I do not usually post about my business as I like to keep my socio-political commentary separate.

Jobs are at stake, and some parties are proposing populist solutions.

I would thus like to share my story.

I am the co-Chairman of an educational technology company in China which I led to an IPO on the Australian Stock Exchange. I am also the founding shareholder of a fast-growing Fintech company, also in China. ( I no longer work full-time).

My listed Edtech company employs over 400 people. My Fintech startup already employs over 100.

As they are tech companies, I pay high salaries, some even higher than in Singapore.

How many Singaporeans do I hire in total?

Unfortunately, only about 5.

It is not that I don’t want to hire more, but entrepreneurs and investors like me are limited by two hard truths about Singapore.

First, Singapore has a small domestic market.

No company will re-locate to Singapore and employ hundreds or thousands of people, if they can only sell to the Singapore market.

Second, we have limited manpower, and even more limited qualified manpower.

Take software programmers for example.

In China, I hire about 200 of them in total. (I recently sold a blockchain company that hired another 120)

Our 6 autonomous universities only produce 800 software programmers per year.

It is even harder to find software programmers who have the requisite experience.

For example, my largest client in China, Ping An Insurance, has 1.4 million agents. We have to build training platforms that can serve and scale for that number of people.

That’s 25% of Singapore’s population.

We have few programmers based here who have experience building platforms that can scale to such a large number.

It will be very difficult for me to move my operations to Singapore for these two reasons.

Although SMEs provide 65% of jobs in Singapore, they only contribute to 48% of the economy.

We need to attract foreign MNCs to Singapore to provide more good jobs.

That’s why we sign free-trade agreements.

But in order to attract these MNCs, we need to make sure that they have access to the right employees for them to sell to the world.

These employees cannot be all Singaporeans – we need to allow them to employ foreigners too.

And in some industries, these might mean a lot of foreigners, if we are to get them here, given our limitations.

For these jobs, Singaporeans are not competing with foreigners in Singapore.

They are competing for these jobs globally.

If these MNCs cannot find the labour they want here, they will leave.

In the COVID world, this is even more likely, as MNCs start to consolidate their supply lines.

In order to protect Singaporean jobs, the solution cannot be to tighten foreigner quotas even more.

It is to invest even more money into Singaporeans and equip them with the right skills to compete globally.

Singaporeans should take advantage of SkillsFuture credits to do this. And every subsidy the Government gives to improve themselves.

In fact, the greatest challenge to employment these few years will not be foreigners, but digitalisation and the ability to work remotely.

I can now hire programmers in India, in the Philippines, in Slovenia etc, sitting here in Singapore.

That’s who we are competing against, not the foreigners we see here physically.

We need to be able to compete remotely.

The previous Government promised to invest even more into Singaporeans in the coming years.

Whoever forms the Government on Friday, I hope they will continue this.

I hope the new Government will do more.

Only this can save Singaporean jobs.

Not unemployment insurance, or tightening foreigner quotas.

That’s just populism.

  • Calvin Cheng

Please share widely.

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