Parochial Singaporeans should be less insular

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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.”

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