Businesses should diversify foreign workforce, invest in local workers: Chan Chun Sing

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing speaking at a bicentennial commemoration dinner organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Dec 3, 2019. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Businesses should diversify their foreign workforce and avoid being reliant on manpower from any one place, just as Singapore avoids depending on a single source of revenue or resources, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Tuesday (Dec 3).

They should also invest in developing local workers and giving them opportunities to upgrade and advance, he added.

Mr Chan was speaking at a bicentennial commemoration dinner organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) at the Shangri-La Hotel Singapore.

About 720 people, including government officials, diplomats and business leaders, attended the event.

Mr Chan acknowledged that it could be more expedient to recruit from a more familiar source, but said: "Businesses should also diversify your foreign workforce as an important step in managing your concentration risks... Diversification is an important part of business continuity."

In addition, more can be done to help foreign workers better settle in Singapore.

"As our multicultural social norms can be rather unfamiliar to foreign employees, it is important that businesses also play a part in integrating them into our companies and into our society," said Mr Chan.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo had said last month that around the world, anxieties about being overtaken by "outsiders" have given rise to perverse outcomes, and at workplaces here, there is heightened sensitivity towards being treated fairly and having local norms respected.

She said then that employers can help to push back against such negative forces by practising fair hiring and advancement.

Mr Chan reiterated a similar message on Tuesday as he urged employers to continue to commit to fair and progressive employment practices.

He flagged the development of the local workforce as one important aspect in this area.

But ultimately, Singapore is a multiracial and multicultural country whose forefathers come from diverse origins, said Mr Chan.

It must continue to protect and weave its social fabric, while also welcoming people who can contribute in meaningful ways, regardless of their background.

He added: "While we may not have a sufficiently long shared history or common ancestry to define our national identity, we can instead take pride and believe that we can all have a forward-looking identity based on a set of common values."

SCCCI president Roland Ng told the event that Singapore's multiracial, multi-religious and multicultural society is a unique strength.

He said building a harmonious society and creating a pro-business environment are essential prerequisites for driving economic development.

Mr Chan also said that openness and self determination are other key attributes, and lauded the business community for their efforts in advocating these values so far.

In terms of openness, he said Singapore will need to navigate its way forward even more carefully as "the winds of globalisation weaken".

"To create good jobs for Singaporeans, we will need to continue to diversify, stay open to trade and investments and play our part to uphold a rules-based and integrated global trading system," he added.

On self-determination, Mr Chan said Singapore will continue to chart its own course and bear responsibility for its choices. This applies on the economic front, where Singapore must consider first what is in its interest even as it practices openness and connectivity.

"Our interests are best served by remaining open to economic relations with all countries and not advocating for policies favouring any particular country," he said.

"Our value to the world is to be a principled partner to all, someone the rest of the world can trust because we mean what we say, and we say what we mean."

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