaporeans? What a bad deal! I will vote you out!!!” yells the cynic.

The jobseeker is flustered. It is a blow to his pride that 200 foreign talents will come into his country enjoying a $10,000 job whereas he may get paid $7,000. On the other hand, if the tech company doesn’t set up shop here, he won’t have a chance at the $7,000 job.

Deal or no deal?

This conundrum was highlighted by Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Trade and Industry (which brings in the global companies) in a recent speech on creating good jobs for Singaporeans.

How do we create good jobs for Singaporeans?

Suppose a Singaporean worker is earning $5,000 today.

We bring in a new investment that can create two new jobs – one paying $7,000 and another $10,000.

The Singaporean can only get the $7,000 job today, because he does not yet have the skills or experience for the $10,000 job

Should we take the investment?

The Singaporean may feel frustrated. He may think he is being unequally treated because the foreigner earns more than him now.

We understand these sentiments, and we also want the $10,000 job to go to the Singaporean.

But if we do not accept the investment for this reason, it will go elsewhere and both the $7,000 and the $10,000 jobs will disappear. The Singaporean will continue to earn just $5,000, and he will have fewer opportunities to rise to a higher-paying job.

What is even more important, his son or daughter, currently in school, receiving one of the best educations in the world, will not be able to aspire to both the $7,000 and the $10,000 jobs.

Which is a better outcome for Singapore and Singaporeans? Not just for this generation but for the next.

Minister Chan Chun Sing, Parliament on 6 Jan 2020

Minister Chan also acknowledged the fears, concerns of Singaporeans. 

I often ask Singaporeans: if they can only bring in one more foreigner to complement our Singapore workforce, who will they bring in? Someone who is above our national average, or someone below our national average?

The most memorable answer that I have ever been given is by a young student who told me that we should bring in “the above average one to grow the economy but below me.”

This summarises the fears, concerns and aspirations of Singaporeans.

We know we need the above average foreigner to complement our domestic workforce, so we can build a more competitive economy and provide better jobs with better pay for Singaporeans.

But we also know that these foreigners will compete with us and we need to provide some safeguards for our people.

Minister Chan Chun Sing, Parliament on 6 Jan 2020

Should MTI and EDB still go out and bring in new investments? 

Facebook opens in Singapore (Source: Vulcan Post)

Minister Chan asked Parliament:

I ask the House frankly: Do we agree with this approach? Do we hold that we should reject any investment on the grounds that the investment would result in more foreigners in Singapore, some earning more than Singaporeans in the same company? Should we reject investments like Google, Grab and Facebook?

I think most Singaporeans understand and accept why we cannot reject such investments on that basis. What Singaporeans want is a fair chance to get that $10,000 job as time goes by, if not as soon as possible.

Minister Chan Chun Sing, Parliament on 6 Jan 2020

How will the government address concerns of unfair employment practices?

What Singaporeans do not want are unfair employment practices where Singaporeans are passed over because of non-meritocratic considerations.

The Government understands these concerns, and we stand together with fellow Singaporeans on this matter.

This is why MOM has the Fair Consideration Framework and is continually updating the system to ensure a fair level playing field for Singaporeans. This is our commitment.

MTI and the economic agencies will watch over the enterprises to get them to train up and groom Singaporeans as part of their commitment to Singapore. 

However, we know that there are some black sheep amongst the enterprises.

Their employment practices must change. If not, we will come down hard on them.

They know this. We have taken action against them. And we will not hesitate to do so again. 

Minister Chan Chun Sing, Parliament on 6 Jan 2020

So do we still continue to attract investments like Google, Grab and Facebook?

Minister Chan says yes, get the job first.

I say we do, and land the investment first.

Just as our previous generation did in the electronics industry.

Create the jobs in Singapore first.

Otherwise we lose the $7,000 job now and we may never get the $10,000.

Work hard to train our people and upgrade their skills to take over that $10,000 job as soon as possible.

But do not exploit sentiments to create envy, anger and frustration towards that foreigner who is now taking the $10,000 job.

Minister Chan Chun Sing, Parliament on 6 Jan 2020

Does this mean Singapore will still be open to foreign talent?

The Government will continue to calibrate this balance carefully. 

The balance is struck by considering three factors: The needs of our industries and enterprises, the needs of our workers of this generation and the opportunities for our children in the next generation.

If we get this balance right, as we strive for this Goldilocks balance, we must firmly reject more extreme positions.

We cannot open the floodgates and drown Singaporeans.

But neither can we close our borders and reject foreigners in our workforce.

Above all, we must firmly reject efforts to stoke anti-foreigner sentiments by spreading falsehoods or creating invidious comparisons out of context.

That is not the kind of politics we want – like far-right parties in the European continent stirring hatred and fear of foreigners for political advantage.

That is not how Singapore transformed ourselves from Third World to First.

And that is not how a confident and capable Singapore should face the future. 

Minister Chan Chun Sing, Parliament on 6 Jan 2020

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