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Parochial Singaporeans should be less insular

Singaporeans should look outward

Singapore needs to produce graduates who are not only comfortable in the South East Asian region from a professional prospective, but who have a global outlook and familiarity with the world in general.

This is the view of Ho Kwon Ping, chairman and founder of Banyan Tree Holdings, an international company of hotels, resorts, spas, residential homes, retail galleries and other lifestyle activities around the world. Ho, who received the London Business School 2005 Entrepreneurship Award in 2005, is also chairman of Singapore Management University.

Ho – or KP as he is often called – says that Singaporeans have a unique attribute in that while they have been raised in an environment that draws strongly from its history and are thus westernised, they also have strong roots in eastern culture, traditions and networks.

“This means that they can be comfortable in both worlds, but they need to be more culturally adaptable for success in this region and further afield. They have not, historically, been comfortable working in other parts of Asia, like India, Indonesia or even Thailand.”

A concern raised by recruiters and agencies about the employability of Singaporeans in financial services is their lack of global exposure. And many anecdotally report that Singaporeans are loath to work abroad. This is causing major headaches for financial services groups, which are under pressure to reduce their reliance on foreign professionals. The shortage of local talent and political pressure to employ nationals is forcing foreign companies to consider schemes to nurture and develop local graduates to create a strong pipeline of Singaporean finance professionals with the requisite skills and experience.

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Ho believes, however, that young Singaporeans in financial services tend have developed a world view when compared to their peers in other industries. He says many young Singaporeans working in investment banks, for instance, have studied abroad and become ‘steeped in an international culture’.

But other sectors fare less well, he acknowledges, citing ‘Singapore Syndrome’, where locals travelling in the region compare these countries unfavourably to home. “Singaporeans don’t have to venture very far physically, but mentally they do. There is a strange phenomenon among Singaporeans of being parochial amidst the enormous cultural diversity of this part of the world.”

Ho says Singapore needs to take a more proactive approach to exposing its young people to the rest of the world, naming New Zealand as an example of a country that has encouraged its youth to travel and work abroad.

Furthermore, educational institutions should do more, he says, to make young people comfortable with diversity by offering courses that expose them to different practices, cultures and history.

“This needs to be augmented by very real programmes to open young peoples’ minds. SMU (Singapore Management University) is aiming to ensure that 100% of its graduates get international experience. I think we are doing quite well in this regard – we’ve already passed the 75% mark.”

AUTHORAmanda Vermeulen
  • Jo
    Joy ME Lim
    22 August 2013

    I agree with Mr Ho's comment about New Zealand where their youth are encouraged to travel and work abroad. However, it would be helpful if Singapore is to do this within the Asian or ASEAN region, that the governments or relevant government agencies, educational institutions and local/regional companies work together to create and facilitate an ecosystem of student vacation work exchange which can extend to also helping fresh graduates and young adults locate work abroad. If we are able to encourage the young to start early to venture offshore, out of their comfort zone, hopefully, they will see the advantages and premium value in "toughing it out" in the region and experiencing different cultures.

    I feel it is not entirely accurate to say Singaporeans are too parochial. Within my work experience, I would say that many Singaporeans, especially those who are single, do wish or even prefer to work abroad, but find it difficult to secure an inter-country transfer within their firm, or do not have ready access to opportunities offshore, unless they happen to be "headhunted" for the role, or if they had graduated from an offshore/foreign university and managed to locate an offshore job after graduation. Basically, Singaporeans who are educated locally do not always have clear visibility nor sufficient guidance on what is possible "out there" for their career track.

    I am not aware how the SMU manages their work abroad programs, but am encouraged to hear that such programs exist. I recall an example of Banyan Tree itself where staff are sent offshore from their home base to foreign countries to train other staff members. During my own work stint in China in 2007, I had travelled to Lijiang, and whilst at the Banyan Tree, Lijiang, I met a staff member from SE Asia who was sent to Banyan Tree Ljiang to train the staff there. He told me, being Malay, he could not speak Mandarin apart from some basic words, and it was a bit of a "chicken and duck" situation at times and outside his own comfort zone, but he did also say it was such an eye opener for him, and also for the Chinese trainee staff. I am sure it had a positive outcome for all in that instance and I remember thinking how forward thinking the Banyan Tree was/is in terms of cross cultural opportunities and training within their organisation.

    All said and done, I feel Singapore can do more to facilitate a sort of ecosystem so as to offer more visibility with regards to offshore work and job opportunities for all Singaporeans.

  • La
    Lawrence Tang
    22 August 2013

    I do not agree on this. Singaporeans by far is the most true, hardworking and versatile professional one could ask for as it was pointed out rightly only on one point that we are both east and west. Personally has been on global and regional role for many good years. More so we are on our own local grounds to take on global / regional portfolio. I believe this is part of well known figure on supporting the government propaganda. Ironically, what we would need is really having more Singaporeans on true entrepreneur drive by getting out of our controlled educational and in broader sense - our political system, albeit the GLCs has been eating most of the private sectors.

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