by Tom Field

Singapore Speed Bumps: Labor Scarcity and Other Issues

Jul 01, 20022 mins
IT Leadership

The government giveth…and taketh away. The voting privilege in Singapore is universal?and compulsory. A citizen who fails to vote is stripped of the right to vote for five years.

In other words, Singapore gives people and businesses freedom to do what they’re told. The financial services and high-tech industries are lightly regulated, and the telecommunications industry was completely privatized in 2000. But this is still a restrictive marketplace for media and entertainment companies. Journalists must be licensed in Singapore, Playboy and Cosmopolitan are banned, movies are censored, and the government maintains a list of banned websites that Internet service providers are required to block from Singaporean subscribers.

Labor is scarce. There are currently 116,000 IT jobs in Singapore, with only 106,000 qualified professionals to fill them, creating an enduring shortage of about 10,000 people. It’s a seller’s market, and IT workers are commanding top dollar?$24,000 per year on average, which is almost five times what programmers in India earn. Companies increasingly are establishing management headquarters in Singapore and outsourcing the labor to China or India.

The living is easy…and expensive. Singapore has no natural resources, and its man-made ones are scarce too. Housing is particularly expensive. Residential space is so scarce, in fact, that about 86 percent of the population lives in government-built and financed high-rise apartments that cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 per month. Because of the high cost of living, many multinational companies pay a housing allowance to their Singapore employees.

Office space is similarly scarce and expensive, but the government provides financial incentives and assistance to global businesses opening offices there.

As for transportation, it’s relatively cheap if you don’t mind taking a taxi or the subway. But the number of cars and drivers is strictly regulated. In fact, prospective drivers must win a lottery just for the privilege of paying up to $10,000 to obtain a driver’s license. Foreigners with valid driver’s licenses have an easier time of it; they can apply for a Singapore driver’s license after one year of residency.

Of course, because of high tariffs aimed at discouraging private ownership, a midrange car can cost as much as $100,000.