THE percentage figures may be a little eyebrow- raising, but recent survey findings by a recruiting consultancy would seem to give the lie to the notion that Singaporeans are a stodgy bunch when it comes to relocating overseas for work.
According to a poll by recruiter Hays, 97 per cent of Singapore job-seekers said they would consider working overseas - the majority drawn by the prospect of better job opportunities, career development or exposure, while some cited "lifestyle factors" as the reason for going abroad. Only 3 per cent would not consider venturing overseas to work. The strong positive response has earned the Singapore workforce a new accolade in the Hays study - "the most globally-mobile in Asia" (though China is a close second with 96 per cent of its job-hunters happy to work overseas, and Hong Kong not too far behind at 94 per cent).
These findings should, of course, be seen in the light of the survey parameters. For instance, the 2,553 survey respondents across Hays' network in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and Japan were all job-seekers, not the population at large, and would presumably include more white-collar professionals than other groups. And unlike, say, Europeans driven by the lack of domestic job opportunities to look for work overseas, the Asians who venture out seek international exposure. For Singapore, the Hays results suggest that the long-held perception about Singaporeans being reluctant to work abroad is perhaps no longer correct.
Less than two years ago, at a dialogue with business leaders, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong voiced concern about Singaporeans baulking at being posted overseas, calling it a limitation for Singapore. "I think it constrains our potential in the world," he said, adding that a willingness to venture out, even to difficult places, is necessary if one wants to climb the corporate rungs and lead a multinational corporation (MNC). Mr Lee would now take heart in recent findings by an executive search firm on the strides made by Singapore corporate leaders: according to DTCA, a leadership advisory firm, Singaporeans currently account for about a quarter of all Asian executives appointed to the boards of the top 20 companies in the US, Germany, France and the UK. At the same time, leading local corporations here, especially the big government-linked companies (GLCs), are turning to homegrown leaders to take on the top jobs on their boards and management teams, reversing a trend of hiring Western executives for such positions, DTCA noted.
That said, BT has also found that while Singaporean employees in MNCs are willing and happy to be posted overseas, those working in small and medium-sized enterprises are far less so. Almost a quarter of SMEs polled last year cited the lack of manpower to drive overseas sales as one of the key challenges they faced in venturing abroad. The findings are not too surprising, given that SMEs are probably unlikely to have the resources to provide as attractive a compensation package (or as comprehensive an HR policy framework) as MNCs for staff posted abroad.
Official help is at hand, though. In Budget 2015, for example, the government enhanced the double tax deduction for internationalisation scheme to cover salaries incurred for Singaporeans posted overseas. IE Singapore's Young Talent Programme also seeks to match firms with undergraduates groomed for global roles via overseas internships. In time to come, hopefully, the profile of the Singaporean expatriate will include a whole lot more from SMEs.