Singapore’s workforce has been challenged to keep up with the demands of the new digital economy. Given our comparatively smaller talent pool and open economy, looking across national borders has always been a viable option for talent recruitment. Furthermore, remote work is more prevalent than ever before, which means that the potential for international hiring is at an all-time-high - especially for specialised PMET positions, which, according to 43 percent of Singaporean employers surveyed last year, remained unfilled largely due to a lack of qualified talent.
Conversely, businesses have also been investing inwardly to retrain their employees and boost their digital skills. The boom in upskilling initiatives has been accelerated by COVID-19, which was a reminder that staying future-proof amidst disruption requires constant learning and development to stay competitive and relevant.
To harness the local and international talent pool to its full potential, there are a few considerations for businesses.
Considerations for international hiring
There are push and pull factors for international hiring. The push factors are clear, given Singapore’s talent crunch. The ICT sector is projected to have 60,000 new job openings in the next few years, and while this has led to increasing interest in tech-related university degrees, the number of job vacancies far exceeds the rate at which these students will graduate. The pull factors, on the other hand, are for businesses to stay competitive against international competitors. Beyond business continuity, a diverse workforce is a stronger workforce, both in terms of organisational culture and technical capabilities. This translates to high business performance: workplaces that rank high in cultural diversity outperform their peers in terms of profitability by up to 36 per cent.
Nevertheless, while remote international hiring offers many benefits, it is not without its challenges. Motivated by the need to retain strong local hiring, Singapore now has more stringent requirements for international hires’ qualifications and minimum salaries, such as those included with the Economic Development Board’s Tech.Pass, in a bid to attract only top global talent. Local organisations face stiff competition for international hiring, especially considering Singapore’s status as a regional business hub.
As for employees, the fallout of the pandemic is still keenly felt. Singaporeans are less optimistic than their global peers about job prospects: according to ADP research, 67 per cent of Singaporean workers are optimistic about the next five years in the workplace, as compared to a global average of 86 per cent. For the past year, the local workforce has grappled with fears and uncertainty about job security, and while the local job market shows signs of improvement, competing against the international talent pool presents a whole new set of challenges.
Encouraging collaboration and trust
Hiring, training and recruitment needs to be reframed as processes that foster collaboration rather than competition, to ease apprehensions about job security. HR can help by ensuring that there are regular opportunities for local and international hires to learn from each other. This could come in the form of employee-led training sessions, which can invite all employees to consider the unique contributions and strengths that each of them brings to the team.
Managers, too, need resources and training to help their new teams thrive. Beyond concerns about maintaining engagement, regular communication, and evaluating the performance of a remote workforce, which were thrown into the spotlight last year, there will be an added layer of nuance to navigate across cultures with different communication and leadership styles. Investing in diversity and inclusion training will provide reassurance for both managers and employees, by underscoring a commitment towards mutual understanding.
Managing the international workforce’s payroll needs
Beyond cultural barriers, there are also operational issues which can be tricky to navigate for remote international hiring, perhaps none more pressing than payroll.
In an increasingly disparate workforce, it is no longer just HR or finance managers who use payroll systems; employees need on-the-go access to their data, presented in a concise format. This is especially true for international employees, who will use mainly virtual points of contact with their HR departments. In other words, the platform needs to be focused on the employees’ user experience, and must deliver transparency, mobility and responsiveness.
Compliance across different regions can also pose a challenge. Interpreting legal requirements for different jurisdictions is a highly complex operation. Working with a payroll partner is often the preferred solution as they provide reassurance through their commitment to abiding by strict regulations and staying on top of all developments in the regional legislative landscape.
Preparing for the remote international workforce
Leaders and chief recruitment decision-makers must strike a careful balance between tapping into the global talent pool, while boosting their local workforce’s skills. Only then can local professionals and their regional counterparts combine their unique experiences to become agile, innovative, and multifunctional teams.
Whether they are looking to add a few international hires into their talent mix or to significantly expand operations in the regional market, businesses of all sizes and unique needs can leverage on technology for tailored solutions. Providing intuitive platforms and processes can improve the overall working experience and boost efficiency across the whole company. Improving these operational functions to support employees’ ability to work across borders will create a much smoother execution of business growth and hiring strategies.