Acre's Greg Brittian, Head of Sustainable Business - APAC shared his thoughts with The Straits Times regarding the demand for ESG talent and high-earning sustainability professionals.
Original source: The Straits Times | Published on 11th September 2022 | Written by Tay Hong Yi
SINGAPORE - The Overseas Networks and Expertise (One) Pass has had Singapore talking ever since it was announced by Minister for Manpower Tan See Leng on Aug 29.
At the press conference to unveil the pass, Dr Tan made it clear that the Republic is playing in the big leagues as it seeks to attract the top players in various ﬁelds.
"By bringing the best from around the world, we can tap their networks, learn from their expertise, and ultimately we will accelerate the development of our local talent pool," he said.
The green economy and sustainability sectors are among those likely to beneﬁt the most from the new pass, applications for which open on Jan 1 next year, Dr Tan said.
But he added that the pass is also intended to help bring in those who are at the cutting edge in every ﬁeld, including academia and culture.
Observers Insight spoke to largely agreed the pass will likely appeal most to top talent in deep tech, such as artiﬁcial intelligence, cyber security and automation, as well as biotechnology, sustainability and ﬁnance.
"Mega trends such as sustainability and climate change, the data economy and digitisation are key to unlocking strategic opportunities in enabling long-term success for businesses," said Ms Eng Poo-Jiuan, senior vice-president of human resources, Asia-Paciﬁc, at industrial automation company Schaeﬄer.
She added: "Moreover, with many companies and businesses looking to hire talent with speciﬁc skill sets to drive initiatives in new niche areas such as sustainability and digitalisation, there is an insuﬃcient supply of domestic talent with the required skills and experience."
Keeping the competitive edge
Even though local talent can be groomed to take on roles in these emergent sectors, global talent is needed to help introduce these skills quickly enough to meet the urgent demand. The rainmakers can then pass on their knowledge to local talent, to maintain Singapore's competitive edge.
Mr David Cherry, senior director of talent acquisition for Asia-Paciﬁc and Japan at cyber-security company CrowdStrike, said: "Aside from bringing in top talent into our organisation, bringing cyber-security talent into Singapore will also have a halo effect of deepening the talent pool here as well as helping drive the evolution of the larger cyber-security industry here."
He added that the company currently employs senior business leaders and professionals who would meet the $30,000 salary requirement, and it will hire for similarly high-paying roles in future.
Mr Greg Brittain, Head of Sustainable Business in Asia-Paciﬁc at sustainability recruiter Acre, said: "The challenge is in the time taken to become a competent professional versus the signiﬁcant increase in demand we have seen over the last ﬁve years.
"The demand for talent has increased quicker than people have been able to become qualiﬁed and gain knowledge in the area.
"The solution is not simply to import more talent - it needs to be a combination of upskilling and developing local talent alongside bringing in talent to support the building of capacity within Singapore."
Estimating that there are 100 to 200 sustainability professionals earning $30,000 or more in Singapore, Mr Brittain said sustainability experts who are potential One Pass holders have experience implementing sustainability policies in more mature markets.
"They can pass on their experiences and also support systemic changes that are needed in the region, helping to build the local capacity in such an important hub for business in Asia," he said.
Flexibility is opportunity
Apart from the high salary benchmark, it is the extra ﬂexibility afforded by One Pass that could draw in top talent and also make the rain happen.
One Pass allows its holders to hold multiple jobs and start one or more businesses. This will suit not only the talent being wooed, but is also a good ﬁt for the industries they will join.
Mr Noah Pepper, Asia-Paciﬁc business lead at e-payments giant Stripe, said: "Traditional employment pass schemes in most countries cause workers to quickly shift between jobs, or return to their home country, because their ability to stay in the country is contingent on active employment."
Yet, he noted, many of the world's most valuable and well-known companies were created by people amid a period of exploration or wandering. "
Thus, I think ongoing employment requirements can inadvertently limit the number of new ventures being created," he said.
The move would also allow the top-level talent to do exactly what they want - whether it is advising companies, taking on consulting assignments or launching their own start-up businesses, said Mr Rhys Morgan, an associate director specialising in hiring for senior positions in digital infrastructure and renewable energy at executive search ﬁrm Kepler Search.
It sounds like a win-win. But what makes someone a top talent in the ﬁrst place?
In the Singapore context, observers paint a proﬁle of someone who could shoulder heavy responsibility in key areas where there is a shortage of such people. Take cyber security, for instance.
"Those who qualify for the new pass are the cyber-security pros holding senior managerial roles, like chief information security oﬃcers," said Mr Dmitry Volkov, chief executive of cyber-security company Group-IB.
These specialists, he said, would have skills and experience to lead a team and put together a tech product from scratch.
But he also underscored the importance of grooming local talent to learn these skills from global talent and apply them to the local context.
He said: "Cybercrime in every geographical area has its own face, its own characteristics, methods and communities.
"Only local experts familiar with these speciﬁcs can effectively identify, monitor and respond to local threats."
He added that his company is contributing to the ecosystem by exposing local talent - even interns - to real cyberthreats in the trenches.
There is also a demand for talented foreign professionals who can perform top regional roles.
Mr Morgan said he recruits someone earning above $30,000 per month at least once per quarter, with the process usually taking three to six months.
"Singapore's status as South-east Asia or, sometimes, Asia-Paciﬁc headquarters (of companies) is key to getting these salaries," he said.
He added that most renewable energy projects, as well as digital infrastructure projects, such as data centres around Asia, will be decided, planned and even partially managed from Singapore.
And those who qualify for the One Pass would be the people in charge of making critical decisions such as where to invest, what tools to use, how much to spend and how many people to hire for multiple large projects costing as much as $100 million each.
Such talent, he said, should be capable of operating in diverse environments, managing budgets or making important technical decisions.
The reason companies are willing to pay such high salaries for these talent is that if they hire the wrong person, who makes bad decisions, it will cost the company far more than $30,000 a month, he said.
Mr Pepper said that in his experience, one of the rarest skills anywhere in the world is being able to create, manage and scale high-performing product and engineering teams.
He said: "This skill set is something you have to learn on the job... and the lessons you learn are exceptionally expensive lessons. "You have to make expensive mistakes or get a front-row seat to others making expensive mistakes to learn these skills... (and) there are, structurally, just not as many of them in existence."
Low potential for abuse
Could the increased ﬂexibility of the One Pass process, which includes exemption from the Complementarity Assessment Framework (Compass), be abused by employers to pass over deserving Singaporeans?
Slated to kick in next September, Compass is a points-based framework that assesses attributes of an employment pass applicant and the employer to decide whether to issue the pass.
Such abuse is unlikely, said lawyer Laure de Panaﬁeu, head of global law ﬁrm Linklaters' employment law practice in Asia.
"There is a very effective process for people to just complain to Tafep (Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices) - and they do, and Tafep does investigate," she said.
"We've been involved in supporting various corporates with those investigations... (and) you're not going to be able to go through the cracks if you were discriminating and looking to, for whatever reason, not hire locally," she added.
But she hopes that the Government will hold extensive consultations to determine just what constitutes outstanding achievement in each One Pass applicant's ﬁeld.
Some of these ﬁelds are still young in Singapore, she said. One option is to dive into them and start from scratch with a completely blank sheet.
"But if you have the advantage of having someone who (already started from) the blank sheet, did the trial-and-error, testing and adaptation, you'll have a head start compared with others who are starting with a blank sheet or don't have all the beneﬁts of that experience," she said.