The Singapore government’s efforts to increase the share of nationals in its workforce are gaining momentum and bearing fruit, according to new figures.

As many as three out of four white-collar jobs, (professionals, managers, executives and technicians, or PMETs) created in the last three years went to locals as opposed to just half five years ago, according to Ministry of Manpower data.

Singapore manpower minister Lim Swee Say told the country’s parliament earlier this month that as a result, the PMET share of the resident workforce had improved in the last three years from 53.5 per cent in 2014 to 56.1 per cent in 2017. “This is at a faster rate than the previous three years,” he said.

This outcome was expected, however, given the government push towards developing local talent, said Jeffrey Ng, director at recruitment firm Michael Page Singapore. “Companies in Singapore with expatriate hires have also turned their efforts towards implementing a Singaporean succession plan after the end of the expat term contracts,” Ng said. “This has resulted in Singaporeans stepping up to management roles.”

On a positive note, this has led to lower unemployment rates among Singaporean professionals. It is currently common for them to receive multiple job offers at the same time due to high demand from employers, said Ng.

There are several factors at play that have helped Singapore achieve greater opportunities for its citizens, according to the minister. Strengthening lifelong learning through the government-run SkillsFuture initiative has enhanced the employability of Singapore’s local workforce throughout their working life. And the Adapt & Grow initiative has helped professionals better adjust to the rapid pace of technological change so they can either grow in their current career or switch to a new one.

The government has also been tightening immigration restrictions – it raised the qualifying criteria of the Employment Pass (foreign work visa) this year and keeps a close eye on the Fair Consideration Framework (FCF), where employers who do not prioritise locals for jobs can be penalised.

On the flipside, however, some companies are struggling to get posts filled. “There are some niche roles within digital and technology where the Singaporean talent pool is insufficient to meet the demand – companies are struggling to fill these positions,” Ng said.

The government’s response has been a combination of push and pull policies, introducing a Capability Transfer Programme where it offered subsidies to organisations that recruit foreign talent to help train local employees. It covers expenses related to salary, training, overseas on-the-job training and hardware purchases. This is in keeping with minister Lim’s plans to build what he called a “’glocal’ workforce” – a local workforce with global talents.

He sounded upbeat in parliament, stating that the country was on track to increase productivity while becoming manpower-lean. That way, “we can remain competitive and create enough good jobs for our people,” he said.

Backing his comments with data, the minister said: “Manpower growth has slowed from 4 per cent in 2014 to 2 per cent in 2015, to one per cent last year. What is even more encouraging is that productivity growth has also improved to 1 per cent last year, after remaining flat since 2012.”

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