What can Singapore teach us in the battle for the world’s best tech talent? By Ong Chin Yin, Vice-president of People Operations, Grab
I think about talent daily. Recruitment, growth, well-being, collaboration, meritocracy, diversity.
It’s one of the reasons I joined Grab over a year ago to head up People Operations – and something I’ve grown accustomed to in the workplace, and even take for granted as a Singaporean.
And why is this on my mind now?
Just as we went into our Chinese New Year break, I read the news on travel restrictions in the US, and thought about the knock-on effect for the tech industry.
Tech companies in North America – including the CEOs of Apple and Netflix – are among the groups to voice concerns over the restrictions, given their reliance on foreign-born engineers and technical experts.
This is an issue that personally bothers me too as a Singaporean, who has witnessed first hand how critical diversity has been to the country’s success.
The Singapore Story
Singapore is a city built literally from the mangroves by our immigrant forefathers – both my parents were born in China and moved to Singapore as migrants. Many came with nothing but a great spirit – of hard work, striving for better lives, building a life for themselves in a new country. And our forefathers came from everywhere – China, India, Ceylon, Indonesia.
Our nation grew and prospered because it welcomed people from all over the world, whatever their race, language or religion. They chased opportunity; we chased talent. And those who did well were rewarded. Today Singapore, at over 50 years old, is still as open-minded as we strive to be amongst the world’s giants.
To compete, our government is looking ahead to engineering and technology as our future. To build the infrastructure for a smart nation. To attract companies to do more high value work like R&D here. To create a world-class tech hub that develops new innovations and cultivates the next Alibaba or Google.
Moonshot? Maybe. Compared to Silicon Valley, we have fewer huge tech companies and techies who have worked on engineering projects or products at scale. But we’re doing a decent job at making Singapore a desirable location for high-skilled workers and nurturing our local talent. Earlier in January, Singapore ranked second out of over 100 countries in INSEAD’s annual Global Talent Competitiveness Index. We were the only Asian nation in the top 10 – and we’ll continue to get better by taking bets on diversity. Our economy takes a two-pronged, complementary approach that nurtures Singaporeans and attracts experienced and world class talent from all over the world to augment our technology ecosystem. We are encouraged to strive and learn from each other for the betterment of all.
Workplace Diversity Isn’t A “Good-To-Have”. It’s a Must-Have.
At Grab, we’ve been actively taking notes and applying Singapore’s lessons.
Grab is only three years young in Singapore. We’re proud to be headquartered here. We share the same values of diversity, meritocracy and hard work. Half our management team is female. Our team of over 600 hails from more than 30 countries. Many are based in the six Southeast Asian countries we operate in, helping to grow the tech ecosystem here.
We’ve also invested in research and development centres in Seattle and Beijing so we can tap on the best global talent.
Working with a multicultural and multinational team brings a richer set of perspectives to the table. It benefits the communities we serve, and gives Grabbers a bigger picture of the world.
To share an example, one of our engineers in Seattle worked extensively with our Southeast Asian teams prior to the launch of our carpooling service, GrabShare. In the span of a year, he travelled five times to the region to understand usage patterns in each country.
He shared that these cultural exchanges take him outside of “just cranking out code in a cubicle”. It’s exhilarating, and motivates Grabbers to get to work everyday, ready to take on the world.
You can’t put a value on that kind of employee engagement.
We’ll Take A Bet on Diversity
Like Singapore, Grab is a small entity with big dreams. Technology is at the core of our business. And we believe the key to our continued success is to adopt an open-minded approach toward talent.
The demands of building an app platform for a developing region like Southeast Asia is a one-of-a-kind opportunity. Developing countries have different habits and infrastructure to deal with; it’s technically challenging, and our engineers, data scientists, product managers, user experience designers all tell us the same thing, that they see how their work can really change lives here. And they’ll keep challenging each other with their different perspectives to come up with better solutions for SEA communities.
So if you’re deliberating your next career move, regardless of whether you come from Serangoon or Syria, Bedok or Belarus, know that there’s a startup (Grab, if that wasn’t clear!) in Singapore that welcomes you 🙂