Published Date: 30 September 2017

Keynote Speech by Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, at the Institute of Banking and Finance Distinction Evening 2017 on 29 September 2017

Mr Ravi Menon, Chairman of IBF Council

IBF Council Members

IBF Award recipients

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.     This evening, we are here to recognise the contributions of IBF partners, and honour the achievements of our financial institutions and industry champions. 

2.     My heartiest congratulations to all award recipients.

3.     The Finance sector is a major contributor to our economic growth and job creation in Singapore.

4.     Local share of PMET jobs in the sector is healthy – above 80%.

5.     Among the local entities of global banks, local share of PMET jobs can be as high as 90%.

6.     As for their regional and global arms which could have been located elsewhere instead of here in Singapore, local PMETs are still the majority, at about 65%. 

Indeed, MAS and our financial institutions here, working together, have grown our finance sector and created many good jobs for our people.

7.     On behalf of the tripartite partners, I thank you for your contribution to our economic growth and job creation.

8.     I would also like to thank IBF for fostering professional competencies and developing career pathways for our finance professionals.

9.     Beyond the finance sector, at the broader level, our economy and workforce are going through major structural changes.

10.     Our economic growth has slowed from an average of 4% post global financial crisis to 2% in the last two years.

11.     Our total employment growth has slowed from more than 100k a year (121k) in 2010 to 2014, to less than 10k (8.6k) in 2016.

12.     Likewise, our local employment growth has slowed from an average of 66k a year to about 11k.

13.     On the supply side, given our demographic trends, our local workforce growth is also heading for stagnation in about 10 years’ time.

14.     Against this backdrop, on one hand, some employers including some banks feel that MOM should have let in more foreign workers to make up for the slowdown in local workforce growth.

15.     To them, MOM is not pro-business enough.

16.     On the other hand, some Singaporeans feel that MOM should have tightened the inflow of foreign manpower much more, especially foreign PMETs at the Employment Pass (EP) level, in view of the slowdown in job growth.

17.     To them, MOM is not pro-worker enough.

18.     From MOM’s perspective:

19.     Liberalising the inflow of foreign manpower is a win-lose: businesses win but workers lose.

20.     Over tightening the inflow of foreign manpower is a lose-win: businesses lose but workers win.

21.     And this is only in the short term.

22.     Eventually, in the longer term, whether it is a win-lose or lose-win, both will become lose-lose, as neither is sustainable. 

23.     Economic growth without local employment growth will lead to social tension and increased social divide.

24.     Likewise, local employment growth without economic growth will lead to economic stagnation and decline.

25.     Hence, the only way forward for all of us (government, businesses and workers), is to always strike a fine balance between the two (pro-business and pro-worker), to strive for win-win outcome for both businesses and workers.

26.     I will use our EP policy as an illustration.

27.     We raised the qualifying criteria for EP, not once, but three times in the past 5 years (2012, 2014 and early this year, 2017). 

28.     We also introduced the Fair Consideration Framework in 2014, and strengthened it further in 2016.

29.     To date, we have about 300 companies with unfair hiring practices on our Watchlist. Their EP applications are subject to closer scrutiny.

30.     But for the vast majority of companies that adopt fair hiring practices, we continue to process their EP applications as per normal, based on the enhanced qualifying criteria.

31.     The outcome of this differentiated approach for fair and unfair employers is that in the past three years (2014 to 2016), the employment of EPs grew by 17,000, while local PMETs grew by 105,000, 6 times that of EP growth. 

32.     If we include S Pass, total foreign PMETs grew by 36,000.

33.     This means in the past 3 years, total PMET employment increased by 141,000. Out of which, ¾ for local PMETs vs ¼ for foreign PMETs.

34.     A ratio of 3 local PMET to 1 foreign PMET.

35.     This is a reversal from the previous three years (2011 to 2013), when the combined growth in EP and S Pass exceeded the growth of local PMETs. 

36.     I believe this is a fairer and more balanced outcome for both our businesses and our people. It is also more sustainable.

