I asked 3 millennials if FT stands for Foreign Talent or Foreign Trash to them

By March 22, 2020Current

TL;DR – Singaporeans are a reasonable lot. We just don’t want free passes for foreigners, and unfair hiring practices that favour foreigners.

OK, I didn’t really ask them THAT.

But I did speak with three millennials, all in their late 20s, and all three work in offices with a good mix of Singaporeans and foreigners. I asked them to share if diversity is indeed good like what the textbooks and business articles say, and if they’re enjoying the experience. I also asked them if they learnt anything and if yes, what their takeaways are.

First, let’s meet Joey.

Joey works with a Silicon Valley based VC and accelerator. The company is one of the most active VCs in the world, and they’re also early investors of of known names like Dropbox and Paypal. The Singapore office has a 50:50 mix of Singaporeans and foreigners.

Q: Do you work w foreigners yourself? What has the experience been like? 

Joey: Yes, half my team is made up of foreigners. They are equally as hardworking and bring a different set of perspectives and culture which we try to blend with and teach them ours. The diversity and exchange are great, even at the social level. For instance, we teach them Mandarin and we also bring them to eat local food, and they reciprocate accordingly. I’d say there’s good integration in the team. I’m enjoying the work environment.

Q: Do you report to a local or foreigner boss? 

Joey: I report to  two foreigner managers, one based here and the other in Munich.

Q: If you have worked for a Singaporean and foreigner boss before, can you share the experience, and perhaps share the takeaways/learning from each?

Joey: Hmm, I don’t know if it’s a fair comparison as I’ve only worked for one Singaporean company for my internship a long time ago with a very traditional company. But the main differences are that my bosses now are not as micro-managing, there is better communication and more freedom of expression to suggest and execute projects.

Q: What are your personal views about having foreigners in our midst?

Joey: I think it’s great! They’re more adaptive and welcoming to change, and there’s a different, positive personality in the office from when there aren’t any. People in the office also start adapting and learning too. But my case is more unique because we’re working like a startup, most of the foreigners come from our Silicon Valley office and I mainly report there too. One other thing is that the age range here is very young, and I wonder if that’s why it’s more fun and vibrant.

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Second,  let’s meet Serene.

Serene works at one of what is commonly described as the big four tech companies of the world. She serves the Chinese market and has been enjoying her 1.5 years there.

Q: What is the Singaporean vs Foreigner mix in your office?

Serene: It’s about 70:30.

Q: What has the experience been like? Have you learnt anything new, be it workwise, personally, about other people’s culture, etc?

Serene: Yes, I have worked with foreigners and the experience has been great. I work mainly with Chinese, Taiwanese and Malaysians as my team supports China market. My mandarin has improved and it’s interesting to learn the different culture.

Q; Do you report to a local or foreigner boss? If you have worked for a Singaporean and foreigner boss before, can you share the experience, and perhaps share the learning from each?

Serene: I reported to a local manager when I first joined 1.5 years ago, but there’s been a change in recent months. I now report to a Chinese manager. Honestly I don’t think there’s much of a difference here maybe because our cultures are still pretty much similar.

I’ve worked with an Irish boss in the past. She’s one of those who micro-manages and doesn’t have much leadership skills. I didn’t feel empowered nor did I learn much from her.

So I think it’s more of an individual thing instead of a nationality or even cultural thing.

Q: What are your personal views about having foreigners in our midst? 

Serene: I embrace our multiracial society and I support diversity in the workplace. As long as we can be considerate of each other, and if the foreigners can follow local laws and respect the cultures, I feel that we can all live in harmony and grow together.

Q: What do you think of what some people are saying about foreigners taking away Singaporeans’ jobs?

Serene: I agree to a certain extent.

For instance, if we are serving the China market, I think having a Chinese leader/manager makes a lot of sense as the Chinese would know the China market best. But I think a local who has lived and worked in China before, or have sufficient years of experience in the market and in this field can do the job as well.

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So in such a case, I think equal opportunity should be given. And in fact, there is no reason to hire the foreigner over the Singaporean if the Singaporean has the experience, knowledge and credentials to do the job just as well.

The hiring decision should be objective, and not based on whether you’re a local or foreigner. We have to be careful also about foreign hiring managers giving priority to people from their own countries.

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Third, let’s meet Joanne.

Currently working on setting up her own business, Joanne’s last job was at an European fashion brand with presence in over 25 countries.

Q: What’s the ratio of Singaporeans vs foreigners at your last workplace?

Joanne: I would say the ratio is almost 50:50 in our local office.

Q: Did you work w foreigners yourself? Can you share the experience?

Joanne: Yes, I did. I learnt that working style differs for every nationality.

Q: Did you report to a local or foreigner boss? If you have worked for a Singaporean and foreigner boss before, can you share the experience, and perhaps share the takeaways from each?

Joanne: I reported to two different foreign bosses when I was working with one particular European watch brand. One of them was European and another Australian. The European boss had a lot of trust in me, listened to my opinions, and was also very sharing when guiding me to solve problems. The experience with the  Australian boss was less pleasant, there’s a lot of pushing around of work to me, this person was not supportive.

I’ve worked with a few local bosses when I was in local wifi rental company. Although these bosses did not micro-manage and mainly left us to get the work done, they also did not spend much time doing sharing or hear our views. It was mostly just passing instructions to us, period.

In yet another job, I encountered local bosses who love to micromanage.

So I guess styles differ from person to person, and may not be nationality-specific.

Q: What are your personal views about having foreigners in our midst?

Joanne: Personally, I feel that more chances should be given to local talent instead of foreigners. Some companies seem to favour hiring foreigners, especially foreigners from their own countries. But I’ve also noticed that foreigners tend to be more expressive and are better at making themselves more visible and leave a more lasting impressions as compared to us Singaporeans.

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We Singaporeans also need to brush up on our own presentation skills to stand out more. And of course, this is on top of ensuring that our own skills and capabilities are up to mark in the first place.

The Dive: Is the Singapore Government favouring foreigners over Singaporeans?

At the end of the day, we need to ensure Singaporeans get a fair chance.

I think Singaporeans are a reasonable lot. This became evident too as I spoke with three young ladies, and it’s obvious they don’t think the foreigners working in our midst are foreign trash.

What most of us are asking for are laws to ensure that Singaporeans get a fair chance.

Yeps, we’re talking about equal employment opportunity for Singaporeans.

We need sufficient laws and enforcement to ensure fair hiring practices, and to make sure Singaporean workers are not dismissed unfairly to favour taking in candidates from other countries, and to check that foreign hiring managers do not prioritise or favour candidates from their own countries.

And we don’t want to see free passes or easy passes that allow foreigners, especially if without talent or worse, with fake qualifications, to come to Singapore to work. Not only do they not contribute, they are taking away jobs that Singaporeans are capable of doing.

That said, Singaporeans should not be complacent and do whatever it takes for us to remain competitive in the job market and also to stay relevant by constantly upgrading, upskilling, or even reskilling.

So that when we have an equal chance to compete, we win with our ability and skills.

We need to learn from our Malaysian friends


(Featured image via)



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The Editor

Author The Editor

Either busy trying to save the world, or poking my nose into other people's affairs.

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