NDR 2022: Attracting foreigners to build ‘world-class talent pool

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Singapore needs to do more to attract and retain top talent, especially in sectors with good potential, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at National Day Rally 2022.

NDR 2022: Develop Singaporeans while attracting foreigners to build 'world-class talent pool', says PM Lee
The Singapore city skyline as seen from Jubilee Bridge. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

Singapore must build up a “world-class talent pool” by developing its own workforce while continuing to attract talent from abroad, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 21).

More needs to be done on the latter, especially in rising sectors, and new initiatives will soon be announced, he said.

In his National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee said: “We do our utmost to develop our own talent and enable every Singaporean to reach their fullest potential. But when it comes to top talent, we can never have enough.

“This is an age where talent makes all the difference to a nation’s success.”

Singapore has to focus on attracting and retaining talent, in the same way as it focuses on attracting and retaining investments, the Prime Minister said, adding that countries such as Germany and the UK are also courting top international talents.

“In this global contest for talent, Singapore cannot afford to be creamed off or left behind.”

Mr Lee acknowledged concerns among Singaporeans about “the impact of large numbers of non-residents living and working here” and said the Government is following up to ease these concerns.

But he also said that while Singapore manages its overall population of foreign professionals, it must not stop seeking out top talent.

The Prime Minister cited the biomedical science sector as an example, which now employs 25,000 workers and contributes almost one-fifth of the country’s manufacturing gross domestic product.

He recounted how Singapore scoured top universities and research institutes around the world for the best biomedical scientists, researchers and engineers during the 1990s.

“(Philip Yeo) went round the world to pitch to them personally. He persuaded some of the top names in their fields – he called them the whales – as well as younger rising stars. They were taken by our vision and they moved here.”

Mr Yeo was then chairman of the National Science and Technology Board, which later became A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research). 

“The whales mentored our local talents, who were then still new to the field … We awarded scholarships to hundreds of them, to study biomedical sciences all the way to PhD,” said Mr Lee, adding that by doing so, Singapore created an ecosystem and started on its journey to become a biomedical hub.

Now, home-grown scientists are doing cutting-edge research and development. A number of them have become principal researchers leading their own teams, while others have founded start-ups to develop and commercialise their discoveries.

Singapore also attracted major projects, including from Sanofi and BioNTech for vaccine manufacturing facilities.

Mr Lee said researchers here, both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans, made significant contributions during the pandemic by helping to maintain an international database that facilitates sharing of COVID-19 genomic data worldwide, as well as developing test kits and other diagnostics.

“Had we not sought out top talent 30 years ago and then continued to build up our biomedical research teams and activities and develop home-grown talent, all this would never have happened,” the Prime Minister said.

“This is the difference that top talent can make.”

Mr Lee noted that there is a window of opportunity now, with Singapore having attracted the interest of many talented people and international companies.

“Those with special talents and skills are looking for places to move to, where they and their families feel safe and welcome, and where they can make an impact.

“Businesses want to invest in places where the talent is – the business follows the talents – and they also look for places where the politics and policies are stable and where the system works,” he said.

“We must seize this opportunity to secure Singapore’s place in the post-COVID-19 world.”

The country already has schemes to attract and retain top talent, especially for the technology industry, but it needs to do more, especially in sectors with good potential, he said.

“We want to make top talent everywhere sit up, pay attention and think seriously about coming to Singapore,” said Mr Lee, adding that the Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Trade and Industry and economic agencies will soon announce new initiatives to achieve this.

“If we can get the people we want to come here, it will really help Singapore to shine brightly as a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth,” he continued.

“And it will make our own talent want to stay in Singapore, to participate in building a dynamic and outstanding nation, and every Singaporean will benefit from our progress and success.”

Mr Lee also touched on two other “imperatives” to secure Singapore’s future, which includes staying open and connected to the world despite globalisation being on the wane.

Even as other countries turn inwards and protectionist, Singapore is still a global city and will always require foreign investments, overseas markets and transport and communications links with the rest of the world to make a living, the Prime Minister said.

Meanwhile, Singapore must strengthen its national identity and understand where its national interests lie.

“There will always be external forces pulling us in different directions. Singaporeans are being exposed to all sorts of persuasion and propaganda, misinformation and agitation, not least on social media and messaging apps.

“More so in a world riven by rivalries and tensions, with countries coming under pressure to support one side or the other,” he said.

“We need a strong sense of national identity to hold us together, and give meaning to our nation building.”


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