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Singapore finance recruiters welcome new diversity drive, despite possible hiring delays

Singapore finance recruiters have broadly welcomed new anti-discrimination rules that compel them to consider Singaporean candidates fairly for vacancies. But they say the rules, which they must follow to be licensed to operate, will create more paperwork, and could potentially delay hiring, especially in talent-short sectors such as technology.

Under the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) new licensing regime, which applies from 1 October, recruitment firms must comply with the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices, which were previously imposed only on direct employers, such as banks. These include having consistent and fair selection criteria throughout the recruitment process – from job application forms to interviews – and helping to hire a Singaporean “core” of talent for their clients. Agencies must also consider candidates on merit, and not discriminate based on factors such as age, race, nationality, gender, religion, marital status and family responsibilities, and disability.

Recruiters we spoke with in Singapore all support MOM’s decision, saying that diversity should be a priority when hiring. Marie Tay, managing director of The Resolute Hunter, says the rules ensure that the legal responsibility for shortlisting a diverse pool of candidates “trickles down” from banks to recruitment companies.

In practice, however, most agencies in the finance sector already follow the Tripartite Guidelines on an informal basis because they know the rules apply to their clients, says Gary Lai, managing director at Charterhouse Partnership. “So I think the additional regulations will have only a marginal impact on how recruitment agencies partner with their financial services clients,” he adds.

Still, the new rules will create more work internally within recruitment agencies. “More records will have to be documented and kept by agencies, to demonstrate that Singaporeans were given fair consideration to land the job,” says Angela Kuek, director of search firm Meyer Consulting. “There will be added measures to take in candidate selection, resulting in a slowing down of the hiring process,” she adds.

For example, the new obligation on agencies to make “reasonable efforts” to attract Singaporeans means recruiters might choose to partner with Workforce Singapore or NTUC’s Employment and Employability Institute to search for local job seekers. “Hiring processes may well lengthen as firms wait until the right local candidate is found,” says Richard Aldridge, a director at Black Swan Group.

“It’s necessary to continuously improve anti-discrimination frameworks and to obtain data to support the improving trend towards local hires,” says Lai. “But this shouldn’t be overly administratively onerous to the extent it increases the operational costs of recruitment and dilutes the core focus on hiring local talent. It’s important to get the balance right,” he adds.

Recruiters must be particularly careful if an employer asks them to restrict their search – such as to an overseas market to hire tech talent – as it looks for local candidates itself. While this approach is permissible, the agency must have a documented agreement to prove that the joint hiring drive included locals. Agencies are also obliged under the new rules to turn down requests to carry out discriminatory hiring. “I see a significant increase in record keeping for agencies because of this,” says Kuek.

For most vacancies in the finance sector, finding Singaporeans for jobs is comparatively straightforward, despite the country’s small population relative to its status as a large global financial centre, says Lai from Charterhouse. However, in many banking tech jobs – including cyber security, digital, and quantitative analytical positions –  demand still exceeds the supply of local talent, says Lai. Last month

Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister in charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, said the information and communications sector requires another 60,000 people in the next three years, but Singapore will produce only about 8,400 tech grads over that period.

Lai expects MOM to continue to “reserve some flexibility” for technology positions, because it is not always possible to find local candidates for these roles, even after thorough searches. An overly stringent insistence on local hires in tech may lead to inflated salaries, longer and more costly hiring processes, and ultimately to banks choosing to base these jobs outside of Singapore, he adds.

Tay from The Resolute Hunter says there will be a “temporary period of adjustment” for agencies, but says the MOM rules will “empower local talent” over the long term and will ensure “selection on merit” in the finance sector. Young candidates could benefit from more “upward mobility” in their future careers as recruiters make extra efforts from 1 October onwards to prioritise local hires, says Aldridge.

Photo by John T on Unsplash

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Email: or Telegram: @simonmortlock. You can also follow me on LinkedIn.

AUTHORSimon Mortlock Content Manager

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