Dwindling talent pool, lack of will by employers and management to develop talent.

By Chris Kuan

IMD’s latest report on talent ranking shows Singapore falling five places to 15th, out of top ten.

Professor Arturo Bris , Director of IMD’s World Competitiveness Center, which publishes the report, identified lack of investment in local talent as a crucial failing. He said: “There’s no doubt that many Asian countries, Singapore arguably chief among them, remain among the very best attractors of talent from abroad.

“There’s no doubt, too, that they’re able to improve their overall competitiveness as a result of the knowledge and experience this foreign talent brings.

“But this isn’t enough to compensate for the lack of development of local talent, particularly with regard to the paucity of public sector investment in education.

Given the policy on Foreign Talents, the understandable reaction is to lay the blame on the government for rolling out the red carpet to foreign labour and new citizens. True but I think it is a much bigger issue than that.

First, there has to be a willingness of employers and management to develop talent.

One of the main reasons I left Singapore to work overseas was what I felt to be short-sighted emphasis of extracting as much out of staff in as short a time frame and an unwillingness to sponsor and to deveiop careers. In those days, I cannot but see a bloody minded selfishness and hierarchical attitude of “me boss, you underling, so shut up” among those in management. Don’t know if still like this nowadays.

It could well be that the lack of productivity and creativity can be put in the door step of maximum extraction from labour without putting effort in developing and incentivizing said labour. Recent reports about management attitude toward staff training points to this.

In one such report, 85% of firms said they are hindered in their efforts to upgrade the skills of their workforce. Half of them indicated that it was “difficult to commit employees for such initiatives due to a lean workforce”. Lean workforce is good – it reduces labour costs which is a relatively inflexible input.

But that lean workforce has to be upgraded to improve productivity to keep up with demands of the business. If management cannot commit employees to skills upgrading then that negates the advantage of having a lean workforce. That is poor human resource development in my view.

The report cites problems hiring young staff who finds the work environment not challenging, Young staff is what a business need to renew its workforce. Combined with the problems of upgrading lean workforce, this gives evidence to the accusation that Singapore relies more on perspiration than inspiration.

Second, on the part of the employee, there is a problem of risk aversion – many of the best talent development opportunities require taking a risk on the part of the employee. This could involve accepting an overseas transfer or more commonly taking an employee out of his comfort zone and assign him to something new or even uncertain. Or as mundane as whether to agitate for opportunities for the fear if being “blackbooked”.

I was once a tireless sponsor of opportunities for Singaporeans to join my division in London or Tokyo to gain the sort of experience I had but there were very few takers – too risk averse and too comfortable.

Maybe I just too simplistic here but it is something about the education system and the socio-political order. Not such an easy issue of increasing private and public spending on education.