37.     Looking ahead, our aim is to do better in three areas:

38.     First, we need to create not just more jobs, but also better jobs.

39.     Total employment growth of more than 100k a year in the past is too high for the future, but last year’s growth of less than 10k is certainly too low.

40.     We need to bring total employment growth back up to 25k to 40k a year.

41.     We also need to improve the quality of job growth, not by avoiding technology, but by embracing technology.

42.     Even though technology may destroy many jobs of today, it will also create many good jobs of tomorrow.

43.     In the finance sector, the FinTech community in Singapore has grown quite rapidly, with more than 20 global financial institutions setting up research centres here.

44.     They create innovative solutions using data analytics, artificial intelligence, and design thinking which can be used widely for applications such as e-payments, and digital identity.

45.     We should also use technology to make jobs easier, safer and smarter for workers of all ages, both PMETs and Rank-and-File.

46.     These include jobs in future banking, smart factories, digital auditing, DfMA in construction, and lean services too - in hotels, landscaping, cleaning, security and more.

47.     This pervasive transformation will make us more competitive and enable us to create enough jobs, better jobs for all.

48.     Second, we need to maximise the full potential of our workers and enhance the inclusiveness of our workforce.

49.     To keep the level of structural unemployment and underemployment low in the future economy, we are enhancing the employability and employment of our people of all ages through national initiatives such as SkillsFuture, Adapt & Grow.

50.     The labour movement, spearheaded by the NTUC, is helping to mobilise our workers to learn new skills, adapt to new jobs and pursue new careers.

51.     But, to truly succeed, we need the active participation of employers too, to minimise redundancy and maximise inclusiveness.

52.     To minimise redundancy caused by technological changes, I am most encouraged by the commitment of our major consumer banks to retrain 3,500 existing employees over the next 2 years.

53.     The aim is to equip them with new skills through training programs accredited by IBF, so that they can transit from job functions of today to take on new and growing job functions of tomorrow, such as analytics, quality assurance and sales.

54.     On top of this, to maximise the value of every worker, we can all do better in bringing the best out of our limited and precious human capital.

55.     I urge businesses:

56.     Please do not keep specifying that job applicants need to have a minimum three years of relevant experience.

57.     Create more opportunities for our young and inexperienced to pick up skills, acquire experience, and pursue careers they are passionate about.

58.     Please also do not only look for mid-career PMETs who are “100% job ready” and can “plug and play”.

59.     Mid-career jobseekers who are affected by restructuring in other sectors may lack experience directly relevant to your sector, but they can make up for this with their diverse experience and soft skills.

60.     Please also do not ignore the employment of mature workers. With longer life expectancy, 50’s and 60’s are the new 40’s and 50’s.

61.     Look at their strengths instead of their age, help them stay in employment longer as we continue to raise our re-employment age higher.

62.     Please also make better use of not just our manpower, but our precious “women power” too.

With technology and innovation, we can make work arrangements more flexible and family-friendly, for parents with young children, and children with old parents.     

63.     Last but not least, please have a heart for our more vulnerable workers (low wage workers, PWD), and keep them in mind as we transform our workplace.

64.     Technology should not make them less relevant in the future economy. Instead, we can deploy technology to be their partners and co-workers, and help improve their productivity, careers and wages.

65.     In short, as we transform our future economy to be more innovative, let us make sure that our future workforce will not be less, but instead, more inclusive, across all sectors.

66.     Third, we need to keep strengthening our Singaporean Core, not just in numbers and employment share, but in capabilities, competencies and responsibilities.

67.     I recall that in the 80’s, our worker contingent marched on our Padang on National Day, proudly carrying display cards that said “#1 Workforce in the World”.

68.     In the future global economy, for us to stay ahead, we will need to make every job a better job throughout the economy, make every worker a better worker throughout the workforce. 

69.     But more than that, we should also strive to nurture many more of our local talents into global talents, or “Glocal Talents” in short.

70.     We are not starting from ground zero. Over the years, many major local and global corporations here have regionalised and globalised their business operations. They have also nurtured our local talents into their global talents. 

