Hiring of foreign PMEs needs targeted approach

Expatriates in the central business district.
Expatriates in the central business district. PHOTO: ST FILE

The Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) move to curb the hiring of foreign professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) is a little late but nonetheless welcome ("Firms eyeing foreign PMEs to face tougher hiring rules"; last Thursday).

Past policies on foreign hires seemed to have taken a sledgehammer approach, which is appropriate only for huge, uniform problems.

What is needed now is targeted policymaking that addresses the specific demands of the various industries.

It is evident that while we have many unemployed PMEs, some sectors are crying out for more workers.

One such area is the food and beverage (F&B) sector, where the hiring of local staff is almost impossible.

Most locals seek other jobs as F&B work requires long, odd hours and is seen as lowly.

The hiring of foreigners is dependent on the number of local hires, and this issue is compounded by how difficult it is to get work visas for willing foreigners.

I urge the authorities to relax this ruling and allow more short-term workers into the F&B sector here.

The Government may be pushing for more automation, but this is one area where the human touch and personal service are paramount.

Let us not wield the sledgehammer, lest we kill off Singapore's F&B scene.

On the other hand, many well-educated and qualified PMEs are struggling to find suitable jobs. The hiring of foreign PMEs is easier as they are mostly well-qualified.

We need some foreign talent who bring in expertise, skills and their international networks.

However, it is not easy to distinguish between those who are needed and those who are not.

The MOM needs to tread carefully here to avoid chasing away real talent.

One low-hanging fruit is the arena of human resource (HR) managers and directors.

I cannot fathom how a foreign PME can do a better job in HR than a local one. Local directors and managers understand regional policies and cultures much better.

There are exceptions but, in general, I believe that to be true.

Another area could be finance.

I look forward to the Government further tweak ing its policies.

But it should do so after listening to all stakeholders, including going beyond its normal feedback channels.

Sonny Yuen Chee Choong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2015, with the headline 'Hiring of foreign PMEs needs targeted approach'. Print Edition | Subscribe