Investing in local talent benefits firms in the long run: Lawmakers

Firms here should see investment in Singaporean talent as in their self-interest, as doing so helps ensure the country's long-term competitiveness and economic sustainability, MPs said yesterday.

Suggesting that this could help address the tech talent crunch, Nominated MP Janet Ang urged the business community to work with institutions of higher learning to ensure a ready pipeline of workers with the right skillsets - even if they can hire foreign developers at equivalent salaries.

"I believe there is opportunity for more collaboration within and across sectors to uplift the labour ecosystem, as having a larger pool of skilled labour would benefit businesses in the long run," said Ms Ang, who is a council member of the Singapore Business Federation.

Singapore workers are confident, determined and ready to work hard, and firms should invest in them and give them opportunities to flourish, she added.

Speaking before Ms Ang, Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) said that beyond government grants and support, such as through the SGUnited Traineeships Programme to help fresh graduates from universities and polytechnics boost their employability, the whole work ecosystem needs to step up to shore up Singapore's capabilities.

"We need to identify the capabilities required and build the depth of expertise and knowledge for long-term resilience and competitiveness. These capabilities include technical, functional and leadership skills," she said.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) raised similar points, and said that many businesses have thrived by cultivating a strong local team which is committed to the long-term success of its employer's business.

"There is no better time to build a strong Singaporean core for long-term sustainability," she said.

Ms Ang called for fair opportunities for Singapore workers, to enable employees of today to enjoy the same benefits that she and others had in the past - prominent private sector leaders like Mr Koh Boon Hwee and Ms Teo Lay Lim were trained and developed in foreign firms, by foreign bosses.

"Skills transfer and knowledge transfer, as well as leadership development, are some of the key values in successful partnerships between the MNCs (multinational corporations) and Singapore," she said, adding that this conversation needs to be restarted by the Economic Development Board and business leaders.


Meanwhile, Ms Tan emphasised that attention needs to be paid to the conversions to full employment for those undergoing traineeships and attachments as Singapore opens up its economy.

"Workers not only need to get the opportunity to learn, but they also need... deeper, long-term commitments (from employers) to develop and build the required expertise," she added.

On the same point, Ms Nadia Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) spoke about the challenges facing fresh graduates in the job market.

She noted how the annual employment survey conducted by the autonomous universities found that just 69.8 per cent of fresh graduates were in permanent full-time employment six months after their final exams last year. This was significantly lower than the 81.7 per cent in 2019.

While the likes of the SGUnited Traineeships Programme provide opportunities for new entrants into the workforce, Ms Nadia urged greater consideration for their long-term employment prospects.

"In the medium to longer run, grants do not translate to salaries, and some may turn to temporary gig jobs to make ends meet and get stuck where they don't want to be," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2021, with the headline 'Investing in local talent benefits firms in the long run: Lawmakers'. Subscribe