TL;DR – CECA or no CECA, Singapore still needs foreigners to do some jobs.
We have been hearing some Singaporeans complain about how foreign talents have been taking away Singaporeans’ jobs. In particular, some of these Singaporeans have highlighted CECA as one of the main culprits that cost Singaporeans their jobs.
So how valid are claims?
We spoke to David Leong, Managing Director at human resources firm, PeopleWorldwide Consulting. David is a HR resource and is often quoted and cited on Straits Times, Business Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Lianhe Wanbao and Channel News Asia.
Q: Are you familiar with CECA? What are your thoughts about the narrative about CECA and how Singaporeans are losing jobs to foreign talents?
David: India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) is not disrupting the employment situation in Singapore by employing an exceptional number of foreigners. The Employment Pass (EP) and S-Pass eligibility regime still applies. CECA does not provide free passes for any of those foreign talents to just fly over to Singapore to work.
For S-Pass, there is still a dependency ratio and CECA provision is still dependent on hiring enough Singaporeans before they can hire foreigners. For EP, employers have to advertise to hire Singaporeans before they are allow to hire the foreigners based on salary $3600 and more.
So no, Singaporeans are not losing jobs as a result of CECA.
Q: In order for Singaporeans to continue to be competitive in terms of employability, what do you think are the important parts for Singapore and Singaporeans to get right?
David: Competitiveness of economies premises among many input factors, skilled labor. Singapore’s progressive approach to lifelong learning will greatly enhance the workforce capability.
Technically speaking, skills for the future workforce needs a stretch of imagination as the future of work is really not that well defined. It needs a large dose of imagination and visualization to skill for the blurry future. To even calibrate appropriate training for current workforce to align with actual industrial needs is akin to alignment of the moon and the stars.
Proactive intervention by the government and the unions to coax, persuade and nudge workers to upgrade and up-skill for new jobs for today jobs is a monumental task.
SkillsFuture and the Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications are big steps in the correct direction to steer Singapore to be aligned for the present needs and skills-ready for the future jobs.
Skills-proofing investment for the future of jobs is about betting how Singapore workforce can be right for the right industries at that right time in the future so that Singapore can remain globally competitive. Singapore faces several constraints – aging workforce with a contracting population.
Q: What do you predict to be future industries that will emerge and do well? What about future jobs and future skills that will be in demand?
David: Automation, robotics, artificial intelligence through building innovative and creative capabilities are crucial, whether in financial, services, manufacturing, hospitality, transport or even healthcare will set Singapore apart. These capabilities cannot be generalized but must be applied to specific industries where Singapore can excel in. Building road system with autonomous vehicles, banking without physical banks, health diagnosis through remote wearables tied to national health databank or hotels
Technical skills are needed but Singapore can tap the pool of technical capabilities from countries like India, Vietnam or even Indonesia with their youthful population.
Innovation and creativity skills are the hardest to find but are at the top of the value chain. Singapore should therefore choose to train and to skill our workforce for “critical thinking”, “decision-making”, “project management”, “high-involvement -customer-service” roles so that we can retain the top of chain functions to win and be globally competitive despite our small size and population and an aging one.
The technical skills, like programming languages and development framework, evolve faster than what the schools can teach. Hence such skills likely to be acquired on the jobs and the skills that are needed must be broad-based information technology and data science skills- on the planning, analytical and decision making part. Data scientists, analysts, mathematicians, quantum physicists are integral part of understanding the underlying data structure layers- the magic is in the algorithms and formulations.
When most parts of jobs are done by robots, automation and self-serve in the future, client-facing roles become scarce but nonetheless important since it is the human interactions that add to the service standards. Client-facing roles need access to myriad of information access and must be able to solve problems when interacting and interfacing with clients. Such skills will demand that the workers know technology platforms and to drive service through the deployment of technology. So the future of jobs will be those that build technology and those that will deliver service through technology.
Simple as that. CECA or no CECA, Singapore still needs foreigners to do some jobs.
But wait, do you even know what CECA is?
It’s basically a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed between Singapore and India. Since Singapore lives (and probably dies) by trade, we should make an effort to understand more about FTAs and CECA.