Expat Perks Drying Up - Even for S’poreans Abroad

Singaporeans are losing their 'edge' as professionals in a globalized world, but they still demand high expat salaries, reports this article. In China, employers of large companies favor Singaporeans for managerial positions because they speak English and Chinese fluently, and being Asians with working experience in western multinational companies, they "provide a good balance of east and west." However, the favored status of Singaporeans is diminishing quickly. With the onset of globalization, spearheaded by the spread of multinational companies, the English language, the internet, and increasing cross-border mobility, professionals from other countries are proving equally capable, and do not need to think twice before relocating for a job. As a result, job competition in cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai and Beijing is intense, and Singaporeans might find themselves losing out to Taiwanese, Hongkongers, Malaysians, and Australians more willing to accept local pay. The irony, notes this article, is that while Singapore is one of the world's most globalised cities, Singaporeans are still clinging to the notion of expat packages. – YaleGlobal

Expat Perks Drying Up - Even for S'poreans Abroad

Trend in places like China is towards pay on local terms
Chuang Peck Ming
Tuesday, March 9, 2004

(SINGAPORE) Singaporeans seeking employment overseas, especially in booming China, are still demanding fat expatriate pay packages when going on local terms is increasingly the trend.

Precise numbers of Singaporean executives seeking work abroad are hard to come by but headhunters and human resource consultants generally say they are increasing. And we're talking of middle and senior positions in management, finance, human resource, manufacturing, marketing and engineering - positions Singaporeans are strong in and are in short supply in fast-growing economies like China.

But many Singaporeans are still making the move only reluctantly and, being used to high salaries at home, want a generous expat compensation package to induce them to work in a new environment, according to headhunters.

'The number of Singaporeans venturing overseas are up and some still hold the notion of expatriate pay,' says David Leong of recruiting firm ManpowerCorp International. 'In these times, I've come across companies paying on local terms without even the relocation allowance.'

For Elaine Ng of Hong Kong-based HR Business Solutions, there's no mistaking the trend to go local in China - as managerial pay there are catching up with those in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore.

'Today, despite high unemployment in Singapore, it's hard to attract a Singapore manager to work in China without the expatriate benefits,' she says.

'Singapore managers will not accept a local PRC package. More Hongkongers and Taiwanese are on quasi-expat package or local package than Singaporeans are in China.' The expat pay package was fast becoming a relic of pre-globalisation days when a foreign assignment was often an advancement or a hardship posting which required compensation in the form of more generous perks and pay, says Mr Leong. With globalisation, talents are crossing borders more freely and with little inducement, making local pay more acceptable.

It seems ironic then that while Singapore is reputed to be among the world's most globalised cities, Singaporeans are still clinging to the notion of expat packages.

Blame it on Singapore's high salaries, according to Shaun Goh, managing consultant of BTI Consultants, a global executive search firm. 'Malaysians seem to be more keen to relocate for lesser perks,' he says. 'Because of the relative good pay structure here as opposed to similar jobs in Malaysia, Singaporeans seem to be more demanding in their expectations.'

Some headhunters say Singaporeans deserve the expat premium, but others worry Singaporeans may - if not already - lose out to Taiwanese, Hongkongers, Malaysians, and Australians more willing to accept local pay.

'Many of the Singaporeans who have gone to China are very talented professionals,' says Doris Cheng, a partner of Doris Cheng & Associates. 'They naturally asked for expat packages and employers are prepared to give them.'

Lim Chye Lian of Executive Talent International concedes that Singaporeans face keen competition from Taiwanese, Hongkongers, Australians, Americans and Europeans in the Chinese job market - but they have an edge, she says.

According to Ms Lim, the Chinese generally favour Singaporeans because they speak English and Chinese fluently and, being Asians with working experience in Western MNCs, Singaporeans provide a good balance of east and west.

'All in all, if Singaporeans are prepared to venture overseas, especially to China, their chances of securing employment are very high, even if on expat terms,' she says. 'Should they be more flexible and accept a semi-expat package, their options would increase significantly.'

Joseph Lai, director of Templar International Consultants, Adeccp's executive search arm in the Asia-Pacific region, takes a different view.

'Singaporeans have many skills and training the locals do not have,' he says. 'However, there's a significant population of Westerners, Taiwanese and Hong Kong residents (in China) who have equally qualified skills and might not demand as high a salary package as Singaporeans. Shanghai and Beijing are melting pots of multiple cultures and capable professionals competing for the same job posts.'

BTI's Mr Goh says while Singaporeans may have an advantage in language skills and systematic management, honesty and reliability, others are catching up.

But headhunters are hopeful that Singapore will adjust to the new pay trends abroad, thanks to the difficulty in securing a job here and the national efforts to rein in wage hikes.

'Reality bites and reflex tell us Singaporeans will adjust,' says Mr Leong. Adds Ms Cheng of Doris Cheng: 'Singaporeans are generally realistic in their expectations.'

© Copyright Singapore Press Holdings 2004