The Big Read: Amid intensifying global talent war, Singapore faces juggling act in hunt for world’s best and brightest

Headhunters told TODAY some executives already have multiple options or offers on hand when they’re interviewed.

“Our number one piece of advice to clients is (be prepared) a lot of offers will be rejected,” said Mr. Jonathan Goldstein, managing partner of Page Executive, the executive search division of global recruitment firm PageGroup.

Companies are also aggressively trying to retain their valued employees, which presents a hurdle for companies hiring new employees.

“Human resources and companies are also making a lot more counteroffers now,” said Mr. Finian Toh, chief executive of global human resources consulting firm ChapmanCG.

Mr Ankit Kochar, senior director at recruitment firm Ethos BeathChapman, agreed, saying companies have realized it may be cheaper to offer an existing employee a raise than it is to hire a new employee.


In general, there are several universal factors that talent consider when choosing a host country for the next phase of their career.

The country’s political stability, ease of doing business and good infrastructure are among the considerations highlighted by those who spoke to TODAY. Incidentally, these are also one of Singapore’s strengths, it said.

In addition to those directly related to their own work, elite talent tend to consider things affecting the lives of their family members as they generally have a higher age profile.

This includes a good education and health system and something as basic as physical security.

“If my wife is out walking my son and I have to worry that she won’t get home safely, if I ever had that feeling in Singapore – it doesn’t matter how great the school system is here and it doesn’t matter how good it is.” Healthcare system is — I’ll go,” said Dr. Julian Hosp, Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Cake DeFi, who is married with three sons.

Page Executive’s Mr Goldstein said that while compensation packages are still the most important motivating factor as they directly determine what kind of life an expat can offer their loved ones, these executives are increasingly considering what he calls “soft motivators”.

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That includes cultural, values ​​and “chemistry” that suits the host country and teammates there, said Mr. Goldstein, who is American.

Associate Professor Walter Theseira referred to the government’s recently announced plans to repeal Section 377A, which criminalizes sex between men, and how this move could boost Singapore’s reputation for inclusivity.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community “might be a minority of the top talent … but beyond that minority there are companies and allies who also wouldn’t feel comfortable joining in.” to move to a place that they feel is in some way discriminatory against their friends,” said the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) economist, who is also a former MP-nominee.

Mr. Goldstein noted that leaders are also increasingly looking for a sense of the roles they are considering.

“During Covid…they asked themselves, ‘I work really, really hard for this company, for this job, whether it’s the hours of travel or whatever, is there a greater purpose for what I’m doing?’ ” he said.

Meanwhile, memories of widespread lockdowns fueled by pandemics continue to cast a shadow over people’s decision to travel abroad, whether for work or otherwise.

Mercer’s Ms. Latimer said that a few years ago, employees took advantage of opportunities to rotate to other global offices. In contrast. The management of the company must now proactively ensure that employees take advantage of these opportunities.

“The idea of ​​changing your life and moving to another foreign country when the memory of the pandemic and the locked borders is very fresh, I think slows that down,” she said.

Mr Goldstein observed that instead of expats traveling across continents for work, there is an increase in “nextpats” – or talent looking for opportunities in neighboring countries.

“A ‘nextpat’ is someone from Malaysia going to Thailand, or from Thailand to Indonesia, or from Indonesia to the Philippines, and so on, to conduct business while also being closer to home,” he said .

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“They can help with the cultural nuances, and we’re seeing a lot of demand for them and interest in them.”

All in all, Singapore has consistently featured prominently in the yearbook Business School Insead Global Talent Competitiveness Index. The index ranks 134 countries on how they nurture, attract and retain talent.

Since the Index’s inception in 2013, the city-state has ranked second overall in the rankings, except in 2020 when it ranked third. In terms of ability to attract talent, which is one of the areas the index examines, Singapore generally comes out on top.

Australian David Black, founder and chief executive of Singapore-based research firm Blackbox, said the republic’s appeal has “both grown and become more diverse” over the years, attracting talent from more and more regions.

Mr Black, who has been a resident here for 22 years and gained permanent residency over a decade ago, added: “Singapore continues to be a magnet and its reputation, if anything, has only grown.”


At the height of the pandemic, expats in Singapore had to cope with heightened job insecurity and a surge in xenophobic sentiment.

While the government at the time had repeatedly stressed to Singaporeans the importance of keeping the country open to international talent, there were concerns about foreign competition for jobs. Acknowledging such concerns, policymakers instituted programs to help companies hire local people.

The situation reached a point where companies and foreign business chambers expressed concerns that Singapore was on the verge of being perceived as xenophobic and protectionist.

About two years later and after the pandemic, does the impression still exist?

Mr Goldstein said he personally had never encountered xenophobic sentiment directly here, while Mr Black noted that the pandemic-related “fear and stress” had brought out people’s best and worst instincts, but there was no “real slump” have given interest in Singapore to global companies and talents.

“Elsewhere, the problems have been much worse,” Mr Black said, adding that Singapore emerged from the pandemic in a better position as a “key Asian business hub” compared to Hong Kong.

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He added: “Overall, Singapore’s benefits to outsiders far outweigh anything they might hear about local concerns here.”

By and large, the headhunters agreed that the continued interest of foreign professionals in coming here shows that the surge in anti-immigrant sentiment during the pandemic has not done much damage to Singapore’s global image.

For some expatriates in Singapore, however, it was something they couldn’t get over easily.

dr Cake DeFi’s Hosp, for example, couldn’t help but feel seen as something “different” when his work ID renewal was initially denied.

The Austrian national said this despite feeling he had done his best to contribute to Singapore. “Even so, I feel like I’m constantly being asked, ‘Why are you here? Why are you taking someone else’s job away?’” he said, referring to the anti-immigrant sentiment that was widespread at the time.

Although he had no active plans to go elsewhere – he said he viewed his relationship with Singapore as a sort of “partnership” that he wouldn’t end just because of some frustrations – Dr. Hosp felt at the time that he and his family should start thinking about other options.

Despite this, he managed to have his work ID renewed in the second quarter of last year. He stressed that he had no intention of going anywhere else as staying in Singapore made the most sense on both a personal and professional level.

Similarly, Ms Latimer cited that some long-term passport holders who had temporarily left Singapore before the outbreak of the pandemic were not allowed to return for a long time when the borders closed, despite having work obligations and renting houses here.

“It left a bitter taste in some people… And I think people who were planning to leave Singapore in the next five years probably brought that timetable forward,” she added.

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