Category Archives: Employment in Singapore

Skills, Varsity Rankings, Degrees and Wastepaper!

The 2019 list of global university rankings from Times Higher Education is out and the National University of Singapore has slid only a notch – from 22 last year to 23 now. Tsinghua University has moved to the 22nd place (eight slots higher from last year’s list) which makes it Asia’s number 1 university.

This is where the NUS has lost lustre as it can no longer pride itself as the region’s leader in education. Singapore will still be pleased as it has only lost the mantle to a university in China, given its affinity for the red giant.

The slide may become an annual fixture as the Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Mr Ong Ye Kung (who has a degree from the London School of Economics and an MBA from another institution in Europe) had recently advised Singaporeans not to be fixated about degrees. He even thought a future Prime Minister without a degree was a distinct possibility.

That is Singapore’s style of dealing with any demand for more places in Singapore universities for locals.

Interestingly, Tsinghua has a student population of more than 47,000, with only less than 8% of them being from overseas (3,472). In other words, it caters to a largely local population as 92% of its students are from China.

Foreigners Outnumber Locals: In contrast, NUS has a strength of around 38, 000 students with more than 28% of the slots being consumed by foreigners. My understanding is that if we break it down into STEM and non-STEM UG courses, foreign students will account for an overwhelming majority of them.

I don’t understand what the minister has been implying by saying skills are more important than degrees. Shouldn’t he and the Government be initiating steps to ensure more Singaporeans get into varsity courses with focus on skills that are in demand in a smart Nation?

When a degree in a non-STEM discipline is weighed against one in STEM, it requires no rocket science expertise to see the former will have less market value, affecting their job prospects.

So, why are more Singaporeans pursuing degrees with a diminishing value? What is the Government doing about it? Bringing in more foreign workers to meet their goal of a seven-million population?

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Education, Employment in Singapore, foreign talent, General

Right Chords, Hardly Stirring

A Real “Nation-First” Policy Needed for Every Country, Singapore Included

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has struck the right notes on factors that are key to tide over any threat to business from a surge in nationalism the world is witness to.

His prescriptions, nonetheless, are hardly new.

Paying local taxes, supporting businesses locally and a give-back commitment to the region businesses are in – survival without any of these will just be a pipedream.

Microsoft may be getting a majority of its revenues from outside of the U.S. But pitting the U.S. against the rest of the world is still evidence of how strong the superpower is. Microsoft’s revenues in 2016 stand at $40.6 billion in the U.S. and $44.7 billion internationally. It is still a long way for the emerging world to measure up to the individual might of the U.S.

As Mr Nadella says, every head of state cares about his country first, be it America or the U.K.

Some countries claim to do things that are in their interest. The exchequer may benefit from it all, but lenience in immigration in terms of employment and education do strike a discordant note – leading to a compromise on the interests of the local populations.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Employment in Singapore

Govt Must Fix Failure to Build a Local Talent Pool

…Without Undermining Singaporeans for Perceived Skills Mismatch

It ill behoves Singapore to deflect any blame to its citizenry for the government’s failures.

It is too naïve to believe that a mere $500 Skills Future credit, or thereabouts, can help achieve what a spend of $100,000 on university education could not! If it is as simple as that then employers in Singapore can easily meet their requirements through some quick-fix training for their employees!

The Issue Goes Beyond Skills Gap…

There is no question that skills upgrading and lifelong learning are essential in a market that is constantly evolving. 

What is important is getting the foundations right through university degrees in preferably STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) or other professional courses! This can happen only with the support of the Government!

It is becoming a clever habit for the government to hold unemployed Singaporeans responsible for their situation, bringing up the issue of skills mismatch. 

On a daily basis, the last few days we have been reading about Ministers and even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong say that thousands of jobs are available in the country, it is just that Singaporeans do not have the skills to land those jobs.

The Answer My Friend is Blowin’ in the Wind…

Yesterday, it was the turn of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to repeat the message and assert: “The solution lies in part with the workers themselves. They should equip themselves with the necessary skills to fill the jobs that are currently available and will be in demand in the coming years.”

Going by that logic…

  • If hospitals dispense wrong medication, it is the fault of the patients to have taken them.
  • When train and bus services get botched up, a typical escapist response can be: “who asked you to rely on public transport? Don’t you have the sense to make enough money to buy your own car?”
  • If buildings collapse, workers will have to take the blame for any use of cheap construction material.

An Education System that Failed Singaporeans

It is time the Government drops the blame game and looks at its own failings first. Doesn’t the government think it is the failure of the country’s education system that has resulted in the skills gap?

