VIEWS: Singapore's manpower conundrum

THIS WEEK'S TOPIC: Should Singapore's foreign manpower curbs be relaxed for certain sectors? How might businesses raise the productivity of their staff?

THIS WEEK'S TOPIC: Should Singapore's foreign manpower curbs be relaxed for certain sectors? How might businesses raise the productivity of their staff?

Victor Mills
Chief Executive
Singapore International Chamber of Commerce

OUR manpower policy needs to respond to Singapore's very serious demographic and economic challenges.

We are not reproducing ourselves and, therefore, will always need talent top-ups to complement our own. We should be the Silicon Valley of South-east Asia and welcome more talent which, working together with our own, will build more businesses. These businesses will provide more jobs, help increase economic growth rates and expand the taxpayer pool.

Productivity uplift is a function of leadership driving continual improvement or transformation of their business. Leadership needs to continually communicate openly with their teams to keep them informed and engaged.

Yeoh Oon Jin
Executive Chairman
PwC Singapore

WE believe the key to sustainable productivity enhancement is through embracing technology and going digital. The impact and potential benefits of automation will vary across industry sectors, but many organisations have yet to take the necessary bold steps to fully digitise their business.

One aspect potentially holding back some is concern over whether they have the right talent to drive the necessary transformation and reap the full benefits of new technologies. With many companies accelerating their efforts, key digital talents are expected to be in short supply. In this context, an evolution of existing manpower policy to a more formal skills-based approach may be necessary to help attract the right talent - particularly those with specific digital, cyber and data analytics capability - to enable a more productive future for Singapore.

Frankie Chia
Managing Partner

EXPATRIATE labour will always be a sensitive subject among Singaporeans. But the reality is that some sectors will always face labour shortage due to Singaporeans being unskilled in, or not wanting, particular types of jobs.

With a low birth rate and ageing population, the labour shortage may be a long-term problem affecting companies' viability, let alone productivity. On the whole, we should adopt a balanced and targeted approach towards addressing our labour shortage with expatriates who possess unique skills and talents, as well as those willing to take up jobs shunned by Singaporeans. We should focus on the potential to contribute to Singapore, instead of just credentials.

Sheena Chin
Country Director, Singapore

IT is not an easy task to strike a balance between addressing Singapore's economic requirements and manpower needs. Tradeoffs are inevitable as we consider critical factors such as infrastructure capacity, attracting talent to complement local manpower, and social pressures to foster the Singapore identity.

Given that the inflow of foreigners cannot increase indefinitely, it is imperative for businesses to explore ways to raise the productivity of their staff to ensure sustainable growth in the long run. To achieve this, businesses could invest in both technological tools to improve workplace processes, and also continuous training of their staff to ensure they are equipped with the relevant skills for the digital economy.

The ability to engage and motivate staff - to encourage ideation of new innovations and solutions - is another key determinant to lift productivity.

John Bittleston
Founder & Chair
Terrific Mentors International Pte Ltd

HIGH quality education, expectations of high earnings and wealth accumulation have made some jobs less interesting to Singaporeans who can now decide which jobs they want to do and which they don't. Where there is a clear shortage of people to fill vacant jobs foreign workers should be allowed work permits to do them.

Productivity is determined by motivation. Motivation in turn is mainly driven by need and personal satisfaction at a job well done. Life is easier now than 50 years ago. The country has prospered and employees are able to consider work-life balance and absence of drudgery when contemplating a job. In the process there has been some loss of pride in a job well done. That will be restored by strong leadership and a clear purpose for Singapore's future.

Lionel Lim
Vice-President and Managing Director,
Asia-Pacific and Japan

INNOVATION and technology are the twin forces driving growth across the world and ensuring we have the right people with the requisite digital skills is crucial to Singapore's success in the digital economy.

However, having the requisite skills is not enough; businesses today need to innovate faster, and smarter - in essence doing more with the same. Businesses with a productivity mindset break down organisational silos and empower their employees to focus their time on delivering for customers. Software and technology can help create the right platform to monitor and achieve success - streamline communication, track progress, or suggest the need for additional resources to keep deadlines on track. Ultimately, productive teams have the right tools to deliver at the speed of startups.

Josh Ziegler

SINGAPORE has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, and to deliver upon the Smart Nation initiative we must hire top engineering talent. As large technology companies relocate to Singapore, the already small pool of available technical talent is further squeezed.

At Zumata, we deliver artificial intelligence based productivity solutions, which automate processes and conversations. This greatly improve efficiency for hotels, travel agents, and customer service teams. In order to scale our operations and deliver these solutions to more businesses, we must supplement our workforce with foreign manpower. We would welcome relaxation of the rules for technology positions.

Chris Foster
Regional President
Y&R Asia

SINGAPORE is a world city. Since 1965 it has achieved miraculous progress on all fronts buoyed and accelerated by foreign investment, foreign interest and yes, by foreign workers. Instituting increased restrictions and regulations on the influx of foreign talent would be succumbing to the same geoprotectionist behaviours currently being exhibited by some other leading nations. Ultimately these types of practices slow the economy leaving fewer jobs for Singaporeans while simultaneously putting a dent into the world's move towards globalisation and the greater good.

There are two principles Singapore needs to hold dear as they move forward on this:

Continue to exhibit global leadership that helps to make the world a better place;

Ya gotta dance with who brung ya!

Edwin Khew Teck Fook
The Institution of Engineers, Singapore

THE government's big push for businesses to raise productivity instead of relying on low-skilled labour has seen most companies taking steps to adapt and automate over the past 10 years.

Relaxation of curbs for low-value jobs would set back such progress. However, for growing sectors in need of highly-skilled manpower, it is necessary to make strategic changes and introduce some flexibility in order to capture emerging opportunities. This would be vital in helping companies to survive and grow; and in strengthening Singapore's economic competitiveness. The foundation to raising productivity is emphasis on harnessing of technology to drive innovation and continuous upskilling and reskilling of employees.

Camilla de Villiers
Managing Director, Asia-Pacific

NICHE industries, especially if they are new and emerging in Singapore, could have a heavier reliance on foreign experience at the earlier stages of development.

International organisations, whilst offering local employment opportunities, also require a mix of foreign talent to blend experience and culture. Considering these, loosening labour curbs could help organisations find the talent they need efficiently, and brings with it the benefits of a diverse workforce.

However, embracing these widened talent pools causes challenges in understanding the global regulatory hiring landscapes, and ensuring that candidates are as qualified as they say they are. Organisations hiring international candidates will need to increase their cross-border due diligence by ensuring they have robust screening processes in place, to protect both the business and its employees.

Nick Waters
Chief Executive Officer
Dentsu Aegis Network Asia-Pacific

RAISING long-term staff productivity is best achieved by fostering a collaborative culture to create a competitive advantage.

We have exemplified this in two ways: a move towards agile working and co-locating our offices across the Asia-Pacific. Flexible work spaces bring people together and allow them to work efficiently, while co-locating our teams in the same buildings lead to increased collaboration opportunities to deliver positive business results. A culture of empowered innovation without internal barriers ultimately contributes to a happier, engaged and more productive workforce.

Ron Sim
Founder & CEO, Chairman
OSIM International Ltd

WE should be relaxing manpower curbs - we have trained so many foreign talents over the last 10 years and every five to seven years we seem to be letting them go just like that, after so much time, effort and money having been spent on grooming them.

This is not smart as they go to other countries after being trained by us, and we bring in new staff at far higher costs with lower service levels and productivity.

We must not become a training sector; it is very hard to get Singaporeans to be in the sales and service sector. We must not let this talent be "trained and drained" so easily.

We should consider making these talented and productive people PR and even citizens if they meet the criteria.

Karl Hamann
Chief Executive Officer
QBE Insurance (Singapore) Pte Ltd

SINGAPORE'S foreign manpower curbs should be adjusted based on the economy's specific needs.

One way of doing this could be to vary the number of foreign visas and the time taken to process visa applications according to where there are significant skills gaps. Under this system, specific labour needs are quickly supported by foreign manpower, minimising any talent shortages in sectors important to the economy. Singapore could consider a "skills-based" system, but must ensure a dynamic review process so that it meets the changing needs of the economy.

Above all, companies must also prioritise the upskilling of their current staff to ensure foreign manpower is brought in to truly add value and share new knowledge.

