Friday, September 02, 2005

Cost of Structural Displacement

Cost of Structural Displacement

Recently we have been bombarded with all sorts of “promotion” for some jobs like “toilet cleaning” or “cleaners”, nursing and such. And most of the time, a good “example” and story is crafted out, how an ex-manager become cleaner etc

And this seems to link to the official tone that Singaporeans are just too “choosy” in job seeking. The propaganda is aimed at two tiers of job seekers: first, those older job seekers who may just like those featured in the stories, used to have “high level” jobs. Secondly, it is also aimed at those new young job seekers, to convince that people of “good caliber” and experience also end up in cleaning toilets, don’t be too choosy. This propaganda is aimed to shift the blame of joblessness and hardship to Singaporeans again. The most classic comment so far is, university graduates are only fit to wash test tubes.

I shall not touch on the hardship on job seekers and their plight though I have met numerous individuals who used to be in high corporate positions but have no choice to become taxi drivers. I will touch on the economic cost of such structural displacement, since PAP government will only concern with “facts and figures”, “dollars and cents”.

When one decides to spend money, time and effort to do something, he expects to have good returns from these investments. This is the same for investing in education. As an Asian country, we are taught from young the importance of education. Our parents would save on other luxury spending just to make sure that we get the best education they could afford and we could manage.

Investment in education is a long term plan and it contains two main different input of resources: 1) money 2) time. If one really believes that he is only fit to wash test tubes even if he gets a university degree, would anyone in his right mind ever want to invest in his own investment? Not everyone could become professor for sure!

The structural displacement of jobs will create large wastage of resources, both tangible and intangible. Experiences are something that one could not buy but only accumulate through hard work. Asking individuals to discard whatever experiences and education accumulation to accept “cleaner” job is just an act of desperation. In macro terms, this has important impact on our resource allocation process. As a small country, human resources are our only vital resources and yet, we are ready to waste them all by asking people to “look low”?

The Foreign Talent policy itself has itself caused great resource wastage. If companies are only interested to import cheap foreign “substitutes” to replace our own citizens in various jobs, then why would we want to spend so much money in education but end up working as a cleaner? It really doesn’t make any sense at all.

We need REAL Talents, be it Foreign or Local. However we should practice caution in allowing companies to import cheap foreign substitutes that could replace local workforce. This meaning that the policy must make sure that whatever foreign workers the company wants to employ, they must first seek from local workforce or sources first. They could only be approved to employ foreign workers unless the specific jobs need specific skills that is non-existence in local sources or that there is a real shortage of such skilled workers in local workforce. This is what Singaporean First all about. And PAP has only talked big on Singaporean First but act little on this.

The present system of providing quota to foreign workers is insufficient. It will create resource misallocation or displacement and in the long run, we will suffer badly from such wastage. As long as our foreign talent policy is not restructured, no amount of “upgrading” on local workforce will solve our unemployment and high emigration rate problem. When the government allows companies to employ foreign workers on all levels and assimilate local workforce on all fronts, those from lower skills when upgraded, will face the same problem at higher skill level.

It is amazing that we put so much resources in education, concentrating on a few fields, but in the end, all these resources just go to waste when cheaper foreign substitutes are brought in to replace local workforce. Some of these “displaced” highly educated individuals would have no choice but just emigrate to somewhere else which need their skills and services. To ask them continue to stay in Singapore and take up cleaner jobs is totally irrational to them.

If our overall strategy is about drawing on foreign inputs of labour to everything in the name of “cost savings”, then our education strategy should not waste too much resources and all Singaporeans should be tailored to be entrepreneurs to utilize such “cheap” resources. We should not mismanage our education policy to do something that others could do cheaper and provide better, cheaper end results! The problem is, do we really want to adopt such strategy or not?

Goh Meng Seng


Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you. What a total waste of human resources when an engineeing manager with 20 years of experience need to drive a taxi to make a living. Isn't it the government's responsibility to match the match the human resouce to the jobs created in the economy. Sometimes I wonder what is the government there for.

Anonymous said...

We need to kick out more foreign Fake talents out!

Already great proportion of pple who voted for the opposition parties are the highly displaced pple who may have been unemployed even for years, despite some having past employment experience or even good qualifications!

The war cry should be heard across: