Saturday, 19 April 2014

Banks, IT firms mull moves offshore amid manpower shortage

Business parks could be hit if middle, back-end functions shift: report
By Yasmine Yahya And Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 17 Apr 2014

THE manpower shortage is forcing banks and IT firms to consider moving their middle and back-end functions offshore - a shift that could hit business parks that house these operations.

The warning came from a Standard Chartered Research report that noted how new rules that kicked in on Jan 1 have already made it significantly harder for firms to obtain employment passes for expatriates earning $3,000 to $5,000 a month.

Firms that want to hire young foreign graduates must pay them at least $3,300 a month under the new regulations, up from $3,000 previously. Older and more experienced applicants must be paid even more.

As a result, "four to five" banks are considering relocating some functions outside Singapore as they are struggling to fill back-office positions while keeping a lid on costs, said StanChart, whose analysts spoke to human resource experts, immigration service providers and business park leasing agents.

The implementation of the Fair Consideration Framework in August will likely make it even harder for firms to hire expats, it added.

Under the framework, firms with more than 25 employees must prove they tried to hire a Singaporean first before they can recruit a foreign professional.

They must also advertise professional jobs that pay less than $12,000 a month on a government-run jobs bank.

Recruitment and human resource experts who spoke to The Straits Times agreed that these rules could further affect the ability of firms to fill back-end and mid-office roles.

"Companies requiring niche skills or specialist skills in growth areas such as research and development, banking, technology and accounting will be hit the hardest, as they often rely on employment passes as a means to fill specialist skill gaps in their workforce," noted Mr Michael Smith, Randstad's Singapore country director.

"With the unemployment rate hovering around 1.8 per cent over the last two years, companies in Singapore have been facing the ongoing challenge of talent shortage, especially in the banking and financial services, IT and engineering sectors."

StanChart noted that in the past decade, large banks have moved global mid- and back-office functions to Singapore due to flexible employment policies, lower costs and tax savings.

"We believe the changes in employment policies will curtail such offshoring demand or even result in companies moving these operations out of Singapore."

These moves, in turn, will dampen rental takings at the business parks which house these operations, StanChart said.

Bank back-offices and IT firms make up a third of business park demand.

StanChart has lowered its business park rent forecasts by 14 per cent and now expects rents to be flat until 2016, instead of rising 6 per cent a year.

Most business park landlords declined to comment.

A spokesman for Ascendas, which developed several business parks here, including Changi Business Park and Singapore Science Park, said: "We see a steady demand for business park space with healthy occupation rates."

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