In his parliamentary speech on August 31, West Coast GRC MP Ang Wei Neng suggested setting up a National Human Resource Committee.
He began his speech by recounting an experience he had at Changi Business Park. Ang had gone there prior to Covid-19.
When he entered a lift, he noticed that the "well-dressed" people around him were "apparently foreigners" and speaking in a language foreign to Ang.
Ang said it was the first time he had felt "like a foreigner in my own country".
Ang questioned why this might be, especially with recent assurances that nearly six in 10 in the workforce are locals — a number which Ang acknowledges is among the highest in the world.
Ang then pointed to the high number of Employment Pass and S-Pass holders.
"When I checked the MOM’s statistics, I noted there were 193,700 Employment Pass holder or E-Pass holders and 200,000 S-Pass holders as of December 2019. Why are there so many?"
Ang theorised that the low fertility rate might be the reason for this.
30 years ago, Singapore's Total Fertility Rate was 1.8 per female, while it now stands at 1.1. The need to supplement that lost workforce meant more foreign workers.
Ang, however, said that while this was acceptable during good times, these aren't good times.
He pointed to the high unemployment rate, and how Singaporeans would be unhappy if they lose their jobs while foreigners held on to PMET jobs. He thus agreed with President Halimah that this is the top national priority.
While Ang praised what is currently being done, he emphasises the need to do more.
What to do?
So what more can be done?
Ang emphasised that protecting the Singapore core should not end even when the economy recovers. This core should be safeguarded across all industries, and not just the financial sector, he added.
Ang then raised the question of whether it was "too easy for foreign talents to work in Singapore".
He talked about his own experience as the CEO of a private company, and how often he had to collaborate with tech companies, banks, financial institutions and other MNCs.
Ang highlighted one particular instance where he was having lunch with the head of a delivery company, a subsidiary of a MNC headquartered in Germany, who was a Frenchman in his 30s.
The Frenchman told Ang that it would be difficult for him to find a similar opportunity in France due to the high unemployment rate.
The Frenchman continued by saying that many of his expat friends felt the same way, that it was easier for them to look for a good job in Singapore.
Ang, acknowledging that his experience was anecdotal, said his main point was how he believed Singaporeans can fill these regional or senior management positions which are currently filled by foreigners.
Singapore cannot be nationalistic or inward-looking
Ang then took a look at what other countries were doing to help their own people.
He touched on Australia's abolishment of the 457 visa programme in 2018, as well as the suspension of foreign worker visas by the United States earlier this year.
Neither of these two outcomes were considered ideal by Ang.
He emphasises that being nationalistic or inward-looking is not the way forward for Singapore. Singapore needs to remain competitive, and preferential treatment can often be detrimental towards a country's prospects.
But more importantly, Singaporeans should be given the opportunities to compete.
Ang argued against the stance of zero intervention and letting market forces dictate employment, or on the other extreme, forcing a Singaporean core without much thought about competency or fit.
Ang claims there is a middle ground of “soft power” and gentle persuasion, where the government works together with businesses to jointly "seed the appeal" of developing a Singaporean Core, and explore how this can best be done.
National Human Resources Committee
Which brings us to Ang's suggestion.
A National Human Resource Committee, working through the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs).
The ITMs are roadmaps to be developed for 23 industries to address issues within each industry and deepen partnerships between Government, firms, industries, trade associations and chambers.
This National HR Committee could work through the six sub-committees under the Future Economy Council, which oversees ITM developments, to take into account the development of a Singaporean Core.
There will be three main objectives of setting up the National HR committee.
1. Sending a strong signal
The National HR Committee can have regular meetings with the Heads of HR from major companies in Singapore to understand their main manpower issues and their commitment in building a Singaporean core in the management team.
Whether the head of HR of major companies is helmed by a Singaporean is also a reflection of their dedication to build a Singaporean core, according to Ang.
Whether the company is “major” would be defined in terms of specific turnover, profit and/or number of staff.
2. Gathering and sharing data to create an effective platform to discuss meaningful strategies
Gathering data on PMET workforce composition will give early warning indicators before the situation gets out of hand.
To back this up, Ang cited a previous case of Employment pass and S-Pass holders, outnumbering local PMETs.
The majority of the firms were from the financial and professional services sectors.
3. Active dissemination of best practices
The HR committee can work with companies to to share best practices for developing a Singaporean core at the middle and top management levels.
Ang said that over time, the National HR Committee could then develop guidelines and blueprint based on best practices for different industries.
Ang gave the example that if a company has a regional HQ in Singapore, they should have a plan to give their Singaporean executives regional exposure.
This might open up opportunities for promotion later on as well as provide regional or global exposure, exposure which Ang noted Singaporeans tend to lack.
Image from Ang Wei Neng FB/ Google Maps