Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Sunday January 21st 2018

SME Employer: “We may have to close down due to a lack of workers.”

Seldom do we hear from the employer’s side when it comes to their hiring problem. We are fortunate to have one brave employer from the small and medium enterprise who is willing to complete our online interview’s questionaire:

First of all, thanks Augustine for taking time to fill up this questionnaire. Can you tell us abit about your business e.g. what industry is it, how many employers you have and how many are locals/foreigners?

We are a small local trading company, a supplier of equipment to the water & wastewater treatment industry. We have been established for 12 years. When we first started we have 4 Singaporean employees. Not only we can’t expand our work force now our staffs trickled to 2 locals and 1 foreigner.

Are there any problems with your staffing right now?

Yes problem actually starts showing 10 years ago. Unable to hire Singaporeans for office positions, like sales coordinators, secretaries, technical assistants, sales executives, with technician level or diploma qualifications nor even fresh graduates. Problem is worse now. In spite of advertising we receive not one Singaporean applicant.

Our company will be driven out of extinction because we are drying up of Singapore employees.

 If you have employed foreigners in your company, how different are they from the locals?

So far we have only one foreign employee (as we have no quota to get hire more) so may not be an accurate yardstick to measure against locals. But in my own company the foreigner out performs her predecessors in many attributes at lesser salary. Our present foreign employee is punctual, hardworking, conscientious, meticulous in her work, un-demanding and co-operative.

Do you personally think that foreign workers are better than Singaporeans? Why so?

In our case definitely so as explained above but we are willing to hire Singaporeans at higher salary and even compromise certain attributes but there is simply no Singaporean applicants.

Besides simply hiring foreigner workers, what other ways have your company explore? Is innovation or mechanization something that you may consider in the future to resolve your manpower issue?

We are also open to PRs or Malaysians but still no applicants. As we are a trading company and supplier of engineering equipment people to people interactions are essential. Moreover we are already down to skeleton staffs.  In the nature of our business there is not much we can mechanize or automate.

The government will be increasing the levy soon, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think increasing the levy will help you consider hiring local workers?

In our case and I believe in other industries as well, increasing levy is not solving the problem. It is not that we are unwilling to hire Singaporeans; there simply aren’t any Singaporeans interested to work for us. Bigger players like the banks, MNCs, hospitals, Changi Airport, etc. are already having these problem. As a small player we are worse off. If Singaporeans are not procreating how can we have enough workers?

It seems that there is currently some tension with regard to the overwhelming presence of foreigner workers here, what is your view on this?

As a veteran born and bred Singaporean and people my age I believed we received the biggest impact or shock with these influxes of foreigners. Because we have seen the old and new Singapore. Personally I was in culture shock when I returned to work full time in Singapore in year 2006. Before that I spent several years stationed in China. Having returned to Singapore I had more opportunities moving around in public places thus have encountered strange surroundings, awkward experiences and change of the entire environment. Here are some examples:

1.       Have difficulties ordering my regular beverage at neighborhood coffee shops. Don’t know if the order takers are Indonesian, Chinese (from China), Malaysians, Vietnamese or others. Don’t know if I should speak the local lingo or Mandarin, English or Malay when ordering.

2.       A China man frying my char kueh teow at food courts.

3.       Strange accents over the telephone and many service counters, now even at the airport.

4.       I have observed more disorderly behaviors after I came back. People are not respecting traffic lights, jay walking, unruly conduct and more vagrants in many public places.

5.       As a teenager I used to live in Kallang Airport, near to Geylang (red light area) and Joo Chiat. Back then though we knew Geylang is a red light district  and inevitably time to time we need commute past those lorongs either while running some errands, meeting up friends or taking public buses – except for those red lanterns and big bold house numbers we never see any prostitutes soliciting on the streets. Nor do we see hordes of man walking, loitering around looking for sex. To my shock when I came back in 2006 and drove into some of the lorongs, the hotels and the whole streets were swarmed in fact flooded by prostitutes of various nationals and mostly from China. It’s like a flea market except that on displays are goods of the human dimensions. Along Joo Chiat road it feels like a Vietnamese colony and full of vices. Even the main thorough fare Geylang road, day and night (though brightly lit) were filled with  prostitutes along both sides of the road and the corner coffee shops and touts and illegal hawkers selling contra-band goods. When police came (in uniform) these prostitutes will go into temporary hiding, some into nearby coffee shops to pretend as customers. Once the police are out of sight they came back out to
ply their trade. I used to travel quite extensively and have seen many sleazy places in neighboring countries including China and was quietly proud that we
were not in. But now I am no longer proud to be a Singaporean. Geylang and Joo Chiat is a lot worse than many places I’ve seen. Just over the weekend at night I saw some part of the walkway along Geylang road has now become a flea market-like Sungei road. Mind you it’s not pasar malam. Its people (looking
like foreigners) putting their wares on the floor for sale.