Pauline Goh
CBRE Singapore and South East Asia

BUSINESSES impacted by foreign manpower curbs have been using technology to wean their reliance off foreign manual workers for the past few years. In the face of a labour crunch, retailers, property owners and property managers are increasingly reliant on robots and automated processes to reduce the number of service staff at retail malls and eating establishments as well as the number of site staff deployed at buildings.

With prop tech and increased automation, facilities management service providers will be able to consolidate network operations to manage a portfolio of buildings remotely at a lower-cost location, relying instead on automated sensors, prop tech and other digital software to predict possible maintenance issues, diagnose and carry out appropriate preventive maintenance. This means that a single facility manager can manage a portfolio of buildings from a virtual centre, instead of relying on many lower skilled workers. This model of building management is in line with the government's plan to roll out higher-valued jobs to stimulate the economy.

Andrew Chan
Founder & CEO
ACI HR Solutions Ltd

WHEN it comes to employment, there are definitely sectors that are more foreign labour dependent. The hospitality industry which our firm specialises in is one such sector that could benefit from relaxing of the current manpower policy. The service industry has traditionally been a great entry point for part-time work experience to young adults in other countries, but the culture and high focus on academia in Singapore means there's less takeup of such positions, to the detriment of local businesses, which now count manpower issues as more pressing than profits.

Roland Ng
Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry

THE government should consider the manpower requirements of different industrial segments, taking into consideration the required skills so as to relax the foreign manpower curbs.

Reskilling and skills upgrading targeted at the needs of each industrial segment is the best way to raise the productivity level of our limited human resources.

Jessie Xia
Managing Director, Singapore

WITH many industries being impacted by disruptive technological advancements, the demand for skilled talent has accelerated significantly in recent years as organisations across industries look to embrace and implement digital technology.

The Singapore government has been extremely proactive in setting up the infrastructure to encourage and support the development of the tech talent pool. This journey and focus are critical, but we believe that to upskill local talent rapidly, relaxing the curbs on foreign manpower will help. It will accelerate the transfer of knowledge and bring more expertise to the local market. One way we have done this at ThoughtWorks is to bring long-term assignees to Singapore from other offices to pair with younger ThoughtWorkers here to build their skills quickly. We have found this strategy to be highly effective.

Annie Yap
AYP Associates

WE should consider a more relaxed stance on foreign labour restrictions in certain sectors amid shifting economic realities. Fast-growing sectors such as data analytics and cybersecurity, and sectors which rely heavily on industry-specific skills, such as healthcare, can be bolstered by relaxing the manpower curbs.

Skills transfer, innovation and internalisation are key ways to augment productivity. For instance, the newly launched Capability Transfer Programme encourages a technology-driven and lean workforce through training and subsidies. Even for SMEs, R&D can be engaged through collaboration and partnerships as a long-term venture. Expanding into regional markets can broaden business and revenue-generating opportunities that can sustain real productivity increases.

Helen Ng
Chief Executive Officer
General Storage Company Pte Ltd

FOREIGN manpower curbs should be relaxed for the service and construction sectors. These sectors have reduced their reliance on manpower with the adoption of productivity-enhancing technologies such as the ubiquitous self-payment kiosks, but some roles still need to be performed by humans. Even as we relax the curbs for these sectors, we should recognise and reward companies that demonstrate a commitment to improving productivity through innovative automation.

Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard
Managing Director
Robert Half Singapore

CLOSING the skills gap is crucial for companies to grow. And while the talent shortage, especially in IT, would benefit from relaxing the quotas on foreign employees, there is also merit in the current plans set in motion by the government of upskilling and increasing the quality of the local talent pool.

Workplace happiness, however, has a tangible impact on productivity. Happy employees tend to be more engaged, loyal and productive which directly impacts the bottom line. So creating a positive culture that engages and invests in staff is essential to raising productivity levels.

Olive Tai
Co-founder and Managing Director &

YES, of course, I think the government should relax the foreign worker limits for certain sectors. We always never have enough staff. Let's not forget employee turnover is high so the search for replacement staff can be very challenging at times. I think jobs like graphic designers, customer service and logistics, for example, should be exempt from any foreign worker quotas. By the way, what the government can also help businesses with is making sure that foreign applicants are vetted with genuine documentation.

