Singapore

Business leaders agree firms shouldn’t hire from single nationality

But they say some sectors do have a skills shortage that can be filled by foreigners

A recruiter said not a single Singaporean was hired through the Jobs Bank in the three years she worked in an employment agency.

Half her division, she added, was made up of foreigners.

A bank executive recounted that the trading floor of the multinational bank where she works is crowded with employees from a particular Asian country, including their family members from the same region in the country.

"How is it possible that (they) are almost always the best person for the job or a promotion?" she asked.

These were among the comments The Straits Times received after the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said on Wednesday that more employers have been added to the Fair Consideration Framework watch list for potentially discriminatory hiring practices.

The MOM's update came amid concerns from local job seekers that they are not getting a fair deal in a tough job market.

But do Singaporeans lack the relevant skills?

Business leaders interviewed by The Straits Times said some sectors do have a skills shortage that can be filled by foreigners.

But they all agree there is no reason for companies to hire workers from only a single foreign nationality.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore said that based on its manpower survey last year, US companies here cited soft skills - including adaptability, willingness to take risks, creativity and leadership skills - as being the hardest to find in local workers. This led them to hire foreigners.

Singaporean-German Chamber of Industry and Commerce council member Alexander Melchers cautioned against generalising why Singaporeans do not make the cut.

The reasons tend to be industry- and company-specific, he said, citing the shortage of skilled workers in the aviation sector just before Covid-19 struck.

What about the financial services sector, which has the lion's share of newcomers on the watch list?

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Mr Melchers said that if a German wealth management firm sets up office here, German clients tend to be more comfortable dealing with Germans. This means it must have German speakers on board.

He added the Jobs Bank - where employers must advertise a position for Singaporeans before they can apply for an EP - has thrown up interesting CVs and "opened the eyes" of many European companies to the local talent pool.

Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills said that as a small country, Singapore will never produce enough talents of its own, hence it has positioned itself as a global talent hub.

What is "completely unacceptable in any country", he added, is the practice of recruiting from only one nationality.

"It doesn't make sense because you want diversity of the workforce to better reflect your customer base."

Mr Melchers said the national economic strategy must come first. "Where and how do we want to grow our economy?

"Then we need to be very specific about where we can afford to reduce the EPs or S Passes, and where we have enough training institutes and talents that can pick up the skills fast enough, so we don't stop the growth of these companies.

"Otherwise they may go somewhere else where they can find these talents."

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