SINGAPORE: There are an estimated 200,000 Singaporeans residing overseas. In a recent interview with TIME Magazine, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that the "options for Singaporeans to leave are plentiful", especially for the talented and successful ones.
He also cautioned that if the successful ones mostly leave, Singapore is "going to be depleted".
'ENOUGH OPPORTUNITIES IN SINGAPORE'
Forty-one-year-old Mr Calvin Yong had spent eight years working overseas. He spent time in places like Korea, Germany and most recently, Bangkok. He said he found opportunities elsewhere that he would not have had, had he stayed in Singapore.
Last year, he decided to come home to be near his ageing parents. But apart from family, Mr Yong said he also felt there were now enough opportunities in Singapore: “There are a lot of foreign companies setting up regional offices here and using Singapore as a base for Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and even North Asia. So I think there are many opportunities for me to establish myself in Singapore.”
LINKING UP PEOPLE, JOBS
There is a whole host of support networks for overseas Singaporeans should they decide to come back home. One of them is Contact Singapore, an alliance between the Economic Development Board and Manpower Ministry.
Contact Singapore provides information to overseas Singaporeans on job opportunities back home and even links them up with employers. It said most return mainly because of family, but equally important is whether this country remains vibrant.
Said its executive director Ng Siew Kiang: “The fact is that if it continues to be vibrant, if it continues to draw in leading companies from all over the world and within a diverse range of sectors, as well as offers that state-of-the-art kind of activity in Singapore, I think that will be a major draw to keep Singaporeans working here."
PLAYING UP OPPORTUNITIES
Another key element is awareness over the opportunities back home. Ms Ng said: "We really try to keep ourselves updated with industry requirements. This is when Contact Singapore would go out and meet with the companies that are in the various growth industries to understand what their next wave of activity could be in Singapore, what their plans are and what the related talent requirements are. Based on that understanding, we then link the companies with these overseas Singaporeans that we know.”
One headhunting firm bent on filling leadership positions with Singaporeans has started a campaign aptly called Balik Kampong, which means "homecoming" in Malay. The strategy is to get overseas Singaporeans to return home to work.
"There is a very large population of Singaporeans in the likes of Australia, China and the UK, many of whom are in education,” said Mr Toby Fowlston, managing director of Robert Walters (Southeast Asia).
“So actually we are looking at a longer play of maybe three, four or five years because a lot of the students overseas are not yet at the employable age. But we really want to work in terms of three to four years so there would be opportunities that they are made aware of should they want to come back to Singapore,” he added.
Mr Fowlston said the company is working very closely with the Singapore Government to advertise the opportunities Singapore has back home: “We have a number of initiatives in place and really making certain the message is out to all of the overseas Singaporeans ... that Singapore is a great place to work and that they know there are some really good jobs and opportunities here. Whether they choose to come home or not, obviously there may be other factors that are not within our control."
TRIGGERING THE 'REVOLVING DOOR'
At the national level, it is a whole-of-government approach. The Overseas Singaporean Unit works with partner agencies such as Contact Singapore, the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Culture, Community and Youth Ministry to ensure that Singaporeans overseas are kept engaged.
Said Ms Ng: "It then becomes a revolving door, they go overseas for a stint, and then they come back and then they may go out again. So eventually, it is a flow rather than a drain."
In keeping with the times, social media tools such as Facebook and a mobile app iContactSG are used to keep overseas Singaporeans connected to home.