I am co-Chairman and co-founder of Retech Technology Ltd, which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. In 2010, I founded a training company, which I grew and merged with a larger technology company, which I eventually led to what was Australia’s largest tech IPO in 2017 (about 110m SGD). Our stock price has languished due to Australia’s anti-China stance, but we are growing steadily. Annual after-tax Profits grew from 3m SGD in 2017 to 12m SGD post tax currently. We now hire over 300 programmers in China.

It is in this capacity that I make the following comments.

India and China churn out a lot of top programmers and tech talent. To begin with, there is a strong science and tech bent to their top universities. If even the top 10% of their graduates turn out to be top tech talent, that’s millions a year. In Singapore, even if our top 25% a year turn out to be top tech talents, that would be in the hundreds, at most thousands.

In China, not only is the market big, it is the home to large tech companies like Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Bytedance (Tik Tok), Didi just to name a few. I can’t name a single world-beating Indian internet company.

Because of this, there are many opportunities for Chinese tech talent in China, and they make a lot of money.

Even in my own much smaller listed company, I pay programmers MORE than what I would need to pay them in Singapore.

In India, these opportunities are far fewer, and they look outside of India, for better career opportunities.

This is also one reason why, whenever my company goes against Indian companies to build software outside China, we always lose on costs. The Indians speak English, are just as good as the Chinese, and are cheaper.

But it is ok for my company, as the China market is big enough, and the Indian programmers and tech companies can’t compete with Chinese ones in China.

It is thus natural that you see Indian tech talent everywhere in the world.

Silicon Valley is full of them. If we want to attract the best tech companies to Singapore, it is also natural that the largest talent pool in the world to recruit tech talent from will be India. The Chinese would come here only if the tech unicorns move here, and bring them along.

It would be IMPOSSIBLE for Singapore to be a tech hub based on our own talent alone.

In fact, from the sheer fact of numbers and proportion, if I wanted to start a top global tech company in Singapore, the MAJORITY of the tech talent would have to be foreigners.

Statistics are statistics. Not everyone can be a programmer. And not all programmers can be a good programmer. We can’t train a 50 year old insurance salesman into a programmer and offer him a tech job just because he is Singaporean.

In order for Singapore to remain relevant in our next stage of growth, I am convinced we have to be a global hub for digital services.

In 1819, we were founded as a free port as a trading hub. We then became a manufacturing hub, and then a financial services and tourist hub.

We need to continue evolving for Singapore to survive, and the future of the world is digital.

We need to become a tech and digital hub, where the best tech companies serve the world virtually from here.

For this we need the best tech talent, talent that Singapore will never have enough of.

We have to thus get used to seeing more foreigners than Singaporeans being employed, if we want to attract the top tech companies to Singapore.

This will not only create good jobs for the talented Singaporeans in tech, but also jobs in companies that service these tech companies for the rest of Singaporeans.

And many of these tech talent will come from India, for the reasons I explained above.

We must not close up, we must not shut out or reduce our openness to foreign talent.

In fact, we must be even more open.

The next stage of global competition will be virtual and borderless.

And for a country like Singapore with no domestic market, closing up in a digital world will be tantamount to suicide.

⁃ Calvin Cheng

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