How bad is the brain drain problem in Singapore?

October 24, 2012

“The question at this point is not whether we need to bring in more foreigners if we are to continue to rack up stellar GDP’s. It is not even whether we should bring in more foreigners as we aren’t producing enough babies. If you think very carefully about the questions you ask, you will begin to realize that this will very much determine the way in which you journey towards understanding a thing.

“Consider this: let us just ask an all together different question from the one that we would usually ask. For example, how bad is the Singaporean brain drain? 

You know what? No one really knows. Now let’s say in this experiment, we are allowed to postulate. 

I think the Singaporean brain drain has to be bad, so bad as to even be a serious threat that exceeds being flooded by a giant tsunami. And the reason why I hold to this belief is simply because so many professional sectors have been hollowed out in the last 5 years by what I can only described as misconceived immigration policies that tilt the balance in favor of profit instead of growing a thing, which in this case may very well mean – decent jobs that don’t grind people to a pulp. Yes, “growing a thing,” was the term I used. Its an agricultural term that implies seeding, tending and harvesting – but that is what wise governments should ideally do. If they interested about growing decent jobs where people can find edifying as it fits in with the whole principle of dignity of labor. 

They are always thinking about “growing a thing.” That is precisely why I support government bail out’s to a certain degree – for example, I don’t see the logic of governments pouring in good money to save zombie banks. I happen to believe that is a waste of money.

But I do see the long term pay out’s of let’s say saving an automobile or aircraft manufacturing firm. The reason why I consider the first example stupid hardly needs any elaboration. But in the case of the second example, it’s simply because those skill sets that reside within that community needs to be nourished and in certain cases protected. As to lose those skills would probably mean wiping out a entire generation of managers, supervisors and technicians who are proficient in building things – it is only when we see the job in the context of the community that we will begin to see the wisdom of regulating the flow of new foreign players into ANY job market = my point is what is often disregarded when we talk regularly about jobs being hollowed out to such a point when even Singaporeans cannot possibly consider them seriously. We are also talking about the end of many of these social linkages that makes possible the whole idea of the job perpetuating itself organically through lets say a master and apprentice relationship.

I think it is only when we begin to frame the whole idea of jobs as a set of intricate networks and linkages that we can begin to see the rough outlines of what we may have lost as a result of relentless professional immigrations. And this brings into focus, one notable fact: skill sets that reside in a profession or vocation are not easily replicable and once you have lost them, often it translates into a loss for the nation in ways that are not immediately seen.

That is the principle of growing a thing – and the same principle applies to jobs and vocations – governments or at least good government should always ensure that every sector of the job market grows properly. Not too fast and not too slow, the pace should ideally be easy going and in steady increments – the same goes for skills. They also need to be protected to grow. Some people don’t like to protect things. They much prefer it to left to the vagaries of the free market – they even believe in this clap trap known as the wisdom of the markets. Some even suggest if you protect a thing, then it will naturally be weak. That again is a gross generalization – I mean, if every farmer follows such a dogmatic rule in the hope of getting a higher yield. He would probably end up cutting every single tree down in his orchard.

My point is certain skill sets that reside in a community needs to be ALWAYS protected. And if one leaves it entirely to the vagaries of the market. Then the outcome will only be at best patchy and at worse even something resembling a social Chernobyl story. 

In life it is very easy to increase yield by cannibalizing on the future. If I want to bump up my yield all I need to do is saturate the land with tons of chemical fertilizers. In the short run I will get a good return on my investment. But in the long run all I am really doing is sabotaging myself somewhere down the future. As the land itself will definitely reach a point when its so evacuated of nutrients that nothing can ever grow.

And it is the same when we talk about jobs and vocations in Singapore. Jobs aren’t really just jobs. When you look at them in the way a naturalist studies ants, you will find there are intricate networks, fine strands of relationships that network out very much like roots in a plant – but I want you to understand always, these are very delicate networks. Now when you bring in a whole lot of people into lets say law, engineering, accountancy, management, sales, engineering etc and there exist no rationale except maybe trying to break the land speed record for immigration – then what do you think will happen to these delicate linkages within the community that your job finds meaning in?

It will be destroyed. And this is basically the problem that many 40 yearish professionals face these days. Suddenly they find that all the old linkages don’t work any longer. As what unregulated immigration does to jobs is introduce new movers and shakers into the professional scene – so what will eventually happen is the natives will only see their old linkages being washed away and replaced by a new order – those who can hold on to their jobs can only go through what I call the onion life – where they see their colleagues getting displaced and marginalized or having to work unearthly hours. 

I think this is instructive to most professionals. Do not expect to live a 9 to 5 life. As it’s likely to 24/7.

So the only option that I can see for this new emerging class of marginalized and displaced is elsewhere. 

The real tragedy in all this is that most of them aren’t leaving for greener pastures as they are to preserve the way of life that they once cherished and loved. Now from this. We can gather a few things.

Firstly, we may ask ourselves why are so many highly qualified Singaporeans leaving Singapore? And why isn’t the government doing more to address this emerging problem?

But like I said, its hard, if not impossible to have a deep spirited discussion concerning this subject – as no one seems to want to talk about this aspect of Singapore life. My fear is no one even wants to go there – and that will simply mean this problem is likely to get bigger in the foreseeable future. Perhaps even overshadowing the whole idea of growing the economy or for that matter replacing the deficits associated with our baby blues….yes, it is a very big problem…”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: