Thursday 12 September 2013

Reluctance to work abroad limits us: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at IE Singapore's 30th anniversary dinner dialogue

This constrains Singaporeans' global potential and career progress in MNCs
By Alvin Foo, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2013

IT IS a limitation for Singapore that its citizens are so reluctant to be posted overseas, which in turn constrains their progress in multinational companies, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at trade agency IE Singapore's 30th anniversary dinner.

"Singaporeans don't always go as readily as their employers would like them to," he said in a dialogue with about 600 business leaders at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore hotel last night.

"It's a limitation for us. If we are not able to do that, I think it constrains our potential in the world," Mr Lee noted in response to a question on the issue.

Common reasons for this reluctance include children's education and a spouse's career, which make it hard to uproot.

However, Mr Lee pointed out that a willingness to go overseas, even to difficult places, is necessary if one wants to reach high positions and lead a multinational corporation (MNC).

He said: "You must have that experience not just of Singapore, not even just of South-east Asia, but also of being deployed to headquarters... being familiar with another continent.

"With that background you are ready and prepared, you can be the CEO of an MNC."

He added: "We need to have people who are willing to do that... we should have that spark to go wherever the opportunities are, and some of them will be hardship postings."

He was also asked about the issue of growing Singapore's education sector and exporting its brand of education overseas.

He said there was some potential to do so but it was not easy to pull off.

He noted that the Australians have made a business out of it but said: "In our case, we have set up our own institutions mainly because we want to provide for our own economic needs."

While there are foreign students studying in public schools and universities, Mr Lee said there was a need to watch the mix "because we want to keep them as Singaporean institutions".

About 15 per cent of students in the universities are foreign, though he added that "this might come down a little bit over time".

"It's also a sensitive political issue," he said.

PM Lee: No replay of Asian financial crisis
Economies stronger now, with safeguards to deal with capital flows
By Robin Chan And Alvin Foo, 11 Sep 2013

PRIME Minister Lee Hsien Loong does not see a repeat of the Asian financial crisis that sent economies in the region into a deep dive, in spite of concerns over capital flight as the US ends its expansionary monetary policy.

Speaking at a dialogue with business leaders yesterday, PM Lee said Asian economies are much stronger than they were in the late 1990s, having put in place safeguards to deal with the impact of large capital flows.

"On balance I would take a sanguine view," he said in reply to a question from moderator Robin Hu, chief executive of the South China Morning Post Group.

While certain individual countries may have problems, "on balance I would say we are in a safe position". He added: "I don't see this being a new global crisis or regional crisis."

He cited the Chiang Mai Initiative as an example of the safeguards. It is a regional currency swap arrangement which helps countries to strengthen their balance sheets and support their currencies in times of need.

He also believes that big developed economies like the United States, the cause of large capital flows into Asia as their central banks printed money and slashed interest rates, will remove these measures with care so as not to destabilise their own economies.

In the 30-minute dialogue at the celebration of IE Singapore's 30th anniversary, Mr Lee was also asked for his views on the outlook for China and Asean.

On China, he said he was confident of its future even though it faces many challenges and needs bold reforms. "They have made a lot of progress," he said. "Now they have to catch up on the reforms which are still outstanding and will continue to be a work in progress, and that is at the top of the minds of the leaders."

Referring to an opinion piece by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in the Financial Times this week, he said it showed the Chinese are committed to continued economic liberalisation.

He said one Chinese official told him in private that a lot needs to be done, but because China is so big, it cannot make large, drastic changes.

"You cannot do things carelessly, you have to move deliberately - but the pace has to be inexorable. I think they understand this. It gives me confidence, when I talk to the officials, that the officials understand what is at stake, and they will support what needs to be done."

Turning to Asean, Mr Lee said the region is fortunate that it is not likely to face the same problems as the beleaguered euro zone because it does not have a single currency. "I always had my doubts, because a common currency has to follow economic integration and must also have political compatibility," he said.

"For Asean, the lesson is there is a lot of benefit from economic integration, but we must not put the cart before the horse. Let's work together, but do it in a way that respects the differences in our countries and also recognises that we are 10 different countries. We are Asean: it is a regional association, not a union, and that makes all the difference."

On IE Singapore's role in helping boost local firms overseas, he said it was making progress getting them to be globally competitive. He urged firms not to think they could build a wall here and not compete overseas, as Singapore is too small a market.

Instead, they should look to not just the region, but also to markets farther away in Latin America and Africa.

Pressed by Mr Hu to give IE Singapore a grade, Mr Lee said to laughter: "Happy birthday."

No.1 challenge for Singapore firms growing overseas: competition
By Robin Chan, The Straits Times, 11 Sep 2013

SINGAPORE companies face increased competition from multinationals and emerging market firms as they make a bid to grow, IE Singapore chief executive Teo Eng Cheong said yesterday on the sidelines of a dinner to mark the agency's 30th anniversary.

Multinationals are turning to Asia as economies in the West slow, while emerging market firms know their local markets better, he said. "Competition is the number one issue that most of our companies face, which means that we really need to be even better in our products and services, and need to know the market and act faster."

The other two challenges of local firms are manpower shortage and the need to keep up with rapid change in emerging markets, from regulations to governments.

To help them cope with the challenges, IE Singapore has expanded its presence overseas in order to build up market expertise by having people on the ground.

Yesterday, its chairman Sunny Verghese announced that IE Singapore would partner the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to launch an enterprise centre in Shanghai this year, to help local small and medium- sized enterprises enter and grow in China.

IE Singapore has 37 offices around the world, including two that recently opened in Yangon, Myanmar and Accra, Ghana.

Mr Verghese, chief executive of Olam International, said it was important for Singapore to have "a strong base of local companies with the potential to be leaders in Asia, or globally competitive companies".

"Such companies can boost domestic growth and create value for all their stakeholders. More importantly, they create jobs for Singapore and groom a workforce equipped with global skills."

Singapore's trade and internationalisation journey is a result of the "enterprising initiatives that IE officers have put in place over the years", he added.

"This involved the active championing of free and open trade, careful calibration and alignment of economic and trade policies, and their pioneering and inventive spirit," he said.

Overseas jobs: Home comforts in the way
HR experts say good life here makes it harder to get more to go abroad
By Toh Yong Chuan And Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Sep 2013

BETWEEN braving the wintry weather, eating unfamiliar food and being homesick, Mr Farand Ngoh, 29, had had enough of working in Switzerland.

He was not keen to go to the European country in the first place, so he cut short his four-month work stint by a month.

"When I was there this year, it was officially the coldest spring in 30 years," said the communications executive.

"For Singaporeans, food is very important too. I'm definitely spoilt by the choices of food we get here," said the multinational corporation employee on how he missed Singapore's food.

Singapore's success, ironically, stands in the way of Singaporeans like Mr Ngoh working overseas, say human resource experts.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at a business forum that "Singaporeans don't always go as readily (overseas) as their employers would like them to".

Mr Dhirendra Shantilal, Asia-Pacific head of recruitment firm Fircroft, pointed to Singapore's "comfortable lifestyle, political stability and sense of security" as factors that make it harder for Singaporeans to adapt to harsher conditions overseas.

Singaporeans also "shy away from more exotic locations", said Clearmanage general manager Alex Ng. The IT service company has been trying to fill a position in Namibia for over half a year, to no avail.

The ample job opportunities here and tight labour market also mean that locals do not have to venture overseas, experts say.

"Employers have to assure those posted overseas that they have a job when they come back in a few years' time, otherwise few will want to go," said Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute.

Fircroft's Mr Shantilal added that younger employees tend to be more mobile: "Once they have children in primary school, it is very difficult to move them."

But at least one analyst pointed out that not all Singaporeans are reluctant to work overseas."They could be running their own businesses or working for small and medium-sized enterprises," said human resource analyst Martin Gabriel of HRMatters21.

One of them is 50-year-old Alfred Neo, managing director of Goodrich Global, a Singapore interior design and furnishing SME.

When he headed to Hong Kong and China 15 years ago to expand the firm's businesses there, his three school-going children were between three and nine years old, so he left them here with his wife.

"Missing their childhood was the biggest sacrifice I had to make," he said.

Recruitment expert Mark Hall suggested that firms discuss with staff the duration of the posting: "The prospect of relocating indefinitely can be intimidating."

But Mr Ngoh is sure that working overseas is not for him. "I agree that working overseas does give you good exposure, but at what cost? Relationships still make up a big part of your life. At the end of the day, your family is still here and you're still a citizen of this country. It makes a difference," he said.

What's stopping us from working abroad

I AM a human resource practitioner in a multinational company, where working abroad is a common way to bridge skill gaps and develop talent ("Reluctance to work abroad limits us: PM"; Wednesday).

To get to senior leadership positions in my company, one is expected to have spent time working overseas, as this broadens one's horizons in a way that cannot be achieved by working only in one's home country.

But in Singapore, only a small number of people are willing to work abroad, compared to those from neighbouring countries like Malaysia or the Philippines.

The reasons commonly given are:
- The unwillingness of dual-career couples to reach a compromise. Women are often expected to give up their jobs and follow their husbands when they get posted abroad;
- Parents' worry that their children will be unable to cope with the rigours of our education system when they return home, as the children often need to repeat a year in school after spending some time abroad;
- The belief that childcare is best outsourced to grandparents and not to professionals, which is contrary to the thinking in many First World countries;
- Our over-reliance on maids, leading to a generation that can no longer cook, clean or fend for themselves while abroad;
- The fear of losing out in the rat race if one were to spend a prolonged period overseas; and
- The need to care for aged parents or relatives, partly stemming from our social system where many older people still rely on their children for their health-care needs.
I am not advocating a welfare state, but I am heartened by the Government's shift towards more inclusive health care for the elderly.

I wonder if the Government is prepared to examine the root causes behind our reluctance to work abroad. For Singapore to remain one of the world's most business-friendly and competitive economies, we need to challenge this mindset.

Joyce Loh (Ms)
ST Forum, 14 Sep 2013

International Enterprise (IE) Singapore celebrates our 30th anniversary in 2013
IE Singapore marks 30 years of globalising Singapore
IE Insights: Driving Singapore’s External Economy Beyond 30 Years

No comments:

Post a Comment