The illustrious Mr Ng is, after all, the labour minister who wanted to reclaim jobs for Singaporeans - in the marine, nursing, and cleaning industries. He is the same man who runs a ministry that won't let anyone know the real unemployment rate in Singapore. And yes, he's also the man who chairs the PAP's covert blogger operation.
However, Ng Eng Hen has just about outdone himself this time, in a rare application of massive stupidity in wrong-headed public policy that can only bring about the apocalypse - witness his "new initiatives to lure talented professionals".
Q: How on earth does he want to lure talented professionals (read "foreign talents")?
A: By luring them even before they are talented professionals!
The Work Holiday Pass scheme of Singapore is aimed at young students and graduates from overseas, according to the Channelnewsasia report. It is open to those aged 17 to 30. There will be 2000 places available a year. "A positive experience of living and working in Singapore under the Programme would encourage some of them to work here when they graduate, or at a later stage in their careers", says Ng Eng Hen.
There are, to put it mildly, some problems with this scheme. How on earth are we luring foreign professionals by extending visas to college students? Apparently, the phrase "talented professional" has become so debased that anyone could qualify, even before they enter the workforce, or gain the experience that sets them apart of elite professionals - i.e. the type of foreign talents that Singapore should really be going after.
Unlike the Work Holiday visas offered by the US, Canada, UK, or any other country, Singapore's WHP has virtually no conditions and restrictions on what sort of jobs the applicants can apply for, or how much they are allowed to earn. One non-obvious implication of this uniquely singaporean Work Holiday scheme is this: in effect, it introduces 2000 foreign undergrads into the short term labour market. Given that fresh local graduates in recent years tend to spend about a year working in contract or temp jobs - a sign of a shift in the labour market to contract work - it means that these 2000 young students will compete directly for the same jobs as local grads.
How should we put this into context? According to Singapore's Department of Statistics, in 2005 there were 3,500 graduates from local universities. So... picture dumping in 2,000 foreign students and fresh grads into the labour market right now. Is there any wonder that I consider Ng Eng Hen to be the most destructive and malevolent man in the Cabinet?
I've always wondered about how sincere our leaders are about their love for foreign talent - ooops, "talented foreign professionals" - and whether Singapore really needs so many of them. Stephen Appold has wondered the same thing, and actually bothered to find out. The final report is gruesome in its details, and even horrifying in its conclusions, written 2 years ago:
Arguably, university-educated migrants are not needed in Singapore at all. Less controversially, they are not needed in the large number in which they are found... Despite the high employment growth, an expanding surplus of university graduates has been chasing the available jobs with predictable effects: slower salary increases, the downward filtering of graduates into less-desirable jobs, the erosion of the relative income advantage of educated labour.And the 2,000 visas for young students and graduates will just make it even worse. Ng Eng Hen aims to further depress wages and destroy local graduates!
Update (12 noon)
So the University of South Wales has shut down operations barely 3 months after its new buildings opened to students here. It's not economical, its dean says, to run the place given the drastically lower-than-projected student rate - and there's the matter of MOE and the Singapore government not allowing UNSW to reduce its operations and retool plans for a lower student intake. WTH. IMPEACH Ng Eng Hen! Impeach Ng Eng Hen now!
Of course, the moral of the story is still the same.
Despite the high employment growth, an expanding surplus of university graduates has been chasing the available jobs with predictable effects: slower salary increases, the downward filtering of graduates into less-desirable jobs, the erosion of the relative income advantage of educated labour.It's a lesson that might actually explain the reason for UNSW's failure to attract students. Greater implications - if potential university applicants are aware of their drastically reduced rewards, the downward filtering into less-desirable jobs... then Singapore is just about finished as an education hub - no uni can attract a sustainable amount of local or even foreign grads. The domestic economy and labour market just simply don't have the space.
References: Appold, Stephen J. "The weakening position of university graduates in Singapore's labour market: Causes and consequences", in Population and Development Journal, 31, no. 1 (Mar 05): 85–112.