Unemployment Goes Beyond Skills Gap

Pep Talk Alone Not Enough to Lift the Mood of the Young Amid a Slumping Economy

The Singapore economy appears to be taking hard knocks, with more unemployment looming.

When troubled times lurk, pep talk from leaders takes centre-stage. Last week one minister after another delivered reassurances to Singaporeans that jobs were available aplenty and more were being created steadily.

Today’s reports in the media had Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also bring up the issue, pointing out that “Singapore is at a new phase in its development – one in which the jobs available and the skills in demand are different from before and are changing rapidly.”

Precise Assessment

That is a precise assessment but “technology transforming industries and old jobs fading away” do not signal any sudden and dramatic shift. Just like driverless cabs will not go mainstream for the next two decades at a minimum!

The transformation has been happening the past few decades, perhaps why Singapore had developed and executed its plan of becoming an Intelligent Island by year 2000. It has followed it up with a blueprint for making Singapore the world’s first Smart Nation by 2025.

Singapore’s Critical Failure

Not many governments can come up with that level of forward planning. Where I think the government failed was in building a local talent pool that can meet the bulk of the human resource requirements in Singapore without having to import foreign mediocrity.

What is the use of being home to top-notch universities when locals find it hard to be absorbed by them, particularly in new-generation courses critical for industry? This is a critical failure the Government may have to own up.


PM Lee with students at the Singapore Institute of Technology – Picture Credit: PM Lee’s FB page

Keeping locals away from the institutions while exhorting them to upgrade their skills and be technically ready for the future is missing the crux of the issue, either deliberately or as a weak pretext. Degrees in the right discipline come first, and skills upgrading comes next!

In addition, let us not forget that jobs must be the right of every individual in the country, irrespective of what type of degrees or qualifications he or she holds. It is, nonetheless, the responsibility of everyone in the country to make the government’s task easier by pursuing education that provides them with an easy path to jobs on graduation. The government will have to facilitate that.

Locals Short-changed – From Education to Jobs

Campus diversity can come in when the interests of its citizens have been fulfilled. Next, all talk about technology redefining business can be dismissed as hollow if firms remain stuck in old-fashioned ways without the ability to come up with innovative ways to meet any perceived personnel crunch.

Most of the jobs that are being talked about do not involve rocket science. They involve skills that can be acquired provided businesses are willing to train the recruits. As a matter of fact, even most of the foreign resources they import acquire the skills needed only on the job. Clearly, therefore, locals are being short-changed across the board – from education to jobs.

There are still multinational companies in Singapore that put up Mandarin as a requirement for entry-level jobs. There are still many who nurture age prejudices. When retrenchments happen, it will be too naïve to believe it is a skills gap that is behind unemployment in the country.

The Jobs Bank Excuse

Interestingly, the ministers relied on the Jobs Bank database to highlight the availability of more than 70,000 jobs. It is not difficult to discover that the truth lies hidden behind that lofty figure. Not all jobs advertised can be expected to be immediately available. Advertise, gather CVs and take no action – this is not an uncommon ploy.

Moreover, Jobs Bank is an excuse for them to bring in those they fancy from overseas. Is the government monitoring how they fill up the advertised positions?

Jobs creation will find resonance with the people if that is not seen as a way to import the so-called talent from across the shores.

The Emergence of Trump in the U.S.

It is cross-border lenience that has led to the emergence of Mr Donald Trump as a Presidential nominee in the U.S. causing divisions even in the country built by immigrants. Even there, foreigners do not account for 50% of the population as they do in Singapore.

All prejudices will disappear if more restrictions are put in place in terms of getting access to foreign personnel. I have been hearing from foreigners working in Singapore about how difficult it is to gain Permanent Residence in the country. I don’t consider this as any tightening of immigration. Greater controls are needed in the dispensing of employment passes and student passes to foreigners.

Singapore must be ready to let go of companies that show a disinclination to hire and train locals.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Singapore Education, Singapore job scene

Tata Sons Chairman sacking, an Eye-Opener for Corporate Giants

Giving Leaders a Long Rope Neither Uncommon nor Necessary – Cisco is one Example

The sacking of Tata Sons chairman Cyrus Mistry, an Irish citizen of Indian origin, appears to be a well thought-out decision going by various media reports bringing up some key issues. They include:

  • Suboptimal performance in the face of business pressures
  • No meaningful blueprint for the future, with some of the group’s businesses mired in deep debt
  • Hiring of poor-quality senior leaders
  • High-handedness in decisions while keeping the Board in the dark
  • Questionable mergers and acquisitions, with the sale of a key part of its steel business in the U.K., in particular, being an issue of concern
  • Weak handling of the dispute with DoCoMo

cyrus-mistryMost of them are issues top companies worldwide face with hardly any counter-actions. 

But, whatever the reasons behind Mr Mistry’s ouster, it does look like the Tata Sons Board has got it right with its due diligence measures having included taking the advice of top lawyers in the country.

This can possibly be an eye-opener for corporate giants, both within and outside India, where poor management is seen manifesting itself in multiple ways.

The Cisco Example

At Cisco Systems, for instance, it was transparent through several of its acquisitions that guzzled its fat cash reserves with zero returns, a failure to effectively deal with competitive threats and slow growth. But, far from being taken to task, the leadership continued to call the shots.


Former Chairman and CEO John Chambers was given a long rope though the market was looking for his exit. He did step down but had his way in the choice of his successor. 

While the company’s stock price has seen some upward movement this year, it is still languishing at around $30. Weak returns for investors is another sign of poor management.

