Address grievances behind brain drain

I am heartened by the reassurances Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has given on helping Singaporeans stay employed in good jobs ("Workers will get help to take on new jobs: PM"; Nov 2).

Human capital has always been Singapore's most important resource.

The age of globalisation, through cheaper travel and other factors, has made the movement of labour between countries freer than ever before.

For the past few decades, this has been a net boon for Singapore, as millions of foreign workers from all over the world came here to build a better life.

The outflow of Singaporeans through brain drain was comparatively limited, because Singapore's economy consistently grew faster than most of the world.

This provided talented Singaporeans with high-paying jobs and strong pay rises, while the cost of living stayed reasonably low.

Today, many of these trends have changed.

This ease of movement has encouraged record numbers of our local top talent to work or live abroad - 200,000 as of 2012.

Our slowing economic growth, compared with other rapidly expanding cities in developing countries, has made it tougher for us to compete to attract top talent.

The decreasing top talent pool, coupled with Singapore's continued status as one of the most expensive cities in the world, has been why companies previously headquartered here are considering leaving to set up shop overseas.

Adhering to the principle of "People First" will go a long way to overcome these challenges and maximise our economic advantage over other countries.

Addressing the grievances cited by Singaporeans who have left to live overseas permanently is a good start.

Grievances commonly brought up are stress and long working hours in Singapore. The idea of extending overtime pay to cover more lower- to mid-level professionals should be actively considered, so that employers are further motivated to let employees leave work on time, unless it is absolutely necessary to stay late.

Retaining top talent is key to creating good jobs.

While we may encounter short-term resistance in creating an environment to retain top talent, the long-term economic and social benefits of keeping Singaporeans employed in good jobs are immense.

Lionel Loi Zhi Rui