*Produced by SilverKris for HC Consultancy*
The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc across the globe, closing borders, separating families and causing economic hardship. Unsurprisingly, it has impacted the workforce in Singapore, as both local and foreign workers have experienced high levels of retrenchment.
According to data from the Ministry of Manpower, foreign employment dwindled by 5.7% in the first half of 2020, compared to a 2.7% fall in local employment over the same period. Furthermore, the government has raised the ceiling for new Employment Passes for foreign workers to S$4,500 from a previous amount of S$3,900, with the figure pegged at S$5,000 for the financial services sector.
Given these statistics, it’s tempting to think that Singapore – in step with other nations – has closed itself off from foreign talent and investments in favour of reserving jobs for locals, as well as focusing on building up Singaporean companies. But this is both an inaccurate and, especially in the long-run, likely unproductive perspective.
“While it’s vital to protect the livelihoods of local workers, we are ultimately living in a globalised economy, and Singapore must remain open to attracting high-level foreign talent and investments,” says business advisory consultant Helen Campos, founder of Singapore’s HC Consultancy Services Pte Ltd (HCCS).
Helen’s firm works with over 1,000 Singaporean and foreign clients across a range of sectors, and has a proven track record of assisting businesses with procuring foreign talent and helping foreign companies navigate Singapore’s employment landscape: from procuring work visas and registering companies, drafting shareholders agreements and Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) to tax advisory matters.
“Besides providing healthy competition, foreign talent and investments introduce a range of skills, experiences and knowledge to the city-state’s existing workforce, thus adding to its diversity and strengthening it overall,” Helen adds. “It is imperative that Singapore remains an attractive destination for foreign workers and global companies, as this will ultimately be beneficial to the local economy.”
It is imperative that Singapore remains an attractive destination for foreign workers and global companies, as this will ultimately be beneficial to the local economy
Despite the introduction of policies that prioritise the local workforce, Singapore has remained an attractive destination for foreign investments. Chinese conglomerates ByteDance and Tencent have announced plans to strengthen their presence in the city-state; San Francisco-based Eat Just – which manufactures plant-based meat alternatives – has teamed up with Proterra Investment Partners Asia to set up a US$120 million factory in Singapore; and the nation drew a decade-high S$17.2 billion in fixed asset investments in 2020 according to the Economic Development Board (EDB).
It would be short-sighted to view foreign talent and investments as a threatening phenomenon. Rather, it’s crucial that Singapore remains a hospitable environment for businesses’ regional ambitions in order to ensure its own long-term economic goals; remain competitive on a global scale; and plug gaps in the existing workforce, especially in highly specialised fields.
For instance, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has mentioned about the shortage of mid- to senior-level tech talent currently available in the industry. Addressing attendees at the Singapore Tech Forum in 2020, he also stressed the need for Singapore to remain attractive to foreign investments. “That creates not just jobs for Singaporeans, but also a certain buzz, which puts us on the map and connects us to other centres where there’s buzz and excitement in the world,” he said.
To remedy the shortage of high-level tech workers, the government has launched the Tech.Pass scheme, which allows established foreign tech talent greater flexibility to work in Singapore. Rather than remain tied to a single employer, the special pass will allow them to work for multiple employers during their time in Singapore, or to start their own business ventures.
“In a more fragmented global economy, there will likely not just be a single hub, but a series of key nodes in a larger network with other nodes that must be able to connect seamlessly with one other,” said Singapore’s Minister of Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing at a virtual forum organised by Standard Chartered in 2020. “For Singapore, we aim to be one of these critical nodes in the global system, even if the world is heading to bifurcation or fragmentation.”
Even while grappling with the harsh economic realities of Covid-19, Singapore must ensure that it remains an important global node by welcoming foreign business and investments. Looking ahead, the country should focus on expanding into new growth areas such as bio-medical sciences, agri-tech and cutting-edge technology, which have growth upside.
Indeed, it has taken decades to build the city-state into one of the most attractive global destinations to work and do business, and it is of the utmost importance to preserve that coveted status in the years ahead, for all Singaporeans.