Not enough S’poreans to fill specialised jobs

The pool of Singaporeans with prior knowledge remains limited and requires a longer period to mature. -myp

Fri, Feb 03, 2012
my paper

BANK executive Mark Tan considers himself a minority in the Singapore-based foreign bank where he works.

It isn’t because he is a member of a specialised team that sells and services e-commerce trading platforms.

It is because Mr Tan, 31, is one out of only five Singaporeans in the 12-man team. The rest are Employment Pass (EP) holders from Britain, Germany, India and the Philippines.

“In foreign banks, Singaporeans usually occupy the operational roles, while most of the trading and sales positions are occupied by foreigners,” he said.

Singaporeans are unable to fill these roles as they lack the niche skill sets and experience, observed Ms Axer Goh, manager of the contracting division at professional recruitment consultancy Robert Walters Singapore.

The net increase in the number of EP holders in the financial-services industry over the past decade was 9,600, taking into account the outflow of EP holders, said Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament last month.

But Singaporean executives are not being squeezed out of these white-collar jobs by foreigners, say industry observers and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

The truth is that there aren’t enough talented Singaporeans to go around yet.

“Within the financial-services industry, the pool of Singaporeans with prior knowledge in market risk and valuation, or exposure to exotic products within trading desks remains limited and requires a longer period to mature,” explained Ms Goh.

EP holders are similarly sought after in the information technology, energy solutions, environmental engineering, hospitality, retail and food and beverage (F&B), shipping and logistics, and industrial manufacturing and engineering sectors, said industry observers.

In fact, a survey by recruitment firm Achieve Group found that 7 per cent of 417 companies plan to hire more EP holders in the first half of the year, despite stricter criteria aimed at discouraging them from doing so.

A majority of these companies belong to the shipping and logistics, hospitality, retail and F&B sectors, revealed Mr Joshua Yim, Achieve Group’s chief executive. Mr Victor Tay, chief operating officer of SBF, also observed a talent crunch in newly established or rapidly expanding innovative, high-end sectors, such as process engineering and clean-energy technology.

He cited Norwegian solar-energy specialist firm REC, which opened a $2.5- billion production facility in Tuas in November 2010, and wind-energy solutions firm Vestas.

He said: “These are newfound sectors that need newfound skill sets. Universities and institutions may not have produced such a niche curriculum to cater to their needs.”

Mr Yim said: “With regard to the lack of skill sets in such highly specialised portfolios, this issue will persist for at least the next two to three years. It takes time for (potential employees) to acquire certain skill sets.”

The construction sector’s overall employment increased by almost six-fold last year, as compared to 2010. It also created demand for EP holders to fill positions such as quantity surveyors, civil engineers and mechanical engineers, said Mr Tay.

Mr Tay is confident that the Government’s more stringent measures to curb the hiring of EP holders will result in their numbers being reduced this year.

From Jan 1, the minimum salaries that foreigners need to have in order to hold an EP have gone up.

An SBF survey of 973 companies in the trading, construction, property and real-estate, services and manufacturing sectors showed that more are planning to reduce hiring of foreign workers.

By Rachel Chan

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