SINGAPORE - The workforce in Singapore requires the right mix of local and foreign manpower to enable people and enterprises to "punch above our weight". But continual fine-tuning is needed to achieve it, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (Feb 4).
At the same time, the concentration of workers from various source countries must be managed according to the acceptance of foreigners by society and the manpower needs of employers, he told the House.
The minister, who had addressed the issue at length last month in various settings, sought again today to explain why foreigners are needed to bring in high quality investments and jobs for Singaporeans.
Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked about the Government's strategy for growing the economy and creating good jobs for Singaporeans without an over-reliance on foreign manpower.
Mr Chan replied that quality investments - both local and foreign - create quality jobs, which, in turn, provide good wages and opportunities, enabling Singaporeans to pursue their dreams.
The size and quality of the country's talent pool is critical to attract these investments, he said, while acknowledging the need for careful calibration.
"We need a balanced approach to our talent strategy. Too many foreign workers, and not necessarily just the lower skilled ones, and our local workforce feels overwhelmed. Too few, our local enterprises and workers are unable to achieve scale or competitiveness for the global market," he said.
"Hence, it is a strategy that requires constant fine-tuning to get the balance right for enterprises and workers."
In addition, the sources of foreign manpower must be diversified: firstly to ensure business continuity, and secondly, to manage issues that could arise from having too large a group from any one country.
"Singapore is a diverse, cosmopolitan and inclusive society. But we also must not ignore the public discomfort that can surface with too high a concentration of any particular foreign worker group," said Mr Chan.
He added that bringing in an investment, even if it means that some of the higher-paying jobs in that company are filled initially by foreigners, would still provide the opportunity for Singaporeans to be trained and upgraded to take on those roles as soon as possible.
Over time, the lower wage and less productive jobs will increasingly be moved out of Singapore and more of those that remain will be filled by foreign workers because most Singaporeans would shun such work.
With this approach, the size of the economy would have grown, with better jobs for citizens and a foreign complement appropriately sized, said the minister.
On the other hand, if quality investments are lost owing to a lack of good quality workers, that means a loss of competitiveness and good job opportunities for future generations, who may have to look elsewhere for a better option.
"Hence, to allow our people and enterprises to punch above our weight, we need a certain local-foreign complement, both in terms of quantity and quality," he said.
The Government has several strategies to keep the number of foreigners here at a "manageable level", he added.
It will continue to invest in education and the SkillsFuture initiative for lifelong learning to improve the skills and productivity of Singaporean workers.
It also needs to manage the number and quality of foreigners to strike a good balance between economic needs and social acceptance.
It will also ensure that citizens are treated fairly at work by punishing companies with unfair practices.
Finally, it must progressively enable more and more Singaporeans to take on new, higher-paying jobs from incoming investments.