Singapore: 5 Hardest Positions to Fill (2015)

On June 22, 2015, The Straits Times published a report titled “These are the 5 hardest positions to fill in Singapore, survey finds”, and attributed that to “widespread restructuring that is sending tremors across sectors, with shocks being added from a tightening labour market.”

Immediately, my response is “What!? What language is that?”

The survey is done well and its facts presented in a clear manner, but the applicability remains hidden behind a veil of corporate-speak.

Ok, lets break this down together.

One: What are the top five positions that are toughest to fill? Why?

  1. Accounting and Finance staff;
  2. Sales Representatives;
  3. Engineers;
  4. Secretaries, PAs, Receptionists, Administrative Assistants; and,
  5. Marketing, Public Relations and Communications staff

Now let us consider this…

Lack of accounting and finance people in Singapore? This could be possible. There is increasing demand as Singapore positions itself as a finance hub in competition with Hong Kong, and barriers of entry exists for anyone attempting to enter that field. So it could be a situation where demand outstrips supply.

For Sales Reps. Secretaries (et al.). Marketing (et al.), barriers of entry to these jobs are not high. Know how to use the computer, the internet and able to use English, that’s about it. Maybe add a education requirement of Diploma. That’s about it. MLM companies bring in truckloads of “associates” from the age group of 18 ~ 25. Other companies bring in batches of part-timers during crunch times such as exhibition sales or annual filing. Dangle a high “$/hr + commission” package and you will attract all the help you need.

For engineers, this is probably expected as Singapore students and parents have shifted away from that path over the years, perceiving it as “boring”, “routine work”, “overrun with foreign talent”, etc.

Two: So how?

We feel that work today is not the same as yesterday. Our economy is shifting to a knowledge based economy but “real” work still needs to be done here to ensure Singapore’s strategic infrastructure remains robust (e.g. water, transport, electrical infrastructures).

One common trait across the top 5, or even the top 10, hardest jobs to fill, is that these jobs are mostly “invisible”.

What do I mean?

Let’s say if you go get a loan from a bank for your new house. Key in your details, and viola! You get calculations on how much you will need to pay a month, how much is the interest payable, how does a 15 year loan compare with a 20 year or a 30 year loan, etc. Someone needs to come out with that string of numbers.

How about getting your annual report mailed to your home, buying a comb, driving a car on the expressway? Do you know the name of the person who served or helped you in the process? Chances are, no.

So, these are the invisible people that drive our economy.

In our culture where being “remarkable” is celebrated from birth, (how our parents love to showcase us to friends and relatives, saying “oh my child is a doctor… lawyer… etc.”) we wonder why anyone wants to be a sales rep, secretary, marketing staff or any number grinder.

Three: What can be done?

In the past, there is an occupation facing immense stress to attract talent in Singapore, but have managed to overcome. Teachers.

The occupation of a teacher was once a highly esteemed profession. Yet with the transformation of the economy and society, teachers became expendable, replaceable and often criticised (by parents and students alike). Alongside came the attraction of becoming a tuition tutor, earning much more with greater time flexibility and providing the satisfaction of seeing change happen (rather than seeing your performance averaged throughout 100+ students).

With that backdrop, MOE did major revamps to the teaching profession, rebranding the teaching profession and reviewing how teachers were being measured and rewarded.

Yet, before we plunge into changing how we attract talent, we need to consider:

1) Who do I need to grow my business?

– Build your human capital strategy around areas that give your business a competitive edge

– Hire people to solve your problems, not cause more problems

– Consider the competencies you are hiring for, don’t hire only by interview with no proper assessment

2) Do I have the necessary structures in place to let my people shine?

– If engagement levels are low, and team members are operating at minimum expectations, don’t expect your talent to put in their best or stay long

– Almost everyone require some form of equipping and mentoring on the job to perform, so if your company does not provide that, then you might not be getting the talent you need

– Fair measures and fair rewards, with good feedback, motivate talents to perform to their potential


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Written and published by Louis.