SINGAPORE: The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will ensure fair hiring opportunities while grooming Singaporeans as leaders and specialists in the financial services sector, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (Sep 1).
Mr Ong, who is also a board member of MAS, cited concerns that some firms may have an “unconscious bias amongst business heads towards hiring people from their own nationality”, without giving Singaporeans a fair chance.
“MAS holds our financial institutions to high standards and will not condone firms that fall short of fair hiring practices,” he said in a speech in Parliament during the debate on the President's Address.
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Other than ensuring fair hiring, the MAS is creating opportunities for Singaporeans, he said, through schemes like the Finance Associate Management Scheme. The scheme supports financial institutes to hire and groom Singaporeans through structured talent development programmes.
Another scheme is the International Postings scheme, which provides incentives for financial institutions to send Singaporeans for international exposure.
He also noted concerns about the “high concentration of one nationality in the technology departments of financial institutions”.
“It happened because the adoption of technology is a worldwide phenomenon. There is an explosion of demand for technology professionals and we are unable to fill all the posts domestically, “ he said.
“We are furiously growing our local talent pipeline in this area, through mid-career skills upgrading, and expanding computer science places rapidly in our universities. But this is not likely to meet the demand and foreign manpower is still needed.”
In addition, he added, over-reliance on a “single source” would leave the country “more susceptible to unexpected disruptions”.
“MAS has been stepping up engagements with the top leadership of key financial institutions on the need to maintain robust HR practices that are merit-based and support workplace diversity”, said Mr Ong.
In August, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) placed 47 employers - most of which are from the financial and professional services sector - on a watchlist of companies with suspected discriminatory hiring practices.
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President Halimah Yacob had said in speech at the opening of the 14th Parliament last Monday that the Government will address the issue of work pass holders competing with Singaporeans for jobs.
In the same week, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo announced that the Government will raise the salary criteria for Employment Passes and S Passes amid weak labour market conditions.
GROWING SINGAPORE AS A FINANCIAL HUB
The Government’s efforts to grow the financial sector has made it “one of (Singapore’s) most promising sectors, especially for the young”, said Mr Ong.
About 22,000 financial sector jobs were created over the past five years, with 15,000 going to Singaporeans. The growth of this sector has also contributed to jobs in the legal and accountancy fields, many of which go to Singaporeans, he said.
“What has underpinned this growth? In essence, keep bringing in new activities, keep developing new capabilities,” he said.
“And in the build-up phase, inject foreign expertise where necessary - people with track records in the area. But over time, grow our own timber, and when Singaporeans gain the expertise, we take on more roles in multi-national teams, here as well as abroad.”
With the same approach, the Government is now developing FinTech and Green Finance.
PROPORTION OF SINGAPOREAN WORKERS
Citing MAS estimates, Mr Ong said that 44 per cent of those in senior roles are Singaporeans, while 20 per cent are permanent residents (PRs) and 36 per cent work pass holders.
Meanwhile, 70 per cent of the financial services sector workforce are Singaporeans, 14 per cent PRs and 16 per cent work pass holders.
These proportions have “remained stable” in recent years, he said.
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He addressed concerns that the share of senior positions going to Singaporeans could be “too low”, and the “large number of foreigners in senior positions may then crowd out Singaporeans”.
“The reason for a higher share of foreigners in senior roles is mainly due to the large international component of activities here,” he said.
“Singapore has grown as a global financial centre as more financial institutions set up regional or global functions in Singapore. They have made us the hub for expertise, networking and oversight of operations in other markets.”
This puts Singapore in an “enviable position”, as it supports the region’s development and bring opportunities and jobs, he said.
He added that this “does not mean that Singaporeans are getting the short end of the stick”, as it is “not a zero-sum game”.
While the proportion of Singaporeans in senior roles have remained the same, the absolute number of Singaporeans in those roles have grown. From 2014 to 2019, the absolute number of senior jobs going to Singaporeans went from 1,700 to 2,600.
“That is more than a 50 per cent increase in five years,” he said.
In addition, when bank functions come to Singapore, Singaporeans “gain precious global and regional expertise”, which prepares Singaporeans to take on senior management roles in global firms.
FINDING THE RIGHT DISCOURSE
While the discourse in some countries may have turned into nativism and an “us-versus-them” perspective in times of economic difficulty and job insecurity, this is not a discourse Singaporeans “deserve” nor what most Singaporeans want, said Mr Ong.
“The more widely held view, I think, understands the international character of our financial centre, but wants to see Singaporeans do better, with greater assurance of fair hiring practices that put us on a level playing field. And these are valid concerns,” he said.
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It is not about growth at all costs, or accepting “trade-offs” for the sake of growth, he said, “but about whether as a people we can strengthen our place in the financial world, hold our own, develop the expertise, seize the opportunities, to make Singaporean lives better".
Singapore could not have come so far with a close partnership with its financial institutions, said Mr Ong.
“They are here because our location, our rule of law, our stability as a country, our inclusivity, our openness, the ethos and talent of our people, make us a great place for them to put their business here,” he said.
“In turn, we work with them to catalyse new areas of growth, and create new opportunities for Singaporeans.”