'Singaporean-first' not about rejecting meritocracy: Pritam Singh

SINGAPORE - Mr Michael Dee ("Nationality-based hiring goes against meritocracy"; Wednesday) should know that Mr Raymond Koh Bock Swi's call for Singaporeans to fill top jobs in the banking sector ("Ways to strengthen Singapore core in banking"; June 27) followed a similar one by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam last month ("'Crucial that S'pore core can land top banking jobs'"; June 17).

Foreigners have made significant contributions to Singapore's economic progress. However, the significant number of foreigners - their economic contributions notwithstanding - in senior-level and middle-management positions in Singapore across various industries, such as banking, has led to a perceptible feeling of a glass ceiling and, separately, insecurity among many Singaporeans over their job and career prospects.

Mr Koh's letter does not evince a rejection of meritocracy, but reflects what Singaporeans of all political hues recognise - that Singapore's pro-business and foreign-talent-friendly policies must not come at the cost of capable and deserving Singaporeans facing lackluster career and job opportunities in their own country.

Rather than raise the alarmist scenario of relocating elsewhere, foreign businesses should look towards tailoring their human resource policies to fit the local socio-political realities of today, not yesteryear.

This can be done without alienating foreign employees or giving Singaporeans an unfair advantage that would ultimately be to their detriment.

For example, businesses should adopt a "Singaporean-first" hiring policy before considering non-Singaporean applicants.

Career advancement options that can assure qualified Singaporeans of jobs at the upper management levels, and training opportunities for locals to improve their career prospects, must be introduced.

Foreign businesses that adopt such practices are likely to earn considerable goodwill from Singaporeans, attract better-qualified Singaporean applicants, and be seen to be among the better employers in Singapore.

This will also serve a major corollary function in arresting perceptions of xenophobia and a Singaporean-foreigner divide.