Chan Chun Sing: Has economic growth and job creation benefited Singaporeans?

Yesterday, Chan Chun Sing answered questions by Parliament on the state of jobs and economic growth in Singapore. 

There are a few interesting takeaways, and I think the most important to reiterate is this: the pursuit of economic growth must be for the sake of the whole country. The entire speech will tell you this – that the benefits must be impactful. It is not just about securing a few jobs for today, companies that operate here must grow Singaporeans and create opportunities for them that last.  

“We are not satisfied to put today’s unemployed in today’s jobs. Neither are we satisfied with today’s unemployed in tomorrow’s jobs. We want to prepare tomorrow’s unemployed, put them in tomorrow’s jobs, ahead of time”, said Chan. 

The Minister had also addressed the elephant in the room: why does it appear that some foreigners are paid better? Why are they taking positions of leadership?

He even talked about why he’s addressing this particular problem head on. The reason? That responsible political leaders puts anxieties to rest, not play them up for their advantage.

The underlying reason is this: businesses need actual humans in order to operate. And we all know that Singapore doesn’t have a lot of humans to start with, hence the need to hire from abroad.  If there were too few foreign workers, especially PMETs with skills required by our growth sectors, means that our businesses cannot seize the opportunities out there and in the process create better jobs for Singaporeans. 

That’s it.

There is no conspiracy to prefer foreigners to be better paid and to have better positions, it does not make sense. Why would the government risk political capital by doing something like that? 

Here’s a simple illustration provided by the Minister: 

  • Suppose a Singaporean worker is earning $5,000 today. 
  • The government brings in a new investment that can create two new jobs – one paying $7,000 and another $10,000. 
  • The Singaporean can only get the $7,000 job today, because he does not yet have the skills or experience for the $10,000 job 

Should the country take the investment? 

It would be foolish not to just because the Singaporean doesn’t get the big pay package immediately. If you shut out this investment, it will not just be a loss of $2000. It would mean an entire industry for another generation of Singaporeans won’t be there. 

This has happened in the 1970s when Singapore set out to attract the electronics industry. Over a span of three years, the first three semi conductor companies in Singapore (National Semiconductor, Fairchild and Texas Instruments) created more than 7,000 jobs. However, Singaporeans did not get the best paying jobs immediately. Most of the older generation, who lacked skills or experiences in electronics, worked under high-paying foreigners. But overtime, these changed and not only did they progress, there were jobs continually created for the next generations of Singaporeans also.

So today, do we tell Google, Grab and Facebook that they shouldn’t come here because they won’t give Singaporeans the bigger pay package? 

At the end of it all, there’s no need for emotion in this. There’s no foreigner vs local situation and to think that way is childish. 

Them being here to create jobs, is just an exchange of services. Singapore benefits those companies and their foreign staff and in turn we benefit from the influx of capital to pay our workers. 

In fact, if you are good enough, you’ll probably be hired into other countries to run bigger and more complex operations…and consequently be paid a lot more for the trouble. 

The job of the government is to maintain the balance between foreigners and Singaporeans. Too many of them and we social problems can develop. Too few of them and Singapore will not have the resources required to grow. In fact, fear mongering that causes people foreigner-phobic is just as dangerous. This is the sort of thinking that has led to civil unrest in many countries today. 

The bottomline is – don’t worry about competition in this country. Worry about the competition outside of this country, because in this day and age there really is no need for foreigners to step foot in your country to take your job. In fact, them being here gives all of us a job… think about that.

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