Skip to main content

Keynote speech at Asia-Pacific Employment Summit 2024

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State for Manpower, Marina One

Mr Dan White, Director of International Employment Lawyer


Mr John van der Luit-Drummond, Editor-in-Chief of International Employment Lawyer


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen



  1. A very good morning to all. I’m happy to join all of you at the Asia-Pacific Employment Summit this morning.

  2. At the inaugural summit last year, I shared about Singapore’s efforts to create a workplace culture that is safe and fair for all. This year, I will be speaking about Singapore’s strategy to attract and retain talent, amidst strong global competition for talent.

  3. As a small city-state with limited natural resources, our strategy is to attract and grow talent as our key resource. By building a strong and competitive workforce, we can then power the growth of our businesses, attract foreign investments into Singapore and create new jobs for Singaporeans. For the legal sector, continued access to talent that can offer world class legal services will strengthen Singapore’s value proposition as an international legal hub and a global business centre.

  4. In recent years, there is a heightened urgency to address the talent issue in Singapore, as we grapple – just like in many parts of the world – with both an ageing population and falling birth rates. I would like to outline the three prongs of Singapore’s talent strategy as follows: first, to strengthen the career health of our local workforce; two, to ensure that businesses have access to a complementary foreign workforce; and three, to continue building progressive workplaces.

    Strengthening career health

  5. First, to strengthen the career health of our workforce, it means that we empower everyone to take charge of their skills and career development. So it’s not just the charge of HR or employers, but every employee and everyone of us has the responsibility to look after our own career health, making sure that we are relevant, we continue to value-add, that we stay employed as long as we want to. We will support our workers in career planning and deliberate upskilling – I used the word ‘deliberate upskilling’ because you have to take charge of that – so that they are agile and adaptable, therefore improving their opportunities and their relevance in the labour market. In addition, we are also working on efforts to help workers acquire international experience and to broaden their horizons. Many companies have been leveraging the strength of our local talent pool to lead their overseas operations. We hope to strengthen and enable more companies to do so through the new Overseas Markets Immersion Programme.

  6. Next, advancements in technology will also offer new opportunities for our workers to be more productive, by performing higher-value work or being more efficient in their roles.

  7. For the legal sector, a survey by the Straits Times and Statista last year found that about three in four lawyers estimated that artificial intelligence could perform between 11% and 50% of their tasks in future. This means that many of you, me included, will need to learn to harness artificial intelligence tools and change the way we work. In October last year, the Ministry of Law and Infocomm Media Development Authority launched the Legal Industry Digital Plan, which identified tools that will help automate knowledge work and digital skills that legal professionals can consider to better harness technology.

  8. The Government will continue to build on its efforts to support our workforce – including those in the legal industry – to reskill and equip themselves to seize new opportunities.

    Enabling access to a complementary foreign workforce

  9. Second, to complement our efforts in strengthening our local workforce, ensuring businesses have access to a complementary foreign workforce is key.

  10. Complementing our local workforce with a diverse and talented foreign workforce is critical to our survival, especially as our workforce ages and birth rates decline. We need the best talent to power a dynamic economy, to attract and retain businesses in Singapore, and to be able to create and maintain jobs here. We cannot do this alone.

  11. It is natural and understandable to want to protect livelihoods. But at the same time if you do not do this properly, you will find that we will atrophy and lose opportunities because the international community wants to continue to invest, but if you close your economy, it is going to be quite tough being an international hub. You will lose opportunities, you will lose investments, and therefore it is very hard to create new jobs or remain relevant to the global international community. It is therefore existential for us to remain an open economy, to enable businesses to bring in the talent they need to complement our local workforce. With a complementary local-foreign talent pool, together we can achieve much more. Just look at everyone here in the room – you have got a very diverse pool of legal professionals and that creates a more vibrant and diverse workforce that complements each other to address the international market.

