Singapore Competitiveness – it’s still a talent issue

Several articles in this edition of Asia Research have discussed the role of Singapore as a regional hub for research in Asia.  A business survey conducted in Singapore by business research group Kadence International, examined the competitiveness of companies being located in Singapore.

Based on a survey of 303 medium-sized enterprises in Singapore with annual revenues of S$1-45 million, of the three common grievances of businesses in Singapore (including labour costs, office / facilities costs, and staff quality), more than half in the survey stated the main challenge to their business was finding good staff in Singapore.

The survey included a range of industries from manufacturing, trade, logistics, chemicals, electronics, and service sector.  It was noted that as companies grow to more than 100 headcount, the biggest challenge tends be more evenly balanced between ‘labour costs’ and ‘finding good staff’.

Despite the hike in commercial property prices in 07-08 (that is still affecting businesses who had arranged leases around this time), office rental and facilities costs is a relatively low grievance for businesses.  The exception to this is those companies in the service sector where 33% state this as their main challenge, higher than that of labour costs, and almost on par with finding good staff.  These include companies in downtown and high online pharmacy no prescription street locations that are paying very high rents compared to their counterparts in other countries, and also those that are able to locate themselves in cheaper out-of-town parts of Singapore.

Piers Lee, Managing Director of Kadence International, commented “we have surveyed many industries about the type of challenges they face.  Lack of local talent is a concern to almost all sectors we have surveyed ranging from oil & gas, manufacturing, and even accountancy.  But talent issues are not unique to Singapore and you will find this is an even bigger challenge to businesses in other Asia Pacific markets where local costs for staff and rents are not such a big issue as they are in Singapore.  Furthermore, Singapore is usually better placed to attract foreign talent, although living costs in Singapore is a concern, and has been highlighted as an issue even within our own industry”.

But the question remains whether Singapore will be able to generate enough of its own talent to fill the industries that its own future depends on.  This question encompasses issues ranging from fertility rates, education and training, and the ability for Singapore to maintain a diversified economy outside of the main attraction of financial services.