Saturday, May 17, 2008

SINGAPOREANS - Are you a Foreign Talent, Foreigner or Local?

From the days of Sang Nila Utama (1300s) to Sir Stanford Raffles (1819) to British Malaya to Malaysia (1963) and finally as an independent nation, Singapore (1965) has been home to migrants from all over the world.

Singapore's early days as a trading post attracts people from all walks of life who seek their fortune in faraway land. Some choose to remain while others become the 'transit' population. The former become citizens in their newfoundland and the latter live here as their place of convenience until they discover their ultimate dreamland.

The underlying attraction was economics and commerce.

In the early days when communication was difficult and news about opportunities were scarce, it was the traders and seafarers who, having been to the hugely successful trading port called Singapore, brought news home and informed their fellowmen that opportunities abound in this sounternmost island; henceforth, it was a trip to 'Nanyang' meaning 'Southern Ocean' which refers to Malaysia, Borneo and Singapore, for those who want to seek fame and fortune. The strategic location of Singapore was, and still is, a plus point.

In our globalise world today, the seamless electronic age has made the world a much smaller place as information avails with the press of a button.

Every country is looking at ways and means of not only attracting , but retaining, talents as well. Having said this, you cannot have all leaders and no foot soldiers if the force is to remain latent and relevant. In simple term, we need brains and brawns to be complete.

So, why is there so much detestation and animosity toward foreigners who come to Singapore to work with a view to settle down when time and opportunity permits? Is it purely economics? Or?

Let us take a look at some possible causes and explanations:

It is the work of all governments to attract as many talents as possible to their country to help maintain, improve, valueadd and create a wholesome. productive population capable of producing more with less, that is, to raise the standards of living while managing the costs of living. This is almost perfect except Singaporeans seem unable to fathom why foreign workers are deployed in all levels of employment, including lower and unskilled workers. I guess when you talk about foreign talents, you are refering to more brains than brawns and this equation does not always equal! The fault seems to be the over weightage given to, and overuse of this term "foreign talent".

Yes, we need talents but every society and population is shaped like a pyramid, with more at the base and lesser as you move up the ladder. Similarly, every foreigner who are willing to toil with,and contribute to, us, be it skill or un-skill labour should be welcomed to plug our deficiency in supply.

At a given level of remuneration, if there is work to be done, someone has to do the job otherwise the economy will stall and regress. If jobs abound and Singaporeans feel the position is underpaying then why is it the job is still attractive to foreigners who have to uproot themselves and part with their family to fill in the 'low paying' job? I guess the underlying cause is the managing of expectations. You either have a combative and protective labour movement or a cohesive one that works to achieve harmony and equity in lieu of competition. The choice is clear.

Should any governments bar or restrict any labour with good, useful, willing and relevant skills from working in their country in order to protect their population? For optimal allocation of resources, the answer is no. We are living in a highly competitive world. We should progress and move ahead to grow the economy, then use (some of)the surplus to help those left behind. They are our fellowmen and they must receive a helping hand! More importantly with our migrant co-workers, Singapore will be more competitively priced to take on the challenges ahead.

What can Singapore offer to attract foreigners of all level to come here to work? Plentiful, I guess. But, there are also many competing nations who have deeper pockets and attractive policies to attract and retain them. The edge, I guess is, apart from suitably tuned policies, Singapore is being considered because of a fairly similar culture, language and religion. They are following our ancestors' footsteps; coming here to seek a decent living, and hopefully, fame and fortune.

Our ancestors were once foreign workers and talents in 'their' newfoundland called Singapore. They came, they saw, they toiled and they settled down and started their families. They strove to be wanted and accepted. They faced the same challenges as the migrant workers today.

Looking at history, all the complaints about the foreign workers, be they talented or not, in Singapore, are not going to change or dent the flow of migrant workers; let us live up to the challenges and accept what we cannot change and work towards a bigger pie so that we have more to share.

Our ancestors were Foreign Talents when they arrived in Singapore. Their families and friends came as foreigners to settle down and long after they were gone, we are still here ... and we are the proud, capable and able Singaporeans.

SINGAPOREANS - Are you a Foreign Talent, Foreigner or Local? I am definitely Singaporean and I hope you are one too.

We have a choice; Majullah Singapore!

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