If the title confuses you, it shouldn’t. During the annual Future Leaders Summit organized by NTUC, Labour Chief Chan Chun Sing spoke to attendees about how to build a resilient career that would sustain competition and Singapore’s job climate. His advice? Spend a few years working abroad, because that experience matters.
“How many of you have worked, lived overseas for more than two years?” He asked a room full of eager faces and senior managers. When a sprinkling of hands raised, he shook his head.
“Not enough. Too few.”
His reasoning stems from the fact that Singapore’s economy has changed tremendously from its shipping port beginnings in the 1970s. Now, it is home to several MNCs, using Singapore as a regional or global hub to reach other markets. It’s great news for Singaporeans, because more diverse jobs are being created as a result. But it also changes the requirements seen in job descriptions.
“The truth is, I’ve spoken to many of the CEOs — local CEOs in foreign MNCs, foreign CEOs in local MNCs, foreign CEOs in foreign MNCs, local CEOs in local MNCs — whichever permutation you have, they only have one message for us. When they set up a regional and global headquarters in Singapore, are they serving the local market? Our local market is 2.5 million Singaporeans. If you want a local market, you go to Shanghai, it’s 20 million. If you want a local market, go to Tokyo it’s another 20 million.”
“There is no reason for people to set up their regional and global HQs in Singapore to serve the local market. They are doing this to serve the regional market and beyond. And they need a team of people with the global and regional perspectives. They don’t care whether it is Singaporean or not Singaporean. That’s the blunt truth. They only care whether their team has the global perspective.”
The Labour Chief took the opportunity last Friday to reiterate that NTUC’s job is to take care of ALL working people, whether blue collar, white collar, or no collar. He assures all that the Labour Movement will continue to work on improving the lives of rank-and-file, as well as help PMEs attain better jobs, better pay and a better life.
Having just taken on the role as Secretary General in May, Chan has been busy understanding the situation on the ground for Professionals, Managers and Executives (PMEs), especially for older workers above 40 years old, who risk being replaced by younger talents.
Speaking to CEOs of MNCs operating in Singapore is part of Chan’s job scope in maintaining tripartite relations, where unions, companies, and the Singapore government work closely together to solve issues in the job market.
In light of anti-foreign talent sentiments here in Singapore caused by the influx of immigrants, Chan presents a new perspective as the NTUC Secretary General — that perhaps foreign talents do have an advantage over many locals that we should be wary about.
“Remember, every person that comes to Singapore (…) already have their experience (from) back home. So they know at least two markets. For us in Singapore, the more comfortable we are, and if we’re unwilling to move out, then we’ll only have one set of experience. We need to move around. And the good thing is that young people these days are very adventurous, and they have correct, positive attitude. Go forth, see the world, and conquer the world. ”
However, he admits that the task is not easy. He draws from his own experience when he was sent to Indonesia as an Army Attache where he lived apart from his young family for two years.
“I was posted to Indonesia 30 days after my first child was born. For the first three months of my first child’s life, I was the weekend father. I came back to Singapore on Fridays on the midnight flight; I flew back to Indonesia on Sundays on the midnight flight. Very irregular. For the first year of my child’s life, she was flying back and forth. At the time, Indonesia was quite chaotic because it was after the fall of Suharto. Very often, there is this term — voluntary repatriation. When something goes on, as in bombs, we don’t know if we feel safer because it’s minus one bomb or if there’s another one coming.”
“I’m not making light about this thing of going overseas. Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it’s difficult. Yes, it has its challenges. But having walked through it, I would not say it is something insurmountable. And that is why I’d encourage young PMEs to look at opportunities beyond Singapore so we can bolster our credentials so that one day we will all come back with that diversity of experience and that enriching not for yourself individually but also for society as a whole.”
Getting out of Singapore to stay competitive in Singapore’s job market may seem like strange advice, but in application, it makes sense. A broader worldview can only truly be attained by experiencing the world.
Perhaps it’s worth having a different perspective. The truth is out there: it doesn’t really matter if you’re a Singaporean or foreigner. What matters is whether you have the right skillset, experience and exposure for these jobs. It’s not about getting a degree, it’s about getting out of our comfort zones and treading uncharted territories. Like Chan says, yes, it is likely to be painful, but no, not insurmountable. PMEs like ourselves have to be well-equipped with skills, exposure and experience to compete for the senior jobs.
Chan shares that NTUC is talking to companies to provide more overseas work opportunities for us, the working people of Singapore. According to a population report from 2014, 212,000 Singaporeans are currently living overseas either for study or work, showing that about 4 – 5% percent of our total population agrees with this theory.
(Editor’s Note: A statistical error was amended in this article regarding a Singapore population report.)
Perhaps it’s time to blow the dust off your passports and get out of here.
Go forth, see the world, and conquer the world.