In the US, President Donald Trump promises tax credits to companies that bring jobs back from China.
In his 2017 inaugural address, he lamented that “one by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind.”
Imagine what it would be like for Singapore if the governments of other countries start to make the same call: bring the jobs home.
Attracting good investments to create good jobs for Singaporeans
Singapore depends on attracting foreign investments to create jobs for Singaporeans. To create good jobs, we need to attract good investments and be welcoming of foreign talents.
Many of the globalized companies that Singapore wants to attract are staffed by talents from all over the world. Companies that are leading at the edge, breaking new ground, are like that, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last year in a wrap-up interview of his participation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
“But when they come to Singapore, and they employ 40 per cent of Singaporeans, or even 60 per cent of Singaporeans, and you will see that many of your colleagues are not Singaporean. Your boss may not be Singaporean, certainly, your owner may have been a Chinese or Vietnamese or Thai or Indonesian start-up, then you will say, ‘why is it here?’
“Yet, it is here because that is the way our economy can prosper and that is where we can generate jobs for the 40 per cent of Singaporeans who are working there,”
– PM Lee Hsien Loong –
Complementing and supplementing our talents
Jobs are not created for Singaporeans just by removing foreigners.
It is a touch of realism to acknowledge that we have talents, but not all the talents that we need, and that we need to complement and supplement the talents that we need from outside.
Striking a good balance and remaining open
Last year (2019) Singapore surpassed expectations and attracted $15.2 billion worth of investments, greater than the forecast of between $8 billion and $10 billion.
This is “testament” to Singapore’s position as the preferred location for global companies to tap into Asia’s growth.
A ‘Singaporeans only’ hiring policy will shut the door to globalised companies that draw their talents from all over the world.
“By remaining open, and providing businesses with the access to global expertise, we have anchored many good jobs for Singaporeans which could have gone elsewhere.”
– Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, January 2020 –
Singaporeans stealing foreigners’ jobs without leaving Singapore
Facebook user, Kelvin Lam wrote:
Hyundai sets up factory here to produce cars.
We stole Korean jobs.
Shell, exxon Mobil, refinery. We stole American and European jobs. Same thing for pharmaceutical, aerospace semiconductor, banking jobs when they started setting up here.
We didn’t need to leave Singapore to ‘steal’ these jobs.
Global companies can choose not to come here
There are factors that make Singapore the preferred location for investments. Among them is accessibility for global talents. When globalized companies come here, jobs are created for Singaporeans and foreigners. If globalized companies are unable to access the global expertise they need here, they can choose to go elsewhere, and with it, all the jobs will go elsewhere to foreigners. Singaporeans will be the loser for it.
What message are we sending to the world?
In his speech at the Debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President on 2 September 2020, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that Singapore has succeeded by being an international hub, tapping talents worldwide, and serving a global market.
He said we have to be careful not to give the wrong impression that we are now closing up, and no longer welcoming foreigners.
“Such a reputation would do us great harm, and we have to watch this because we are being watched,” Mr Lee emphasized.
Investors looking for safe harbour, rethinking their locations
The world is in a political flux with many societies under stress.
“Investors starting new projects are also anxiously scanning the globe, searching for the right place where they can safely make a commitment now. Companies are seeking a safe harbour, where the politics is stable, there is rule of law, the people are hardworking and united, and where the country will come through the pandemic safely and have a bright future,” Mr Lee said.
In places where investors already have regional headquarters and projects, they are rethinking the merits of their locations and looking for alternatives.
Many companies have expressed their interest to come to Singapore, Mr Lee said.
“Singapore is one of the few trusted countries that stands out and we must guard that reputation zealously,” Mr Lee added.
Investors see Singapore as a stable base to work from
PM Lee revealed that several Fortune 500 firms are considering moving their regional HQs here, because of political uncertainties elsewhere.
Major financial institutions want to grow their operations in Singapore too, and these include IT and backroom operations, he said.
We are conscious that IT is one of the areas where we worry about an over-concentration of foreign work pass holders. But when you get a good project like this, an IT centre for a major global bank wanting to come to Singapore, and therefore going to recruit a proportion of Singaporean IT professionals and other management staff, should we say no? They see good prospects in Singapore, they see us as a stable base to work from. We want to talk to them to see how they can fit in here, in Singapore, to create good new jobs for Singaporeans.
But for them to come here, they must feel welcome, and be allowed to bring in the talent that they need. Because we do not have the full complement of specialist engineers and other expertise for all these types of work yet. Also, regional and global headquarters, by design, need to draw talent from around the world and to be run by international teams. That is the nature of a regional and global headquarters.
– PM Lee Hsien Loong
“If we want good companies to come to Singapore, we must be prepared to have them come and to bring Singapore that constellation of talent, to be able to operate out of Singapore and manage activities and locations all over the world. They will employ Singaporeans too, but they cannot be staffed by Singaporeans alone. Once these companies establish themselves here, more Singaporeans will be able to take advantage of the opportunities they create, pick up the skills and knowledge and rise up the ranks,” PM Lee said.
This is how it has always been done and this is how good jobs are created for Singaporeans.