Singapore’s tightening of the labour market in recent years has seen only minor tweaks in the regulatory environment to encourage employers to hire nationals.
The impact, however, has been significant, with many firms increasingly shunning hiring foreign financial professionals, despite the skills shortage in the Lion City and its low unemployment rates.
eFinancialCareers spoke to Singaporean talent manager, Linus Mok, who is the career services programme manager at Yale-National University of Singapore College, the city’s first liberal arts college. Mok, who recently earned his Masters in the Management of Training and Development from the University of Edinburgh, writes frequently on HR-related issues.
Singapore, which has a skills shortage, is nonetheless keen to focus hiring away from foreign professionals and towards local talent. How are Singapore hiring managers dealing with this challenge?
Many local firms are taking their lead from financial services firms, and developing internship and graduate programmes in partnership with local universities, where there is a ready pool of raw, and very much local, talent. The advantages of acquiring talent early means that organisations encounter less competition than in the conventional talent marketplace, and they have the chance to develop these young graduates according to their long-term business needs.
Apart from targeted hiring when needs are more pressing, local hiring managers are also increasingly looking at engaging consultancy services as an interim means of talent transfer, thus allowing time and space for their organisations to build those needed skills and competencies in their own people.
Singapore recruitment firms say clients (the foreign banks and financial services institutions) only want nationals for vacancies. If local candidates don’t exist for positions, or they don’t have the skills and experience requested, what alternative route should employers take ?
It is a difficult conundrum indeed, but progressive companies should be ready for the talent crunch, which exists not only locally but increasingly globally. The government is not blind to the realities of the business landscape; businesses need talent, regardless of whether they are local or foreign.
The recently enacted Fair Consideration Framework requires organisations to give more consideration to Singaporean workers but it does also provide for critical instances where these requirements are waived. The Framework does not forbid the hiring of foreigners; what it effectively does is to force firms to re-evaluate their hiring and HR development policies.
An internal rethink may be painful in the short term but has significant implications in terms of employee morale, engagement and increasingly, corporate social responsibility.
That being said, organisations are already responding accordingly, as mentioned above, by implementing progressive talent management strategies that involve hiring further upstream and developing from within, as well as partnering consultancies for short-term talent or skills transfers.
Employers in Singapore say one of the challenges they face is that nationals are reluctant to travel or relocate, which makes hiring locals a problem. What advice would you give to Singaporeans to make themselves more attractive to financial services employers in this regard?
Singaporeans must recognise while foreigners may be thought of as opportunists taking up jobs in our country, we can and are encouraged to do the corollary; we should seize the opportunity to take up jobs in other countries. Singaporeans must alter their mind-sets and be open to new experiences.
Many foreign workers I know return to their countries after a few years in Singapore, and are rapidly promoted due to the immense amount of international exposure they have garnered during their stint in Singapore. Likewise, Singaporeans should realise that experience gained overseas is a valuable commodity that can be a boost to one’s career.
Do you think that Singaporean liberal arts graduates can find opportunities in financial services-related jobs or do you think that the requirements of the roles are too specialised?
It certainly is a myth that liberal arts graduates are ill suited for financial services roles. Recent US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who also runs private equity firm Bain Capital, was an English major. Other notable figures from the world of finance with liberal arts or “soft” majors include Henry Paulson, former Treasury Secretary of the United States and ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, who was an English major; and George Soros, who was a Philosophy major.
The liberal arts curriculum traditionally emphasises breadth in education so graduates are trained to think across fields and draw insights from different perspectives to solve problems. They are known to be quick learners and effective problem solvers. As such, they would definitely be able to comfortably take on financial services or related roles.
In Singapore, traditional hiring mentalities are difficult to change, and many local hiring managers in banks and financial services firms may still only hire business school or Economics majors from four-year university programmes.
Yale-NUS College hopes to assist hiring managers who may be tentative in expanding their talent pool, as the programme offers breadth and depth in education.