My worry always, when considering hiring foreign staff, is that their education certificates for example or their claims in, say, digital capabilities, may or may not be valid. Lastly, with the way technology is increasingly entering the work space, I feel the only way to raise productivity is to invest in training and in the latest digital transformation that is under way here. That is the only way for companies to cope with manpower issues.

Maren Schweizer
Schweizer World Pte Ltd

SINGAPORE has had an agile approach to innovation, that drives productivity, since gaining independence in 1965 and is hence well prepared to benefit from an acceleration and sophistication of digitisation.

Connected devices, self-learning machines driven by AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (Internet of Things) will be the source of major productivity gains. The power of machine learning prompts minimal or no need for human interventions, heavily impacting the traditional workforce. With digitisation, there will be a conspicuous shift in job demands and the job sectors will remain threatened with or without the presence of foreign talents. People will hence see the importance of skill upgrades to remain tech-savvy and to maintain job security. Furthermore, digitisation will induce cost savings which in turn will result in re-shoring. There will then be an increased need for new talents to unlock productivity gains.

To cater to these needs, I believe that the foreign worker policy should be tailored to entice the best talents to shift to Singapore and contribute on a long-term towards the economy. Initially, the foreign talent pool may be perceived as a threat to the locals. But on the contrary, in the long run, the presence of this talent pool can prove advantageous as these talents can bring in new ideas and technologies, encouraging locals to gain the required skills and knowledge to keep Singapore economy competitive.

Albert Phuay Yong Hen
Chairman and CEO
Excelpoint Technology Ltd

WITH increasing interests and opportunities in the fast-growing technology sector in Singapore, there is a burgeoning need for the knowledge and expertise of highly-skilled manpower - both local and foreign - to complement and collaborate with one another, and come up with innovative solutions to benefit people and the economy. If foreign manpower is restricted, then we would not have a dynamic and competitive edge over other countries, and any economic growth and technological breakthroughs will be hampered.

Excelpoint believes that happy, engaged employees work harder, smarter, and better. There are many ways to engage staff and boost their morale and job satisfaction, such as practising clear and open communication and positive reinforcements, and providing up-skilling programmes, career growth opportunities, and flexible work schedules. In a nutshell, employees need to be kept happy for maximum productivity and efficiency, and this will, in turn, impact businesses sustainably.

Dileep Nair
Independent Director
Keppel DC Reit Management Pte Ltd

BEING a city, Singapore has to grow annually at 2.5 to 3.5 per cent to sustain our competitiveness and hence, the standard of living of its people. With little foreseeable growth in its resident population, this requires both a controlled influx of foreign manpower as well as a sustained increase in productivity. Quotas for foreign manpower should be skewed to favour those with higher skills and for those needed by industries that add more value and are in emerging technologies. Sectors requiring low-skilled labour must become more productive and innovate. Besides reengineering and automation, these companies need to invest in their people - in training, empowerment and building trust. Above all, an entrepreneurial spirit must be there, with a willingness to experiment and take calculated risks.

Wong Heng Chew
Country President
Fujitsu Singapore

REFLECTING a global trend, businesses in Singapore recognise the urgency of digital transformation, but struggle to balance the elements needed to deliver on it. One key aspect is People (our manpower). Based on a Fujitsu survey, more than two-thirds of the respondents see a digital skills shortage, and see it vital to find and nurture talent, as well as up-skill existing staff in the next three years. As the local talent pool will take time to acquire the digital skillsets and experience required, businesses and our local workforce can benefit from the expertise and mentorship of a global talent pool to gear up for digital success.

Naveen Menon
President, Asean

SINGAPORE faces a shortage of cybersecurity talent, especially in areas such as behavioural analytics and digital forensics. Loosening curbs to allow for greater talent mobility could help address this in the short term.

However, the talent gap is a universal issue. There is going to be a global shortage of two million cybersecurity professionals by 2019. Fighting for the same international candidates won't solve the problem in the long run. Instead, we need to focus on implementing capacity building initiatives to develop more homegrown talent.

Singapore already has comprehensive strategies in place to achieve this, including proposals to set up a new cyber defence vocation. The corporate sector also needs to play its part. At Cisco, we have introduced courses in cybersecurity in our Networking Academy to help students and mid-career professionals learn specific skill sets to meet the growing demand.

Vipin Kalra
Chief Executive Officer
BankBazaar International

WITH the recovery of the economy and greater push for digital transformation, we are seeing a shortage of skilled labour, particularly in high-growth sectors such as technology. Although measures are being taken to reskill the local workforce, it will take time. As such, I feel it is important to have a more flexible foreign manpower policy, to fill the gaps in the labour market and help sustain economic growth as we grapple with an ageing population and shrinking workforce.

In addition to bolstering manpower, businesses can increase productivity by automating operations, allowing employees to focus on more value-adding tasks.

Reuter Chua
Country Head
ACCA Singapore

HEALTHY and prosperous economies are those that build equitable and thriving societies. Rising inequality and more people feeling left behind impact us all, and a focus on improving social mobility is more important than ever. Equal and open access to opportunities must remain a core tenet of government policy and business priority - a more diverse workforce makes better decisions for itself and its customers in today's interconnected and complex global economy.

We must find more ways to help people acquire globally recognised skills, change how people are hired and promoted, and eliminate unconscious biases, to enable talent to flourish. ACCA was founded in 1904 for the very reason of opening up access to professional accountancy. We remain committed to open access today and are determined to play our part in improving social mobility and contributing to building a more equitable future for all.

Lim Soon Hock
Managing Director

I AM for the relaxing of Singapore's foreign manpower curbs for certain sectors. A blanket policy is not only impractical but foolish. For SMEs, it is not just about increased costs, which remain a key issue, but wishing that the government closes the gap between saying that it wants to help SMEs and taking positive and timely action to do so. Where the gap has remained, it is always in the name of policy. In other words, no exceptions can be made in the interim while the policy is under review. Meanwhile, businesses suffer, as deals cannot be closed or delivered.

Till today, a very promising marine SME, which I consult for, has to apply for work permits for workers through our shipyards. This is outdated policy. There is no value-add, other than an administrative step. The company has over the years invested in new technologies and has also started to embark on digital transformation, but all these have not moved our Ministry of Manpower to grant any exception to the (outdated) rule. The company has had to walk away from service contracts because of a lack of manpower.

If Singapore wants its SMEs to grow to become large local companies, the government must be more business-minded on mission-critical matters such as manpower and productivity.

Thomas Holenia
Henkel Singapore

IN Singapore, with our team comprising more than 16 nationalities, diversity and inclusion is a key factor that enables our business success and makes us an employer of choice. A strategic priority is to increase the agility of our organisation, which contributes to greater productivity. At Henkel, we leverage a "smart simplicity" approach to enable flexible business models and lean structures that are adaptable to fast-moving markets.

A lean structure is characterised by role clarity, fewer organisational layers, optimised workflows and processes and optimised geographical footprint. The resulting benefits are faster decision-making, shorter innovation lead time and faster time-to-market.

Ian Lee
Regional Head, Asia-Pacific
The Adecco Group

WORKFORCE growth and productivity measures need to take macroeconomic as well as industry-specific needs and challenges into account and need not be mutually exclusive.

Attracting, growing and retaining the right talent in strategic areas such as fintech, data analytics and cybersecurity and creating an enabling ecosystem around them can increase productivity. Furthermore, if we look closely at Singapore data, we see that the productivity gains in 2017 were largely driven by the manufacturing sector while the services lagged behind. The latter is traditionally more people-intensive and have been slower in innovating. So a targeted approach is needed for the services. Leveraging training, embracing flexible staffing and implementing technology-driven workforce solutions can help to upskill, widen the talent pool, better match workforce availability to work, and thus raise productivity.

Lee Quane
Regional Director - Asia
ECA International

AS Singapore pushes forward to boost productivity, the power lies with businesses here to bring in the best talent, be it local or foreign, while also hiring wisely and responsibly. It's important to recognise that Singapore's strength is built on its cosmopolitan nature, encouraged by a relatively free flow of goods and services, as well as movement of people.

After all, Singapore is also an exporter of talent. Local companies looking to assign their staff overseas for training or employment likewise benefit when these countries have immigration policies conducive to the inflow of talent.

Amit Gupta
CEO and Founder

MANAGING foreign workforce numbers is a fine balancing act - Singapore birth rates are decreasing, so we need to plug gaps. That said, our home-bred talent is well-trained and top-notch. Singapore continues to be recognised as one of the most innovative countries in the world, so we shouldn't rush to open the flood gates.

Before considering a change in our manpower policy, we should carefully review our strengths and limitations. Can we leverage our technological prowess to address some of the shortfall? Are there certain areas of production and operations that we could be off-shoring to tap into manpower abroad? Singapore offers a multitude of opportunities for personal and professional fulfillment. We can afford to be selective and bring in only best-in-class talent.

Chris J Reed
Global CEO and Founder
The Dark Art of Marketing and Black Marketing

YES, if Singaporeans and the Singapore government wish to have a growing economy, especially among the bedrock of the economy, entrepreneurs and SMEs like myself. Why can MNCs seemingly employ whoever they want and SMEs constantly get penalised?

I have to make an average three job offers to Singaporeans to get one to accept and actually show up. I have had Singaporeans accept and then later decline for a better offer or use my offer to get other offers. This in turn slows the growth of my company in Singapore.

No amount of tech and productivity devices can replace a Swiss account director speaking Swiss/German/French to Swiss/German/French clients who understands the Swiss/French/German culture. Yet we recently had this person's renewal for her S pass rejected and I am supposed to find a Singaporean who happens to know Swiss/German/French and understands the culture of each?

I have had another potential hire rejected for an employment pass who then got accepted for an S Pass at a MNC. How is this fair to local entrepreneurs trying to capitalise on the growing economies of the world and in need of good account directors with good relationship skills in Singapore?

I can show how my recruitment adverts ask for local/PR/DP applicants, and how many locals I have interviewed, who have enough choices to decline offers or renege once accepted. It is now time to let SMEs hire more foreigners. This should especially be the case if they can, like me, show that they have tried everything to employ locals.

Zaheer K Merchant
Regional Director (Singapore & Europe)
QI Group of Companies

IT would be difficult to envisage that fast-growing sectors like cybersecurity and data analytics should be crippled due to a tightening of the tap on foreign labour. Still, it is not about opening up inflows of foreign labour; it is highly-skilled talent that will raise productivity. It's a difficult balance which must be drawn between allowing in foreign manpower vis-à-vis grooming local talent.

This "right balance" is key to sustaining and growing the economy, and steering the direction away from over-reliance on foreign labour. Continuous training and upgrading of skills, newer and more relevant university or executive education programmes should be the main considerations of businesses to raise the productivity of their staff to be more efficient.

Rathakrishnan G
London School of Business and Finance Global

THE foreign manpower issue has been a thorny one at many business forums with government. Unfortunately, the current policy has been broadbrushed without much deep consideration and consultation. With declining birth rates, Singapore definitely needs a wide range of talent pool that cannot be satisfied just depending on Singaporean workforce.

In this era of AI, our pace of education, grooming, and entrepreneurship is not keeping pace with the demands. For the sake of Singapore's future, we need the foreign talents, and a point-based system tailored around our needs is a good suggestion. However, for all the businesses that depend on human service such as retail, manufacturing, construction, F&B, hospitality and tourism, this is a no-brainer! Singaporeans are not coming forward to take up the jobs and as a result, business flounders. The solution may be in the form of students, both Singaporeans and foreigners, studying in both public and private institutions who can effectively solve this labour crunch in service-based businesses on a temporary basis.

Anton Ravindran
Founder & CEO
Rapidstart Pte Ltd

THE evidence that skills matter for productivity growth is stronger than ever even as the industry is straining to find talent in the areas of data analytics and cybersecurity.

The shortage is not limited to only these two areas as the new wave will be from Artificial Intelligence and Robotics amongst others. Skills have a significant effect on productivity growth by increasing the capacity to innovate, apply new ideas and disrupt the market. Income growth is directly linked to output per worker.

While we have several initiatives and attractive schemes for training and skills development, we must note that a number of factors are critical for increasing productivity; there are no quick fixes and in many cases the impact may not be seen for decades. According to reports, our profit per employee has been affected due to rising operational costs while many businesses are struggling to find talent locally when access to markets and customers are not limited by geographical boundaries. Willingness to challenge conventional thinking and bold policies with respect to employment quotas will help alleviate this.

