In an interview with Bloomberg on Wed (19 Sep), Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said Singapore needs to bring in foreign talent in areas including software programming while the country re-balances its education system to meet future demands.
A key issue is whether Singapore has a critical mass of workers to make itself a vibrant economy that will attract investments and encourage enterprise, he said. Singapore will maintain little restriction on foreign labor for high-end jobs while keeping a quota system for lower-skilled industries including construction.
"Talent is very short everywhere in the world – AI talent, software programmers," Minister Ong said. "We let them in because we require a critical mass for the sector to take off, while we continue to train Singaporeans for those jobs."
Netizens ask why can't more Singaporeans be trained to do high-end jobs
Minister Ong's comment did not go well with many netizens, who asked why the government cannot train more Singaporeans to do these high-end jobs in the first place.
Augy Chew: Minister Ong..why u think local not qualify the high end job? Does it means the MOE has fail to train the locals for the requires job? solve the problem..why look elsewhere and give the opportunities to others?
Yang Tan: Not shy ah. Keep saying our educational system very good. Can't even take up high end job.
Riduan Ahlip: Eh...i thought SG education system is world class? How come mostly the high end job given to foreign talent?
Ryan Yap: Singapore got no talents? Something wrong with our education system? Or the whole system altogether? Need to bring in foreign talents for ministerial posts or not?
Muhamad Noor: So many IT graduates in Singapore from local Unis and none of them qualify? Then they study Uni for what? Support local talents lah.. Other countries support their locals first, why can’t ours do the same??... why must we be so dependent on other countries when we can train and develop our IT graduates to be just as good or better than them??
Yvonne Koh-Yeo: Singaporeans can do the job and train their own pple....no need to bring in foreign talents for high-end jobs. NO FOREIGN TALENT NEEDED!
Some are worried that bringing in 'foreign talents' to fill these so-called 'high-end jobs' is nothing more than an excuse to bring in more cheap foreigners to flood the job market.
Henryace Ace: Never believe PAP. This bringing in of foreigners to fill "high end jobs" such as AI will quickly generate into bringing in cheap foreigners to fill ANY job.
Opposition member criticises Minister Ong
Then, opposition member Lim Tean writing on his Facebook page also wonders if our education system has failed since Minister Ong keeps saying to get in 'foreign talents' to do the job.
Mr Lim wrote, "I am flummoxed to read Ong Ye Kung’s Statement that Singapore needs more foreign tech talent. It shows you what a lousy job the PAP have been doing on education. What helicopter view do these highly paid ministers have?"
"And that goes for all of Mr. Ong’s predecessors including Tharman and Heng Swee Keat. They were blindsided and did not put in the appropriate policies to ensure that Singaporeans were well prepared for the new knowledge era," he added.
Mr Lim then went on to criticise the PAP government for creating more opportunities for foreigners than Singaporeans.
"The Statement by Ong Ye Kung means that more Singapore jobs will be going to foreigners. The losers will be Singaporeans. What a waste of our human talent! There are very few things which Government can do which the private sector cannot. One of these is the creation of opportunities for Singaporeans. We have a government that is creating more opportunities for foreigners than Singaporeans," he said.
"The PAP’s only solution when there is a need for talent is to reach out for foreigners when they should be ensuring that Singaporeans are qualified to do the job. The only exception are TOP jobs in GLCs where apparently global searches for talent inevitably seem to result in SAF generals being found! And what do we get? Continuous breakdowns like what happened a few days ago on the East-West line with a 7 hour delay!"
NUS School of Computing produces paltry number of graduates
There may be some merit in Mr Lim's argument that the government might have been "blindsided" and did not put in the appropriate policies to ensure that Singapore has a critical mass of workers to perform these high-end jobs, like AI or software development work.
For example, NUS, supposedly our premier university to train top talents in Singapore only produces a few hundreds of IT personnel per year in the School of Computing for the past 10 years:
Do also take note that some of the Computer Science graduates are foreign students sponsored by the MOE. NUS did not break down the figures between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans.
If AI and software developments are so important to Singapore, why didn't MOE, the ministry which Minister Ong is helming currently, tell NUS to produce more locals for such jobs in the first place? Instead, Minister Ong is now saying we need to import more 'foreign talents' for high-end jobs so as to create a critical mass of workers for producing a vibrant economy.
Some conspiracy theorists might even ask, "Is the government deliberately depressing the number of local graduates from our top universities so as to give itself an excuse to import more foreign talents?"
Or perhaps the government is just "blindsided" like what Mr Lim said? What do you think?