If ever I were to pose this question to an audience of Singaporeans, the answer would probably be unanimous. Of course Singaporeans first la! What kind of stupid question is that?!
A valid one, actually.
Singaporeans ‘first’ could come with two meanings. One, Singaporean applicants should be considered first when opening up a position for a job, but that does not constitute to the Singaporean getting the job as that will be decided based on merit and not nationality. Two, Singaporeans interests should be placed first and the company has to choose the Singaporean even if he or she has to settle for less.
Two-thirds of our work force is going to be made out of Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs) in the near future. But Singaporeans often woe, of those two-thirds, how many will be foreigners? Those in the IT and banking industries, visibly feel the most agony, seeing that they have the highest proportion of foreign PMEs. We always go on to say that ‘gahmen’ need to do something to protect us, cannot let the foreigner take away all our jobs. Indeed, I agree that our jobs shouldn’t be freely given away to foreigners, and perhaps there should be a law in place to stop that from happening, but ever stopped to wonder what should be the principle behind that law?
That was exactly the question I opened with. Should the principle behind the law be always placing Singaporeans first or should it be fair employment opportunities for both Singaporeans and foreigners, to be decided by merit and not by nationality?
To me, protecting fellow Singaporeans is important, but staying competitive is just as important. Currently, we have an extremely low unemployment rate of 2%. This is actually a abnormal occurrence although to most Singaporeans it seems like the norm. Lower than normal unemployment rates sounds great right? Perhaps for the economy, but not socially.
Many young Singaporeans emerge from the universities and expect to find a job easily. They expect to be sought after by employers without much competition, simply because no one really imagines him or herself as that bottom 2% without a job. We have lost that hunger to work hard and fight for what we want. Simply because we see it as a given that we will have a job once we graduate with a degree or diploma. We expect to be able to switch jobs so easily that we no longer fight to keep a job because we assume if this company does not appreciate our work, someone else will. Undoubtedly, Singaporeans will expect that unemployment rates will fall further should a law be formed based on the principle ‘Singpaoreans first’. I wonder how many more people will adopt this mindset that jobs are a God-given.
Recently, I had a chat with a boss of a company who shared with me his quest to find a successor to his company. Currently, although he has allowed his son to run the business, he feels that his son is not doing a good job. Then again, neither were those other Singaporeans he offered the job to. After hunting high and low, offering high salaries, he is still unable to find a suitable person to hand over his business to. He told me the main issue with them is that they are unwilling to go beyond what is expected of them. Boss leaves the office early, five minutes later, the office automatically empties itself. Perhaps these actions are not representative of all Singaporeans, but certainly the mindset does not defer too much for most of us.
We already have this mindset with foreigners in the equation. Imagine if we adopted the principle of Singaporeans first and took foreigners out of the equation.
Singapore was built on meritocratic principles and we should continue to be that way. That being said, I believe that if all else is equal, the Singaporean should get the job. But then again, how often is it really ‘all else equal’? Meritocracy is ultimately the equality of opportunity, but not the equality of outcome. So perhaps by following the first definition of Singaporeans ‘first’ – Singaporean applicants should be considered first when opening up a position for a job, but that does not constitute to the Singaporean getting the job as that will be decided based on merit and not nationality, we will be moving along a more appropriate track.