On Monday (6 January), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament that Singapore cannot turn down investments that bring in foreign talents into the country because it will create higher-paying jobs for the current generation of Singaporeans, as well as for the future generations.
He added that the Government understands Singaporeans’ worries, but the country needs “above average” foreigners in order to create a more competitive economy.
Mr Chan expressed this in an attempt to dismiss concerns about foreigners taking away better-paying jobs from Singaporeans, particularly in the current situation of economic uncertainties.
In response to questions raised by Member of Parliament (MP) Liang Eng Hwa and Workers’ Party Chief Pritam Singh, Mr Chan guaranteed Singaporeans that the Government understands their concerns and worries. “We will walk this journey together with you. The Government will always have your back,” he said.
Despite Singaporeans’ concerns, Mr Chan said that foreign talents are needed to complement the local workforce.
“We know we need the above average foreigner to complement our domestic workforce so that we can build a more competitive economy and to provide better jobs and better pay for all Singaporeans,” he said.
He added, “But we also know that foreigners will compete with us and we need to provide some safeguards for our people.”
To explain his point, Mr Chan illustrated a situation where a new investment creates two new jobs, one paying S$7,000 and the other S$10,000.
However, a Singaporean who is currently earning S$5,000 will only be able to land the job that pays S$7,000 because he “does not yet have the skills or experience” for the S$10,000 paying job.
Although the Singaporean may feel frustrated as he feels that he is being unequally treated, not accepting the investment would mean the country loses both the S$7,000 and S$10,000 jobs, Mr Chan said.
If that’s not all, the Singaporean will also have fewer opportunities to rise to higher paying jobs and, more importantly, his children “will not be able to aspire to the S$7,000 or S$10,000”, he noted.
He added that this situation has had happened before in the 1970s where the first three semiconductor companies in Singapore – National Semiconductor, Fairchild and Texas Instruments – created more than 7,000 jobs.
“But our people did not get the best paying jobs immediately. Indeed many of our Pioneer and Merdeka generations worked under higher paying foreigners. At that point in time, we lacked the skills and experience to take the highest paying jobs but we did not reject these investments as a result,” he said.
He added, “We learned, we upgraded our capabilities..and in time we took over many of these higher paying jobs, including the better trained and educated children of the Pioneer and Merdeka generations.”
In fact, many of the early engineers and technicians became senior executives in the sector, and in return mentored a new generation of Singaporeans, Mr Chan said.
Today, the same situation is happening in the info-communications technology (ICT) and software industries, the MP noted.
“When global companies like Google, Grab and Facebook invest here, the reality is that we do not have enough Singaporeans with the relevant skills and experience to fill all the jobs they are going to create,” he said.
“So do we go out and attract these investments like Google, Grab and Facebook, not just for this generation but more importantly also for the next?” he asked.
“I say we do, and land the investment first,” he told the House.
He then emphasised that Singapore needs to train its people and upgrade their skills to take over the high-paying jobs soonest possible.
“But do not exploit sentiments to create envy, anger and frustration towards that foreigner who is now taking the $10,000 job.”
Upon hearing what Mr Chan said, many netizens slammed him for not knowing what he’s talking about.
Penning their thought on the Facebook page of Mothership, they said that Mr Chan doesn’t “have the skill for the million dollars job” and he is “trying so hard to confuse” the people with his figures. Some pointed out that his analogy is “terrible”, “irrelevant to the topic”, and that he is deliberately attempting to “misdirect, confuse and deceive the public” with it.
Some felt that Mr Chan is underestimating Singaporeans’ capabilities and they actually have the skills that will allow them to get the high-paying job. One user said that Singaporeans’ skills are in demand and opportunities are readily available for them in other cities with much lower cost of living. Some even questioned if Mr Chan is saying that “our education had failed for new job opportunity or business?”
Regina Hou explained that Singaporeans’ education and skills are “comparable” if not better, than other countries in the world. As such, she said “it upsets me listening to this when SGreans overseas are being recognised and lauded but not in our home country”.
She added, “The SG government has been very discouraging towards its own people, especially the fresh graduates”.
“To recognise qualifications and experience from some backwater villages in developing countries and say it is comparable and superior to our local standards is an insult to not just our people but education system and the government themselves.”
A number of online users stated that Mr Chan failed to know what is happening on the ground to give such an explanation, adding that he oblivious as many jobs in the country are filled by foreigners. They also explained that the scenario that he described is not realistic as “SME workers (90% of SGreans work) do not suddenly get a $7K MNC job”. They also added that