FTs – are they really the issue?


  • Are Singaporeans’ comments about FTs fair?
  • Employers – are they the real problem?
  • Upgrading one’s skill sets is the way up the career ladder

These days, given the wave of anti-FT sentiment (and I stop short of using the term ‘anti-foreigner’) that has become increasingly widespread among Singaporeans, it almost always just takes one tiny spark for the FT discussion to return to the forefront of the national conversation. Inevitably, the press would never fail to mention the nationality of the person-of-interest in these instances, thus subconsciously instigating a negative sentiment towards foreigners in general as opposed to the individual person’s act of wrongdoing. For example, the recent Amy Cheong saga, initially about an insensitive racial remark, has opened up another can of worms about why a foreigner was chosen to fill a role which many highly qualified locals could have taken on. The repeatedly unnecessary and often distasteful remarks that Singaporeans make about foreigners (often in cyberspace and under a veil of anonymity) are brutal, but more importantly, they reflect the growing unhappiness among locals on the ground. How has it come to this?


We all know that foreigners are important for our economy, yet we must have a Singaporeans-first policy to look after our citizens. Is the government’s open-door policy to foreigners the root cause of this wave of discrimination? It’s necessary for Singaporeans to voice their concerns, but where should the line be drawn to prevent this debate from becoming a circus?


Now, the hard truth is that Singapore cannot continue to flourish without FTs. If there’s one thing that Singapore did right when she separated from Malaysia (Editor: Just a note – Singapore did not chose to separate from Malaysia, Malaysia kicked us out) was that the country focused on attracting and developing talent to counter for the lack of natural resources. That was how our country was built. Our forefathers were immigrants who came to Singapore and nurtured this land. So, is it fair that we criticise these FTs for coming here and contributing to our national economy?


I asked a friend of mine, who originated from across the border but graduated from one of our local universities, for her opinion on the FT issue. A gainfully employed person herself, she knows of many young Singaporeans holding good entry-level positions in international companies. She personally feels challenged because the youth here are brought up with a good education system (comparative to where she’s from) and are encouraged to take on extra-curricular activities which hone their leadership skills. That surprised me given how the general consensus was that FTs were the threat, not the other way around.


Jacky Tan, a professional writer who teaches modern marketing & social media skills and one of the top 40 influential Twitterers in Singapore, wrote an article in Singapore Business Review on how “Anyone Can Win the Game So Long the Rules are Fair”. He strongly believes that while we look to the government to tighten the FT policy, both employers and employees have their respective roles to play. I agree with his views in many respects.


The government’s Continuing Education and Training master plan is a welcoming initiative that ensures Singaporeans stay competitive and relevant to the local economy and on a global scale. Employers also need to think about the bigger picture and not make hiring decisions because FTs are ‘cheaper’ compared to local talents. It’s been said that Singaporeans are demanding ridiculously high salaries compared to FTs, but is that the truth or are employers just continuing to depress our wages in the face of economic inflation?


All of that said, employees need to continue upgrading themselves. Unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, continuing education is the only way up the wage ladder. It’s easier said than done, but you can’t expect a job or your desired remuneration to be handed to you on a platter. While the government and employers have their parts to play, we need to take control of our own destinies and take the initiative to improve our skill sets. Instead of complaining all the time, make the effort to explore academic or practical courses that can enhance your employability.


As they say, empty vessels make the most noise.

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