Businesses should diversify their foreign workforce and avoid being reliant on manpower from any one place, just as Singapore avoids depending on a single source of revenue or resources, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said yesterday.
They should also invest in developing local workers and give them opportunities to upgrade and advance, he added.
He was speaking at a bicentennial commemoration dinner organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore.
About 720 people including government officials, diplomats and business leaders attended the event.
Mr Chan, who was guest of honour, acknowledged the expediency of recruiting from a more familiar source, but said: "Businesses should also diversify your foreign workforce as an important step in managing your concentration risks.
"Diversification is an important part of business continuity."
In addition, more can be done to help foreign workers settle in Singapore, Mr Chan said. "As our multicultural social norms can be rather unfamiliar to foreign employees, it is important that businesses also play a part in integrating them into our companies and into our society."
Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had said last month that around the world, anxieties about being overtaken by "outsiders" have given rise to perverse outcomes, and in workplaces here, there is heightened sensitivity to being treated fairly and having local norms respected.
She said employers can resist such negative forces by practising fair hiring and advancement.
Mr Chan reiterated a similar message yesterday as he urged employers to continue to commit to fair and progressive employment practices.
He cited the development of the local workforce as one important aspect in this area.
But ultimately, Singapore is a multiracial and multicultural country whose forefathers had diverse origins, he said. It must continue to protect and weave its social fabric, while also welcoming people who can contribute in meaningful ways, regardless of their backgrounds.
"Though we may not have a sufficiently long shared history or common ancestry to define our national identity, we can instead take pride and believe that we can all have a forward-looking identity based on a set of common values," he said.
SCCCI president Roland Ng said Singapore's multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society is a unique strength. He added that building a harmonious society and creating a pro-business environment are essential for economic development.
Mr Chan also said yesterday that openness and self-determination are other key attributes, and lauded the business community for its efforts in advocating these values.
In terms of openness, he said Singapore will need to navigate its way forward even more carefully as "the winds of globalisation weaken".
"To create good jobs for Singaporeans, we will need to continue to diversify, stay open to trade and investments and play our part to uphold a rules-based and integrated global trading system," he added.
Mr Chan said Singapore will continue to chart its own course and bear responsibility for its choices. "Our interests are best served by remaining open to economic relations with all countries and not advocating for policies favouring any particular country," he said.
"Our value to the world is to be a principled partner to all, someone the rest of the world can trust because we mean what we say, and we say what we mean."