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Companies, government should develop Singaporean talent for top roles in global firms: SBF report

SINGAPORE - Companies in Singapore should have clear road maps for developing local talent with international expertise, especially if they have received related government support, said an industry-led group in a report on Friday.

The government should also incentivise companies to track, manage and increase the representation of Singaporeans in senior roles.

These were among the recommendations in a report by the Alliance for Action on Business Leadership Development (AfA-BLD), led by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF). AfAs work with the government to prototype business ideas and solutions. The report was launched on Friday at an event attended by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore.

Although Asia is the fastest-growing region, Asians remain under-represented in leadership roles in global firms, said the report. As firms look to Asia for growth, there is “a clear business case to develop Asian leaders”, and thus an opportunity for Singapore to position local talents for such roles.

While Albert Tsui, SBF advocacy and policy division executive director, noted that a number of Singaporeans have been appointed to senior regional and country head roles in recent years, he said that there is potential for this number to be further improved.

Singapore’s “robust foreign direct investment pipeline should mean opportunities for even more Singaporeans to take on leadership roles”, he added.

The report lays out six recommendations for individuals, companies and the government.

One recommendation for companies is to have “an intentional road map for attracting, retaining, and enabling local talent with international experience”.

For instance, multinational corporations here can develop Singaporeans for senior roles through bilateral exchanges across regional offices. These could range from remote overseas internships to longer-term overseas postings.

Singapore-based enterprises can cultivate global networks through participation in overseas business missions, trade shows and conferences.

They should also enable Singaporeans to take international postings by “supporting their familial needs”, such as facilitating overseas postings or remote work for accompanying spouses.

Disruption to the lives of spouses or children was one of three anecdotal reasons that Singaporeans are reluctant to work abroad, according to the report. The other two are the standard of living, as well as salary and compensation.

In particular, Singaporeans are concerned that their children will find it hard to integrate back into the education system when they return, said Mr Tsui. The report thus recommends that the government provide more support in reintegrating families when overseas-based Singaporeans return.

For instance, government incentives could encourage companies to provide employment support for employees’ spouses, as part of the overseas relocation package. Children could be allowed to attend classes at a Singapore school during overseas term breaks, “to experience school life in Singapore”.

Another concern is about “lifestyle disruptions” when moving to less advanced markets, said Mr Tsui, noting that Singaporeans prefer to move to Western or North Asian economies, with Thailand as the only South-east Asia nation in their top 10 preferred countries.

But he warned: “Singaporeans may lose out on these career opportunities to counterparts in the region if they are not willing to be posted overseas and are picky about relocation terms.”

Companies that have benefited from talent-related government schemes should especially step up their commitment to developing local talent, said the report.

They should offer continuous skill development opportunities to Singaporeans; conduct succession planning, with a pathway to groom locals; and build human resource capability to manage a global workforce and facilitate overseas postings.

The government, for its part, should incorporate local talent-related metrics into the criteria for schemes. For example, the eligibility criteria for talent development schemes could be expanded to include mid-career local talents with more than three years of working experience.

Local talent development could be made part of the assessment criteria for continued access to government incentives and support.

Possible metrics include the number of Singaporeans in C-suite positions, investment in employee training, and contribution to the industry through scholarships, internships and skills development collaboration with small and medium-sized enterprise partners.

The AfA-BLD has also developed a prototype of a Singapore Human Capital Mobility Index, in consultation with the government and research partners.

The index aims to measure companies’ corporate workforce development practices, specifically in leadership development, across six key indicators.

Such an index could be used to identify and celebrate Singapore companies with progressive leadership development practices, or for deeper analysis at the company level. It could also set standards for human capital and leadership development, to be used as part of environmental, social and governance reporting.

SBF will form a public-private working group comprising government, research and business representatives to explore the potential use case for such an index. THE BUSINESS TIMES