'Brain drain' undermines Singapore’s growth
by Steve Suwannarat

With Singapore as a major manufacturing and financial hub, its passport has become one of the most sought after. Its professionals are among the best trained in Asia, yet the authorities are paradoxically concerned about a brain drain that goes hand in hand with a low birth rate and high proportion of foreigners in the workforce.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – Singapore's influence goes far beyond its small territory or its role as a major manufacturing and service hub, especially in financial services.

Its soft power depends in part on the presence of highly trained professionals and graduates from some of Asia’s best universities, as well as its own education and business system, which are among the most demanding, not to mention a passport that is among the top in the world.

For example, Tik Tok CEO Shou Zi Chew and PepsiCo CEO Tan Wern Yuen are but two Singaporeans playing leadership roles abroad.

Yet, Singapore authorities are worried about a brain drain, of losing a large number of high-level professionals, as well as young graduates, to multinationals or foreign-based companies, while struggling to meet local needs for skilled workers.

This paradox goes hand in hand with a complicated relationship between local and foreign workers and with a low birth rate, a trend that goes back a long way that no one in government has been able to reverse.

As a result, the country has to rely more and more on immigrants from various countries. Many today wonder why a place that imports so much foreign talent also exports so much of its own.

The number Singaporeans looking to study or work overseas in fact grew by 72 per cent in 2022 over 2020.

The latest research on global Asian leaders provides an answer, albeit a partial one, which highlighted the traits that increasingly unite Singapore's emerging and global leaders.

Shared and sought after are in fact the benefits of a prolonged exposure to foreign environments, through public and private programmes that expand knowledge but even more expose people to working styles and approaches sharing to solve problems that are different from the way they are done in Singapore.

This has some limitations, however, that also raise certain questions, as evinced by a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

The latter’s 2022 manpower report shows that 60 per cent of companies surveyed have more than half of their senior-level workforce made up of Singapore citizens and permanent residents, whereas Singaporeans in leadership positions have not increased regionally or globally.

The survey found that Singapore’s own ways of doing things, as promoted by its education system and internalised by its corporate sector, are a drag when compared to other business cultures.

While in Singapore training and participation are encouraged, the same cannot be said about personal initiatives, which favour a more direct and immediate approach to meeting needs and relies more on dynamism and project-solving than on formalistic behaviour and planned careers.