Losing Ground to Huawei

Recently, we had Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins and market watchers gloat over the company’s revenues crossing the $1-billion mark in India. 

But then one of its biggest global competitors, Huawei, saw better revenues from the country even if its portfolio went beyond networking gear. In fact, Huawei expects its India sales to exceed $2.6 billion by the end of next year.


Cisco is not alone when it comes to corporate leaders enjoying more clout than they deserve. All of them enjoy fat pay packets when denying even thin bonuses to staff who make significant contributions to the corporate bottomline.

International Talent Hunt

Going back to the Tata shocker, Mr Mistry being brought down from the pedestal may not have much material impact on him as his family remains the largest shareholder in the group with an 18% stake. Plus, he is bound to have been showered with an impressive exit package.


Mr Ratan Tata will be the interim chairman until a successor is found, expected to happen within four months. Mr Tata had held the reins for more than two decades, a period that saw the group grow rapidly with deep inroads into the U.K. through such acquisitions as Jaguar and expansion of its steel business.

Mr Mistry was made group chairman in 2012 and developments over the next four years show it was not a decision made in the best interests of the company. His appointment was said to have followed an international talent hunt. On hindsight, the selection board will now realize his choice was NOT based on individual merit.

But that is the business reality – the choice of a corporate leader is seldom based on merit and performance!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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16 Singapore MPs Don Saris for Deepavali Special


Picture Credit: The Straits Times

The photoshoot was for a Tamil newspaper in Singapore, reproduced in The Straits Times today.

Moreover, Serangoon Road in Singapore is a sight to behold for the young and the old with lovely peacock-themed decor and illuminations that sparkle.


Picture Credit: The Web

Singapore’s Land Transport Authority even gave some of its trains and a station lovely Deepavali décor.

In Multicultural Singapore, the government has always been making conscious, sincere attempts at fostering national integration and harmony, with participation from a broad spectrum of people – from school students to ministers.


…and in Sydney, the Opera House has been lit up for the third year to celebrate the Festival of Lights.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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US Debate: Chris Wallace, a Refreshing Change from Earlier Moderators

Elegant Hillary was at her best today, Trump presented a confident face, too

The highlight of today’s third and final U.S. Presidential debate was moderator Chris Wallace (Fox News Sunday host) who appeared to show a greater sense of balance and equanimity than those in the earlier two deliberations – NBC’s Lester Holt, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s Martha Raddatz.

Chris raised the right questions and interjections, giving both the Presidential nominees equal traction. Well done, Chris.

I started watching the debate at home on TV but soon got on the road to head to the office. I tried CNN, BBC, Channel News Asia and Times Now for live video coverage on my phone. It was eventually India’s NDTV that made it possible and easy for me. Thank you, NDTV

No Arnab-Like Screaming

The earlier moderators were more like Arnab Goswami of Indian TV news channel Times Now with all of his prejudices but without the screaming. Arnab always forgets he is just a moderator and that viewers are only interested in the views of his guests, and not his own predispositions and bunkum.

I think Hillary Clinton was at her best today, better than how she fared in the first two Presidential debates. She was confident, articulate and precise. She has always been a powerful speaker but the first two debates showed her as unconvincing, missing her usual felicity.


Flawed Arguments

Her arguments, nonetheless, were not without flaws. “Undocumented immigrants paying taxes that are more than that of a billionaire,” she thundered.

But, collective taxes vs that from an individual is not an apt comparison.

Next, that bit of data she brought up shows the current administration took no steps to fix the issue. Why keep them undocumented when the taxes they pay are documented?

Trump also cornered Hillary when she was trying to be too populist by saying that she would not go overboard with deportations and closing borders. Her reasoning was that “there are 11 million undocumented immigrants who had four million children who are U.S. citizens.” She was emphatic she would not like to break up families.

Trump retorted by pointing out that the Obama administration still deported millions to which she had no response.

Hillary also tried to put Trump on the spot by bringing up his business deals – “he outsourced jobs to Mexico and used Chinese steel for his Towers, ignoring American steel makers.”

I cannot help thinking that Trump may have reason to believe the elections are rigged, with the mainstream media throwing its might fully behind Hillary and unearthing decade-old tales that may or may not be true!

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Modi, the Pied Piper!

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Filed under Media in India, Modi

Only a Modi-Led India can be Fooled by the World

Only a Modi-led India can be fooled by Russia, China, the U.S., and even Pakistan.

Russia has military exercises with Pakistan, shows solidarity with China and wildly supports Trump. Still, India cannot be stopped from dreaming on!

Is India wise in believing all of the propaganda and drama emanating from within?

http://toi.in/3W8A0a/a20li – At BRICS, Russian silence on Pak terror stuns India.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Nothing Off the Cuff About This …

Indian journalist Shekhar Gupta is a smart chap. Still, his deftness in trying to present himself as an objective media guy often falls flat. 

Inevitably, his love for the BJP and Prime Minister Modi comes subtly through when he appears as a host or a guest on debates and interviews on NDTV. It is not too difficult to spot pretenders.

I thought that was obvious today when he shared the stage with Reliance boss Mukesh Ambani who was all glee when he said India was lucky to have Mr Modi run the country. It will have been more apt if he had replaced “India” with “Reliance”.

Perhaps Mr Modi himself is lucky to have found himself perched atop a country that is moving swiftly towards becoming a Hindu Rashtra.

If only Indians were not prone to falling for political theatrics and majoritarianism, he will not have made it to where he is now. And that is bound to cause damage to India in the long  run.

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