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Clean, cheaper pastures draw expats to Lion City
Published on Friday, 29 Jul 2011

Internal data from recruitment group Ambition revealed an alarming statistic last month for local companies looking to hire and retain expatriate staff.

The data, which was sourced from an in-house system used to refer candidates to the firm's Singapore office, has shown a marked increase in the number of executives looking to relocate to the island-nation.

Among the Hong Kong candidates canvassed by Ambition through the first half of the year, 24 per cent said they would consider moving to Singapore for their next position. The figure was 118 per cent higher than that for the same period in 2010.

The firm's managing director for Hong Kong, Matthew Hill, says the factors contributing to the change largely come down to rising living costs, limited education options, and a rapidly diminishing quality of life here.

While high property prices are partly to blame for the shift, surging rental rates are the real issue, Hill says.

"The majority of candidates are not coming here to buy houses. They're coming here for four-to-five-year stints, and thus are looking to rent," he says. "But as prices continue to rise, things are getting vastly more expensive for the bulk of them."

This, in turn, is closely followed by a lack of placements at international schools, he notes. "We've had a lot of candidates that had offers, but have had to wait to find school places [for their children].

"Unfortunately, they're often unable to do this in time, and thus choose to move to Singapore instead. The British and Australian chambers of commerce have been talking to us about this for a while, but there seems to be a bit of denial from the government," Hill explains.

"They often cite the number of places available in the international school system, yet time and again our candidates are finding themselves in waiting lists reaching into the hundreds."

Air pollution, meanwhile, was also among the deterrents cited, one which increasingly seems to have no end in sight.

"It has always been a problem here," says Hill. "But the population has swelled and people seem to be much more aware of it now."

He says executives most likely to take the southward leap in the coming months are those from the financial services and IT sectors, the latter of which are particularly mobile due to the nature of their job.

For hiring managers looking to attract and retain expats, Hill recommends focusing more on leadership training, employee development and work-life balance initiatives.


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