Ronald Lee
Managing Director

THE question of whether our foreign manpower curbs should be relaxed is one that has been brewing with greater intensity within the business community for years. Recent findings of official reports confirm that there are positions within certain sectors that are most difficult, if not impossible, to fill because few Singaporeans or PRs want them. This is not something new; it has been the case for many years.

So in the interim, many businesses are still suffering due to the manpower curbs - with impact ultimately on business and GDP growth. This is the tradeoff the authorities must consider, when reviewing whether to relax the foreign worker policy.

Many companies, especially SMEs, are unclear how to go about raising productivity. Singapore is already doing all it can, with grants for businesses to adopt technology and other help for enhanced productivity. Some firms may not be aware of the support available, while others are constrained by budgets in seeking the help of external consultants.

There are also skills upgrading initiatives like the SkillsFuture Credit scheme. But these will take time to bear fruit, if effective.

Being in the recruitment and human resource consulting business for a good 23 years, we have gone through many economic cycles and have witnessed the manpower trends and challenges across industries over the period.

To raise productivity that eventually translates to profits, companies big and small must have in place effective and operable HR policy, processes and practices. There is no short cut.

Henry Tan
Managing Director
Nexia TS

SINGAPORE has been working on productivity improvement for a long time and this recent uptick in growth is one of the first fruits.

We cannot afford to relax now and reopen the foreign skills floodgate too widely. Productivity investments only make sense to companies when the labour cost of alternatives is too expensive. Whenever companies can get cheaper labour, the productivity impetus will not be there. A bigger benefit of pursuing the current path is the innovation part of striving to be productive. We have begun to see many innovative ideas across the board, from government sector to private. One good example is Parking Apps which I believe is a productivity tool that increases productivity for all, motorist and parking attendant. The increased use of self-help customer-ordering at restaurants and self-checkout at supermarkets are also clear examples. In professional services firms like ours, we have digitalised most of our processes and are exploring various tools linked to data analytics and AI to further enhance these.

I would suggest that any relaxation of manpower curbs be done on a sector-specific-skills basis and only for a short period of time to fill certain gaps. I would certainly welcome a temporary relaxation of the hiring curbs for cybersecurity and data analytics staff on a short term whilst letting the industry and schools catch up on the supply side.

Rakesh Kumar

WE fully support the Singapore government's intent to control the inflow of foreign workers whilst supporting local talent. Certain sectors such as IT, medical and engineering might require extreme specialism, which needs to be imported as a skillset.

In a broader sense, skills and productivity can be enhanced through training and mentoring. However, the base of talent development is still education. Hence refining and modifying the education system constantly is key. It needs to adapt to evolving global needs and hence training can start at base level.

We as a company promote local creativity and talent, and will continue to do so.

Derrick Chang
Chief Executive Officer
PSB Academy

SINGAPORE'S continued investment in education is a reassuring indication of the nation's unwavering drive to nurture a future-ready core. As an immigrant society, one of our greatest strengths also lies in our diversity of local and foreign talent. At PSB Academy we've been able to build on that strength for Singapore with an international student community of graduates with a global orientation. Our transnational network in Asia has afforded us a training ground that will help students thrive in a cosmopolitan business climate, with the ability to exchange cross-border knowledge and ideas to boost innovation and improve productivity.

To that end, both public and private institutions of higher learning and training must work in tandem with national efforts to develop human capital even beyond our shores. A homegrown hotbed of diversified talent is a truly unique advantage that businesses here can leverage upon, and with quality foreign talent that will help bolster our Singapore core, we can build a robust workforce for this region's next economic transformation.

David Leong
Managing Director
PeopleWorldwide Consulting Private Limited

THE whole thrust of employing foreigners is to boost our economic activities though labour inputs where we are short locally, and in roles that can help Singapore's economy grow competitively. There are known jobs and roles that Singaporeans will not fill and these jobs should have a high quota to allow employers to hire foreigners.

This is a sensitive balancing act but the Ministry of Manpower must seriously relook the industry classifications and labour sources since some of these policies were set years ago and the workforce compositions and sources have changed drastically.

It is not about relaxing the curbs but relooking the policies governing labour utilisation, particularly in redefining the limits around the industries, roles and nationalities.