Singapore Labour Market – changes in demand for expats

Trends are changing in expat jobs in Singapore

Singapore had a foreign workforce (excluding domestic helpers and construction workers) of around 790,000 at the end of 2016. Traditionally, the various financial services account for the largest number of these, but with the banking sector continuing to outplace and downsize, this trend is changing. The change is being influenced by higher labour and operating costs, as well as technological disruption. It seems that artificial intelligence and other technological innovations are somewhat replacing the need for humans in the banking sector!

So where are the ‘in demand’ expat jobs in Singapore? In an article in People Management Asia published by the chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) (you can read the article here), Nilay Khandelwal, director of Michael Page Singapore, says that “demand has been increasing in technical fields and the R&D environment in sectors ranging from financial technology to renewable energy and life sciences”.

Recent changes in the EntrePass scheme reflect this trend. The EntrePass scheme offers visas to entrepreneurs setting up a company in Singapore and particularly wants to attract hi-tech and scientific start-ups. The Singapore government has relaxed some of the conditions required to get an EntrePass, including greater flexibility in the financial requirements, to make it easier for people of talent to qualify. People with technological and scientific skills can now qualify based on these skills.

Nilay Khandelwal also noted that the government’s policy of measures to help local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) to get jobs is having an effect on expat hiring trends. This has resulted in a reduction in demand for junior to mid-level expats. It will be increasingly difficult for foreigners to secure these junior to mid-level positions unless they have skills that the local workforce doesn’t possess.

This assumes, of course, that they know how to make these skills stand out in their resumes when applying for jobs in Singapore. Unfortunately many resumes from foreigners fail to sufficiently highlight their unique skillset to potential employers. To even get noticed or have their resume fully read, applicants, particularly foreign ones, need to have a properly focused resume. No longer will the old style CV or generic resume get an interview.

Another change in the demand for expats in Singapore according to Khandelwal, is that more expats are being hired on local contracts as opposed to the lucrative expat packages that were previously the norm. The days when expats could expect generous housing allowances, paid school fees, top class international health insurance, car allowance, etc, are quickly passing. There are, of course, still many expats on these packages, but they are becoming less and less. Foreigners looking for jobs in Singapore must have reasonable expectations. Nevertheless, Singapore is still quite competitive in attracting foreign talent in that the income tax rate is much lower than in most Western countries.


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