6.       At petrol stations, newspaper kiosks, eateries, convenient stores, retail shops, food centers virtually at every turn I am confronted by foreigners, and I am not referring to only the service industry, even at offices of our customers and even the spam telephone calls are mostly foreigners.

7.       Like many others I do not think we unwelcome foreigners it is just that it is too much.  I do not take public transport but I heard it is much worse when in buses and MRT stations and trains. I also feel strongly that our government had lapsed in allowing the great influx of foreigners in that they have not taken into consideration the impact on the social environment and had not prepare adequate infrastructures.

8.       When I came back I felt like I am the foreigner.

My view is that our government is not managing the problem properly or not managing the root of the problem. Rather than micro managing the problem they take the easy way out by introducing levies across the board in the hope of solving them.  From tendering out of land to developers, to tendering out of
infrastructure projects the government takes the first huge cut of profits or take the lowest bid, and then followed by the big players using the same
philosophy squeezed down the whole supply chain. In the end only scraps are left for the small players and consumers bear the full brunt of higher cost of

Some employers have commented that if suddenly the foreigners will to one day pack up and leave, their business will have to close down. Is this the same perception you have for your own business?

This question is ironic to me. As an ordinary Singaporean and like others I do feel uncomfortable having so many foreigners in our midst. But as an employer of a small trading company I have a problem in hiring Singaporeans. No Singaporeans want to work in my company and I can’t hire foreigners – it’s a matter of time I need to close down my business. On the other hand I do believe we do not have enough Singaporeans (since there is decline in procreation).

Coming back to your question, with the current policy or the polices of the past 10 years if all foreigners were to pack up, yes many business will have to close. I attribute this to the policies and the practices of our government. Instead of an outright opening of doors to allow the influx of all sorts of foreigners or
introduction of high levies to curb entrance of foreigners the government should set polices to fit specific industries and not an across the board policy. Where occupations are shunned by locals or where there is shortage of certain skill sets the government should allow for the easy hiring of foreigners that has those skill sets. Since we have shortage of workers  hence  more difficult for small players to hire Singaporeans the government should assist small local companies and allow them to hire ‘qualified’ foreigners.

I also feel that the government should implement some polices to regulate (minimum wage or something like that) the salaries of Singaporean workers but first the government should stop running the country like running a profit orientated business. In public projects the government should refrain from taking the first cut of huge profits be it in land sales, in other developments or public services or indulge in money making objectives and should not set- up businesses to compete with the private sectors. At the end of the day no employers will mind paying higher salaries to local employees if their company makes reasonable profits.  Take for example how many times have we heard of the dispute between SIA pilots and the airline?  Everyone knows SIA is making big profits so why should there still be remuneration disputes between the pilots and the management?

Once we have only one public transport (bus) operator. In the name of competition and providing better services to commuters there are now more than one bus operators. They all increase prices at the same time, so where is the competition? It’s more like a cartel. In spite of making profits year after year and after a lack lustre election and protest from citizens the government still allowed increase of bus fares. They set up 2 TV stations in the name of competition and improvement of programs and services to consumers but then they revert back to one station because they don’t make enough money.

What are some ways that you have done to attract more locals to sign up for work with your company?

We have tried placing our advert in various Medias, at different times of the year and also re-write our advert with lesser expectations and less stringent pre-requisites, from University graduates, down to Diplomas and to Technician levels. There is just no applicants.

Lastly, as there will be a recession coming soon, will you keep all the locals when your business slows down or just anyone who is more productive regardless of nationality?