Where should the fault lie for creating a system that only focuses on the cream who make it and ignores those who need help?

STEM Courses

Foreigners are not joining Singapore’s top universities to study history and geography. They take up key STEM courses at the expense of locals.

And whatever happened to the ideal of pursuing education that satisfies an individual’s soul. It is not always right for students to take up courses based on what interests them. 

They do have to pay attention to subjects that will guarantee them jobs. But they cannot do that alone, the Government has a responsibility to enable them to become STEM graduates. 

Keeping them away from those courses and then imagining a Skills Future credit will work wonders is quite unworldly behaviour.

The answer to workforce-related issues is perhaps “blowin’ in the wind”: improve the locals- vs-foreigners ratio and initiate a disincentive process aimed at companies more keen on letting some of their staff go than on training them. It is generally money that drives their decisions, not a skills gulf.

Most of them are not after loads of rocket scientists and top-of-the-range technologists, just routine personnel involving skills that can be acquired. If you give them an easier, cheaper alternative they will only go for it!

G Joslin Vethakumar

My other recent posts on the issue:

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Filed under Employment in Singapore, Singapore Education, Unemployment in Singapore

NUS, NTU Top Rankings but are they Failing Locals?

It is a matter of pride for me that the top two universities in Singapore hold the same two slots among educational institutions across all of Asia. That is a ranking they have been holding the last few years, pushing behind even universities in Japan and China.

Significantly, the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have just been placed 12th and 13th worldwide respectively in the QS ranking 2016 – both ahead of such institutions as Yale, Cornell, John Hopkins and King’s College, London.

The Australian National University is placed 22nd and China’s Tsinghua University 24th.

That is a phenomenal accomplishment for tiny Singapore. Congratulations!

I am doubly proud of this as my second daughter is currently in Year 4 of her honours degree at the NUS. My first daughter studied in Australia but completed two semesters at the NTU through an exchange programme.

I have thus reason to take delight in the successes of the two top universities here.


Shortage of IT Graduates

But they, and the other institutions in Singapore, appear to have failed to address the shortage of information technology (IT) graduates in the country.

A lot of the seats in prime courses in the universities here are taken by students from overseas as policy-makers do not seem inclined to give priority to locals, in their undying quest for “foreign talent”. I had touched on the scenario of building a knowledge economy with non-Singaporeans in a post two years ago.

Just last year they even faced criticism that they were dispensing obsolete IT knowledge, as I had blogged about here.

Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Outsourcing

But I view the reports of IT personnel shortage with scepticism as I find them overblown. We live in an era when there are real apprehensions of Artificial Intelligence and robotic manpower shaking up the job landscape. Add to that the impact created by outsourcing, the day may not be far when we will see superfluous qualified personnel scrambling for jobs.

Those companies that cry of manpower shortage today are fossilised entities stuck in an old-world economy, failing to tap virtual resources and helping decongest overpopulated Singapore.

G Joslin Vethakumar

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Filed under Education, Employment in Singapore

So, from IT to Law, Locals Stand Disadvantaged!

Foreign law firms in Singapore may be contributing a few hundred millions of dollars to the country’s economic coffers. That fades into insignificance when weighed against the impact it has had on local lawyers.

Well, the Government has denied the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice (QFLP) introduced in 2008 has been a failure.

Mrs Lee Suet Fern, managing partner of Morgan Lewis Stamford, had at a lecture claimed that foreign law firms, “despite generating $1.2 billion in revenue between 2009 and 2014”, had hired “only about 100 out of thousands of Singapore-qualified lawyers.”

The government staying focused on generating revenue for itself is not something that can be frowned upon as it keeps the country’s reserves rich. Private sector-style governance has its advantages! Kudos to the Government!

But the same cannot be said of its initiatives leaving the local workforce in a limbo.

Exodus: Reports suggest that law, once a prized profession, is seeing an exodus of practitioners.

From IT to law and education to employment, indications are that Singaporeans have been consistently shortchanged.

Mandarin as Requirement: Multinational firms that have benefited from the pro-foreigner style of governance are repaying their gratitude by putting in Mandarin as a requirement even for jobs where English proficiency should be more than enough. They are being clever as, after all, that will keep the majority community and the Government in cheer here.

The economy is seen slumping, serious enough for the Government to take action to stem the rise of the Singapore dollar. If the foreigner population (including PRs) in the country continues to be at around 50% the locals will have to brace up for a grim future.

Silly Handouts: Silly $500 SkillsFuture handouts will take the country and its people nowhere unless serious effort is made to ensure every Singaporean is suitably employed. Claims of the labour market being tight appear a farce to me.

