SINGAPORE- A Singaporean who attended a job interview at a multinational corporation was once asked about his two years of national service with the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
The question of the foreign human resources manager was: "You wrote in your curriculum vitae that you spent two years with the SAF; what is SAF?"
This story was related by NTUC deputy secretary-general Chee Hong Tat, who spoke on Thursday (July 22) at a virtual masterclass event by Human Capital Singapore on key trends impacting Singapore's economy.
Mr Chee said an important factor that affects the "lived experiences" of local workers is how their employers and HR managers treat them at work.
"These experiences are powerful in shaping perceptions, more so than our policy explanations and statistics. When the emotions in our hearts feel different from the logic in our heads, most people will follow their hearts. It is what makes us human," he added.
"As a proud NSman who had served and defended his country, it was hurtful for him to be asked 'What is SAF?'."
The anecdote illustrates the limitations of a foreign HR manager who is not familiar with Singapore, he said.
Meanwhile, good HR practices - including working closely with unions - ought to be recognised, added Mr Chee.
There is already a differentiation for such employers versus those with poor HR records who do not put in effort to develop their local workforce.
But it could be more explicit, he said, and suggested that this could be done by giving the former more favourable consideration when it comes to government tenders, projects and grants.
He cited how the Land Transport Authority, in its bus package tenders, specified that "maintaining harmonious union-management relations" is one of the factors considered in evaluating the bids from participating companies.
This gives a clear and direct incentive for public transport operators to forge a strong relationship with the National Transport Workers' Union, said Mr Chee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Transport.
"Good employers who invest in building a strong Singaporean core and develop strong tripartite relations add social value, and we should recognise their contributions in tangible ways by giving them a competitive advantage."
A more explicit differentiated approach will "allow us to take firm action against the small minority of black sheep", he added.
"This will set the correct tone and the right set of incentives for companies and employers to support the larger social and economic objectives we want to achieve in Singapore."