I can only hope existing Singaporean employees do not resign.

Thank you very much.


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Reader Feedback

11 Responses to “SME Employer: “We may have to close down due to a lack of workers.””

  1. DT says:

    Hi admin,
    How can I contact the employer/company

  2. 2 sides to a coin says:

    There are 2 sides to a coin. There are employers who find it difficult to get workers and jobs seekers who find it difficult to get a job even after lowering their expectations.

    I have come across employers who advertised again and again even after I have gone for the interviews. They just want to choose the perfect person in terms of skills and experience instead of giving you a chance. Or maybe they felt that I could not fit in the culture of the company. I know some bosses who can made a jugdement of your personality during the interview and decide whether you can fit in the team or not. If they think you cannot fit in, they will just keep on advertising until they find the perfect match.

    The location of your office is also vital to attract people who take bus or MRT to work. If the place is too ulu like Tuas or Jurong Island, it will be hard to attract workers. For low salaried workers, it is not worthwhile to spend a lot of money on transport. Also, most workers suffer from lack of sleep and they do not want to spend too much time travelling and jostling with the crowds.

  3. dsperate says:

    will he consider a 49 year,ex-computer technician for the available position?speaks English, mandarin and Bahasa Malayu,writes english and chinese.Now working on 12hours shift,$1600/M,never late,no MC.Done NS and finished reservist duty.

  4. Tired says:

    I agree with what “2 sides to a coin” said.

    Employers themselves need to do an internal check why they can’t get locals. If they kept advertising non-stop desipte having seen several candidates, it may just back-fired and job-seekers will be wondering why your company situation is so bad even though many of them have probably written in and get silent rejection from the same company. Nobody wanted to apply a 2nd time, shortlisted or not. Being rejected is not a pleasurable game that we need a 2nd time.

    What kind of working environment, culture and prospect will the company provide? Candidates are not just looking for job but stable career to ensure sustainable livings. No point working for a debtful company that do not see themselves beyond 2 years and have to close down. Such companies are largely not contributing to this society if they operate on hands-to-mouth mode. The world must change, unprofitable SME must close down and give signal to the govt what went wrong – high rental, red-tapes, lack of funding/support from the govt? You cannot rely on cheap,faster,better foreigners to help sustain the business, it will not add value to our economy and its people and instead created more problems like over-crowding mentioned by the above employer.

    Some companies are not productive nor receptable to ideas, the authoritative mentality of “boss-know-best” must changed. Company adopting a conducive and consultative, pro family, work-life-balance approach will have no problems getting people to work for them. They could mention it in their advertisements to draw applications. If the jobscope can be well-performed by A or O level holders, don’t ask for degree/diploma holders. Their salary expectation is not the same. You cannot on one hand benchmark your salary to A/O level standard and than set your criteria beyond reach for non-graduate people who fit the capability.

    Singapore has a very stressful life, and we want to work in a happy company with minimum consideration for the well-beings of its people. With that, I have to disagree that Singaporeans labour are shortage. They are always there on standby to see how recruiters react to the need and aspiration.

  5. Tim says:

    If you can’t even get ONE Singaporean applicant, it is obvious that the problem lies with your company.

    Maybe the best solution is to move your business overseas where you can get abundance of cheap and good workers. But of course you won’t, because your profits will go down as well due to the cheaper country’s lack of purchasing power.

    This type of company is what I hate. Want to earn 1st world profits, but hire staff on 3rd world wages.

  6. Andy says:

    Commentators 2 (sides to a coin) & 4 (Tired) gives a valuable critics and I fully agree with them.

    Most of the time, it is employer who creates recruitment selection problem, they wants perfectionist. How on earth are they going to find one?

    If this employer really can find perfectionist employee(s), please post in here and share their “secrets” with us.

    If it is true that there is a perfectionist employee(s), then the God must be crazy really exist.

  7. Andy says:

    Sorry, I missed commentator 5, also made a valuable critic about employer as well.

    I believe this is not false accusation but merely the truth about employers taking advantages in Singapore.

    If these employer tried it in other country, they will be blacklisted by a group of employees watchdog team.

  8. Modern Shakespeare says:

    Fair is foul and foul is fair, hover the fog and dirty air…….

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