How to improve S'poreans' chances of taking top jobs

VETERAN Singaporean banker Edmund Koh states that hiring for top jobs in the banking sector should be based on merit and not nationality ("'Hire bankers on merit, not nationality'"; Monday).

Yet, at the same time, he also feels strongly about grooming Singaporean bankers who can helm the top jobs, as it is of strategic interest to Singapore.

Unfortunately, like many others who have commented on the thorny issue of hiring locals versus foreigners, he has not elaborated on how this can be done.

It will be difficult to dictate that multinationals operating in Singapore reserve their top positions for Singaporeans.

This is because, for many employees from their headquarters, a posting in Singapore is no longer considered a hardship assignment.

In fact, many from the corporate office are keen to spend a stint in Singapore to broaden their circle of influence in Asia, one of the fastest-growing regions in the world.

There are perhaps three ways to improve the chances of Singaporeans taking the top jobs.

First, local organisations should keep their top positions for Singaporeans.

This is nothing to be ashamed of, as all the multinational firms do it, especially the Europeans, Japanese and the Koreans.

For the skills and experience that are lacking, consultants should be brought in to work alongside the locals to help them get up to speed.

Since independence, the Singapore Government has applied this strategy successfully, making full use of the consultants from the United Nations.

Dr Albert Winsemius was a great example.

He was Singapore's long-time economic adviser from 1961 to 1984.

Second, for multinational operations where Temasek Holdings or GIC has a stake, it should be mandated that Singaporeans be considered part of the succession plans for the top jobs.

Finally, to help Singaporeans compete for the top jobs, it will be necessary for our universities to create n environment where the next generation of leaders can be groomed to speak, write and think better.

Liu Fook Thim

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 17, 2015, with the headline 'How to improve S'poreans' chances of taking top jobs'. Print Edition | Subscribe