SINGAPORE - Singapore is too fixated on producing professional, managerial, executive and technician (PMET) jobs for Singaporeans, and this mindset creates a problem, said economics professor Linda Lim yesterday at a population-policy forum.
Prof Lim, who is a University of Michigan business-school professor, said that if so much emphasis is placed on such high-skilled jobs, the prestige of lower-skilled occupations, such as bus drivers and carpenters, would be low.
So, citizens would typically not take up these jobs, as is the case, with foreigners filling in instead.
"It is bizarre to have a society where we have only PMETs and everyone wants to be a PMET. If you have that kind of society, of course you would need foreigners," she said.
Pointing out a sentence in the Government's January Population White Paper, which said that Singaporeans "aspire to be in higher-skilled and more rewarding work", Prof Lim said that this is already a value judgment by the authorities.
It suggests that being a bus driver is low-skilled, unrewarding and a job for foreigners, she said.
"Why is it only us who cannot do our own low-skilled work?'
She further questioned why it was that only Singaporeans considered these jobs low-skilled and not deserving of good pay or respect.
The forum was organised by the University of Michigan Alumni in Singapore. Held at The American Club, it was attended by 120 academics, business owners and alumni members.
Prof Lim noted that Singapore currently sets a maximum-growth target and works towards that, pumping in foreigners when the country comes up short on labour. But she questioned why there was a need to set "unrealistic" growth targets and try to attain them.
On Singapore's fertility issues, demography expert and former chief statistician Paul Cheung, who also spoke, said it is vital to tackle it by starting with the perceptions of Singaporeans first.
He said: "People in Singapore may be too caught up with their own careers and the trappings of urban living. I think they have forgotten about certain basic elements, such as human relationships and family values. We need to go back to the basics."