  12. This is why the Ministry of Manpower has been facilitative to businesses to bring in global talent through two main schemes. The first is the Complementary Assessment Framework (COMPASS) and Overseas Networks & Expertise (ONE) Pass. We launched COMPASS last year. It evaluates each Employment Pass (EP) applicant’s complementarity with our local workforce more holistically. Many employers have responded positively. They said this has helped to provide greater transparency on the qualification criteria so that businesses have greater certainty in manpower planning. In the past, employers have come to me to say that their work pass applications had been rejected but they were not told why. Today, there is a lot more transparency where you can see the points system, you understand whether your workers will qualify way in advance, and it enables employers and HR to plan manpower better, have visibility and sight of the complementarity of your candidates coming in, and view whether the work passes were cleared or not. That is one aspect in which transparency has improved with COMPASS. We move on to ONE Pass, which was also launched recently. It is intended to attract top tier professionals and business leaders to work and live in Singapore, and at the same time while having the flexibility to contribute to multiple companies or start their own ventures. This gives employers greater flexibility to bring in more senior and highly-skilled professionals with the network and deep expertise to spur business growth.

  13. We have also seen that our legal industry has grown in tandem with liberalisation of the sector. It is testament to how our strategy to bring in complementary foreign talent can contribute towards Singapore’s growth. Since 2008, the Government has gradually liberalised the legal services sector. The introduction of law practice structures for Singapore law practices to enter formal collaboration arrangements with foreign law practices has facilitated an influx of experience and expertise. This provides greater flexibility for Singapore law practices to grow their capabilities and collaborate with foreign partners to enhance international competitiveness. There are currently over 100 foreign law practices and over 1000 foreign lawyers in Singapore, with steady year-on-year growth. These add to the diversity of legal services available and the strength of our legal sector. Nominal value-added of the legal industry nearly doubled from 2008 to 2023, and our exports of legal services more than tripled over the same period. The pie has grown significantly wider as the sector grew, opened up, and gave us access to the international markets. You can see the exports of our legal expertise tripled in the same period.

  14. Over the years, the legal sector has grown to be a key pillar of our economy and strengthened Singapore’s position as an international legal and dispute resolution hub, providing strong support to other economic activities. 

    Building progressive workplaces

  15. Moving on to building progressive workplaces, we want to help employers better attract and retain talent, and Singapore is committed to build progressive workplaces, to cater to the diverse needs of workers from all walks of life.

  16. That is why we have introduced the Tripartite Guidelines on Flexible Work Arrangement Requests, which will come into effect in December this year. The Guidelines will shape norms and expectations around flexible work arrangements, which have become increasingly important for talent attraction and retention. We hope the guidelines can facilitate greater communication between employers and workers to make work arrangements win-win for everyone. For employees, this means that they can better manage work and family flexibilities or personal commitments. For employers, flexible work arrangements not only help their employees better manage work responsibilities alongside personal and family commitments, but it also helps to improve retention rate. It is also a key strategy to attract those outside the labour force to return to work.

  17. In parallel, we should also encourage employers to adopt fair and inclusive employment practices. We have put in place a range of initiatives to facilitate the employment of vulnerable segments of our workforce, such as persons with disabilities, older workers and ex-offenders. This also helps employers tap on a wider pool of talent to meet their manpower needs. Later this year, we will introduce the Workplace Fairness Legislation, that will help to ensure a level-playing field for workers and zero-tolerance towards discrimination in our workplaces, even as Singapore maintains itself as an open global business hub.


  18. In conclusion, as in-house and private practice lawyers, each one of you plays a role in supporting Singapore’s efforts in maintaining itself as a competitive global hub for business and talent. For those who are leaders in the legal sector, you are pivotal in influencing the organisational structure and HR management practices in your companies. These will in turn affect the competitiveness of your firm in attracting local and foreign talent. For those who are in-house legal counsels, you may be responsible for helping your company to ensure compliance with legislation and navigate complexities faced when operating in other jurisdictions. At the same time, all of us are also workers, so we can take charge of our career health and contribute to building progressive workplaces where diverse talent can thrive.

  19. I hope that the discussions will be useful and insightful for the later part of today.

  20. I thank the International Employment Lawyer for organising this discussion platform and wish everyone a fulfilling time for the rest of the summit! Thank you and have a wonderful day.