More Singaporeans need overseas exposure to take on leadership roles in global firms: Tan See Leng

Policies to attract global talent are also meant to accelerate the development of local talent, said Dr Tan See Leng. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Overseas work experience helped to pave the road to success for Mr Tan Wern-Yuen, who started his first stint abroad as managing director of McDonald's in Taiwan.

He then became the chief executive of retail giant Walmart China, where he led a team of 100,000 associates responsible for more than US$10 billion (S$14 billion) in annual revenue.

Mr Tan is currently back in Singapore, where he is the chief executive of PepsiCo Apac and helms the global food and beverage company's operations across the Asia-Pacific.

He was cited by Manpower Minister Tan See Leng as an example of a Singaporean who has ventured abroad to gain valuable experience, and is now taking up a leadership position in a global company.

"We need more Singaporeans to do the same," Dr Tan told Parliament on Monday. "Our agencies have good programmes to support this," he added.

He said the country's policies to attract global talent are also meant to accelerate the development of its own local talent pool.

Compass, for instance, takes into account a firm's local share of PMETs – professionals, managers, executives and technicians – when evaluating its Employment Pass (EP) applications, he noted.

Compass is a points-based framework that evaluates EP applicants based on a set of criteria, such as the applicant's salary relative to local norms and whether the candidate improves the diversity of nationalities in the firm.

"We will complement this with investments in our local workers, to help them succeed," added Dr Tan, citing Singapore's 23 Industry Transformation Maps that identify in-demand jobs and develop strategies to build a local talent pipeline for them.

Jobs Transformation Maps also provide insights on the impact of technology on the industry and workforce, said the minister. "With these insights, companies can redesign and enhance job roles, and equip their workers with the skills needed."

He made these points in a ministerial statement on enhancements to Singapore's work pass framework to better attract top global talent and professionals.

He cited programmes by various agencies to help develop local talent and give them exposure abroad, such as the Monetary Authority of Singapore's Asian Financial Leaders Scheme that co-funds and sends promising local financial sector employees on leadership programmes.

Dr Tan had, at this year's Budget debate, also announced a new Singapore Global Executive Programme that will help local enterprises build a pipeline of young local talent with potential to take on regional or global leadership positions.

Leadership development must be driven by local companies and the business community is also doing its part, he added.

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The Singapore Business Federation has formed an Alliance for Action (AfA) on Business Leadership Development that brings together businesses and local leaders to look into ways to cultivate conducive conditions for local talent to get regional exposure and assume key leadership roles.

Ms Rachel Ong (West Coast GRC) had asked about skills transfer as a way to build up local expertise.

Dr Tan said companies have programmes to get more experienced employees – foreign or local – to transfer skills to less experienced employees. "It is in their interest to do so, for business resilience and sustainability," he said, citing various schemes they could tap on.

Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) had asked whether Singapore can codify training and skills transfer requirements into law, and Dr Tan noted that several MPs previously raised the idea of time-limited EPs as a way of ensuring skills transfer.

Dr Tan cautioned against an approach that is "too deterministic".

"Skills transfer is but one way that foreign manpower can contribute to Singapore and create opportunities for Singaporeans. In some ways, foreign manpower helps to make up the gap between demand and supply – some of these gaps continue to persist due to local and global trends, for instance, the global lack of digital talent."

Skills transfer is another way foreign employees can make a meaningful contribution but this can take many forms, he added.

"In some cases, it would be to train up a local to take on their roles. But in others, it can be to bring in expertise in a new area, to provide leadership and to level up (upskill) many more in Singapore.

"At the end of the day, skills transfer is not a simple or linear process – it would be impossible to come up with a single rule on how long it should take for skills to be transferred from one person to another, or how much skills to transfer," said Dr Tan.

Singapore's approach, he added, is to put in place the right ecosystem of policies that incentivises businesses to select complementary foreign workers while building up a strong Singaporean core, he said.

"This includes keeping a tight labour market through regular updates to our work pass criteria, alongside significant investments to help our workforce upskill and reskill."

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