Perhaps the country can come up with a database of the unemployed. All unemployed Singaporeans must be asked to register with it, so we can have a realistic figure. I am not sure we have such a list here.

A meaningful unemployment allowance may make the country think of serious measures to keep the FT influx at bay. The Jobs Bank is a mere excuse for firms to bring in FT.

G Joslin Vethakumar


Filed under Employment in Singapore, General, Unemployment in Singapore

First Work-Day of 2016: Jobs for Every Singaporean is a Matter of Right

A Stringent Review of Foreign “Talent” in Country Essential

As it is already Day 4 of 2016, the New Year is no longer new. This is the first work-day of the year, though!

It is, therefore, appropriate for me to bring up what I had emphasised in my Wishlist for Singapore on January 1.

Jobs are a matter of right for Singaporeans, not something designed to favour them or meet whatever quota the Government may have put in place.

For the sake of emphasis and for making truths prevail, there is no harm in me sounding repetitive.

Young and Old – Jobs are Scarce for Singaporeans

Unemployment persists in Singapore and even young university graduates are going without jobs.

Experienced and qualified citizens above 40 find it extremely hard to land jobs when they need one.

That nails the lie of businesses screaming that they have challenges hiring people locally. They will have an axe to grind – like bringing in people of their own clan from overseas and at lower costs.

If both the young and the old are hit that is a pointer that the Government has failed its citizens, filling the country with around 50% foreigners.

In many under-developed countries such as India, university degrees are there for the asking. But reports have established that 90% of even engineering graduates in India are unemployable.

They do not have to worry, though, as there are countries like Singapore which bring aboard not just them but even those who hold mere diplomas at the expense of local university graduates. Foreign mediocrity in the name of talent is simply NOT acceptable.

Skills Gap?

If there is a skills gap in Singapore, as I have heard from some of the foreigners here, then whose fault is that? Of course, the government’s! If the bulk of Singaporeans are kept out of the universities here how can we bridge any perceived gap?

Moreover, businesses must have an inclination to train local people if there is any skills gap. Most jobs do not involve any rocket science. Skills can be picked up easily. Even the so-called foreign talent they hire come with zero skills. Most pick them up only on the job.

  • Foreign talent is welcome if that is designed to fill in some gaps here, not at the cost of Singaporeans with the same skillset. Import of talent has to be need-based, not because of any “more-the-merrier” policy.

Singaporeans, both fresh graduates and experienced professionals, are getting the short shrift because of what appears to be a lax immigration policy despite efforts to apply some controls.

If businesses want to pack up and go because of any imaginary labour crunch they will be the losers. They are here to make money, not serve the country! Going easy on immigration will also help tackle discrimination of all hues at the workplace.

Singaporeans must resist the urge to believe all lies that are dished out with regard to a shortage of human resources.

G Joslin Vethakumar


Filed under Employment in Singapore, General, Singapore job scene, Singapore Politics

Job Losses Swell, so Where is the Assumed Labour Crunch?

Singaporeans are regularly cajoled into believing that there is a serious labour crunch in the country, forcing employers and the Government to bring in people from overseas.

This morning’s newspaper report that more people actually lost their jobs in 2014 (based on data until December 2014) than during the same corresponding period in 2013 appears to nail that misinformation.

PMETs, Worst Hit: Professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) accounted for 51 per cent of the job losses, according to the Ministry of Manpower report that was quoted by The Straits Times.

Still, the nation is often reminded of a tight labour situation here. Why are Singaporeans losing their jobs to foreigners? The excuse we may be tired of hearing is that the skills companies require may be in short supply among Singaporeans.

Not Rocket Science: Marketing, HR, Sales, Sales Support and PR/Communications are some of the jobs that regularly go to foreigners. How is it these basic skills are missing among Singaporeans?

They are not areas involving rocket science, so even if there is some shortage in those areas they are skills that can be very easily picked up on the job by locals who should hold an edge because of their familiarity with the local environment.

That will require only short-term training even while they deliver on their role requirements. Every job requires some acclimatisation anyway for both locals and foreigners.

It is not just experienced skilled locals losing their jobs, even fresh graduates from top universities are struggling to get the right breaks.

The Jobs Bank farce: Also, the Jobs Bank farce must be fixed soon — employers must be made to post all jobs there irrespective of the salaries they carry.

Currently, jobs that pay more than S$12k a month can be offered to anyone employers fancy without the Jobs Bank restriction!

I am not even convinced that postings in the Jobs Bank are properly scrutinised.

G Joslin Vethakumar


Filed under Employment in Singapore