How are changes to the Singapore Employment Pass (EP) affecting the procurement market?

Posted on January 28 , 2021. 
By Ben McDonald

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​In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, some minor restrictions have been implemented in Singapore affecting the issuance of employment passes. This is causing some concern amongst the business sector, but don’t fear. Here’s everything you need to know about what’s changed and its impact on the procurement market.

Who can get a Singapore employment pass now?

Employment passes are still being awarded, but there’s now more scrutiny and validation around who’s issued an EP. Prior to an employment pass being awarded to an overseas applicant, an exhaustive search of the local talent market must now be undertaken.

This is, in essence, a good thing – it ensures that employment of current Singapore citizens and permanent residents is given priority, thereby supporting the local economy. Under these new rules, we’re required to report search statistics to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) on a quarterly basis to remain compliant.

It’s now becoming rarer for Singaporean businesses to hire externally from overseas because there’s a pool of skilled candidates already working in Singapore. For that reason, individuals obtaining employment passes are often already in Singapore with another company. Exceptions tend to only be made when there’s a very specific skill set required for a particular role, if it’s a senior hire, or in cases where individuals are relocating to Singapore as part of an internal move within their current organisation.

Will Singapore lose jobs overseas?

If a company performs an exhaustive search of the local talent market in Singapore and can’t find a suitable candidate, the role is often relocated overseas. This is particularly the case in other regional growth hubs like KL or Bangkok, where it’s easier to obtain an employment pass for overseas nationals and there’s a growing pool of local talent with regional and global experience. There’s also an increasing pool of talent prepared to move to these locations, particularly if the move involves attractive career development. The inherent risk here is that the Singapore market will start to lose jobs overseas.

We’ve found that when companies have relocated a position away from Singapore to other cities in the region, this hasn’t always been at a lower total cost to the business – despite perceptions to the contrary. This is due to rapid salary growth in the emerging markets, as well as weak and often recessionary salary growth in Singapore driven by an uptick in unemployment. This means there’s a surplus of both locals and overseas nationals in the employment market, creating downward pressure on wages.

Advice for employers

In practice, it’s quite rare to be unable to source talent locally when aiming to fill key procurement roles in Singapore. There’s a lot of debate around skills shortages, and while it’s true with the dynamic nature of business in Singapore right now, there’s no shortage of very good general procurement talent with a desire to upskill. It’s never impossible to hire if you’re flexible around the specific skills required and there are relevant procurement professionals either available or passively considering opportunities.

To successfully tap into the passive talent market – which is by its nature a much larger talent pool – it’s helpful to engage the expertise of talent attraction specialists with in-depth knowledge of the ASEAN market.

Advice for job seekers

The overarching challenge in the market for job seekers currently is that there are fewer positions available and a significantly increased number of candidates applying for roles. The competition is tight.

We recommend planning for the medium to long term, with a focus on personal skill development and training. This will increase your perceived attractiveness to future employers, in effect future-proofing your career. It’s also worth understanding the key functions of your current role and how they relate to enabling you to compete for relevant positions as they arise in the current and future markets.

Being flexible and realistic in terms of your expectations will greatly increase the number of opportunities available, as well as the likelihood that your candidacy will be strongly considered. Similarly, prioritizing opportunities that offer training and development in ‘new age’ skill areas will work out better in the long term, rather than having a short-sighted view of opportunities that may offer a salary increase but little else besides.

It’s very rare that the best job will come when you’re actively seeking it, particularly in Singapore where position tenures and procurement organization cycles tend to be shorter than elsewhere. For this reason, always remain passively active in the job market.

Want to discuss your career journey? Get in touch now.

Ben McDonald


Consumer & Industrial Markets


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