71.     Our aspiration is to see many more corporations nurturing many more “Glocal” talents.

72.     Not just for top management and CEO positions, but also world-class skills and capabilities of growing demand in the future, such as: smart factories, cyber-security, data analytics, digital services and artificial intelligence.

73.     The list is endless, because there is no end to innovation and technological advancement.    

74.     Present here tonight, we have glocal talents who are “different but same same”.

75.     They are different in their background, institutions, expertise and responsibilities. Yet they have something in common: willingness to take on new ventures, go regional, work their way up, adapt and grow.

76.     Lee Wai Fai (Group CFO, UOB) started his career at Mobil as a manufacturing accounting supervisor, before switching to the Finance sector.

He worked his way up in UOB, taking on a variety of roles including finance, policy and planning, institutional banking and direct investments.

He was based in Thailand for about two years as Deputy CEO of UOB Radanasin, and oversaw international businesses before his current appointment as CFO.

77.     Richard Lim (CEO APAC, China Reinsurance Group) has been instrumental in attracting global re-insurers to set up in Singapore.

He helped set up and built up the Singapore branches of Everest Re, Syndicate 1965 (Lloyd’s first syndicate headquartered outside of London in their 300-year history).

And more recently, China Re (8th largest reinsurance group in the world, largest in Asia).

78.     Their journeys to the top remind us that there are no shortcuts to success.

79.     Our government agencies, together with progressive employers, can only do so much to create opportunities and provide supports.

80.     But we need our local talents to play their part too, like our award winners tonight.

81.     Up-skill and re-skill continuously. Never stop learning.

82.     Leave your comfort zone and take on new challenges. Broaden your horizons and exposure.

83.     Take up regional postings, get to know Asia better and build up your networks.  You will make a better regional head if you have worked in the region, be it Mumbai or Chongqing, Jakarta or Bangkok.

84.     If we all work together, each play our part, we will see a higher share of local PMETs in regional and global jobs, in finance and in other sectors too.

85.     Maybe some years from now, the day will come when we have a marching contingent of Glocal talents at one of our National Day parades, carrying display cards that say “We are still number 1”.

86.     Then, we would have truly arrived as having one of the best workforce in the global economy of the future.

87.     In conclusion, Singapore will always be pro-business and pro-workers because these are the two sides of the same coin.

88.     One side cannot grow without the other side growing as well.

89.     Post global financial crisis, we have transformed our economy from one of “4% employment growth + 0% productivity growth = 4% GDP growth”, or “4+0=4”, to “2+0=2” in 2015 and “1+1=2” last year.

90.     Our next target is to strive for “1+2=3” for the medium term.

91.     When we get there, what we want to see is a future economy that is innovative, productive and competitive; driven by a future workforce that is adaptable, fully employed and inclusive. 

92.     This will not be easy, but can be done, in our uniquely Singapore Tripartite Way.

93.     At DBS, at the entry level, DBS’ management associate programmes provide fresh graduates with structured training and rotation opportunities, mentoring by senior executives, and networking opportunities with senior management.

94.     At the middle management level, promising local executives are sent on overseas postings to undertake regional roles.

95.     At the senior level, DBS has supported several of its executives to go through leadership programmes. 11 senior leaders have participated in NUS’ and SMU-Temasek’s leadership programmes, which equipped them with Asian knowledge and networks, to prepare them for regional or global leadership roles.

96.     Global banks such as Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank are doing the same, nurturing our local talents into Glocal talents.

97.      I met several of them when I visited the two banks recently. They are all doing very well, not just for themselves and their families, but also for their teams, their organisations, our finance sector and our economy.

98.     Once again, I thank you all for your contribution to our economic and employment growth. You have done good. 

99.     Together with all other sectors, let us strive to do even better:

in the three areas of creating better growth for our economy, creating better jobs for our people, and nurturing our local talents into global talents. 

100.     On that note, I wish you all a great evening, and a great future ahead.

101.     Thank you.