Sunday, April 12, 2015

Calvin Cheng....Good Enough Meritocracy

Having my cereal and as quickly as possible scrolling through what happened overnight on Facebook when I come across this.

This provoked an interesting discussion (most times you see an exchange instead) which I thought my children should read when they have the time.

I told them in school they learned that may the best win, but this is often only partially true in real life. Meritocracy in practice is not about identifying and rewarding the best. That happens when you are looking for the top surgeon or litigator and a few other professions, all those that Nassim Taleb called Extremistan. In practice, meritocracy is about choosing the good enough and I like to offer them the example from nursing.

Nursing leaders and specialist nurses aside, bread and butter nursing is going to cheaper FTs. They perform the basics adequately (I didn't say competently) but come with language skills that make it difficult for them to communicate with most of our senior citizens, the main users of our hospitals. At this juncture, I must also add that the government say locals with local language skills do not want nursing jobs. Since the jobs must be done, foreigners are hired. If your parent coming to the hospital can't speak English to the Filipino nurse, you come along and help translate. Not good enough for you, but good enough to the hospital.

Good enough meritocracy in nursing means passable nursing skills minus language skills. When you do the sums and weigh their cost of labor, they get chosen. Eventually the few locals otherwise willing also do not want to join the profession because of the low pay and status. You are forced to put locals on another pay and career track or the pipeline to leadership and specialists positions will dry up.

Here is an example of passable skills. E.g., a foreign nurse who is clumsy at drawing blood from you and leaving a big bruise afterward and a local nurse which do an excellent job which I regularly experienced when I was a NS boy many years ago. The blood sample got drawn successfully regardless of how the arm look afterward. The foreign nurse, much cheaper is good enough because your arm don't scar much less die from this.

When you choose a profession, you have to bear in mind if you are entering a field where good enough will do or you have to be the best. Japan learnt this the hard way especially in consumer electronics and white goods when buyers refused to pay for quality beyond good enough.

There was a time when many products were poorly made and services poorly delivered. Meritocracy practically means making and doing the best to get chosen. That was also the hey days of Japanese manufacturing. Today most places can produce high quality good enough manufacture. Indian radiologists from the sub continent can interpret MRI and Catscans as well if not better than locals etc., We are in the age of Good Enough Meritocracy.

Once you get to Good Enough Meritocracy you no longer compete on excess and unnecessary quality but overall Quality to Cost measure. Singaporeans lose out. They want to do better but there are fewer and fewer opportunities which allow them to. On the ground people perceived themselves as either over educated or no opportunities to make use of their training. They realize they can't up their pay without the opportunities. They have done their best for themselves but now the system is against them and that is too big for them to overcome. The problem now becomes the government which valiantly and unsuccessfully try to explain it is either lower pay or no pay. Impossible task when ministers and civil service leaders are so highly paid.

  • Chris J. Chung At the lower end, they can hire as many foreigners as they want (as per the 80s LKY days), they have no right of abode, and it augments the labor force. At the middle end, you're just hiring the lowest common denominator for the cheapest price at present, it not only leads to a dumbing-down of industries and services, it also drives PMET wages down, and on top of that you let those third worlders with questionable papers stick around indefinitely, thus the current anger. At the higher end, those positions are so few, the margins so high that there simply aren't enough locals who'd fill those positions, and any number of foreigners (usually high end) won't matter, that's dictated by company requirements. 
    I'm pretty sure you won't be singing this tune if a whole bunch of low-end legal grads from west ham and karachi showed up on the shores of sing tomorrow taking your job, and maybe the supreme court SHOULD allow that, after all, it'd keep fees and remunerations down, the legal proceedings would be a lot more colorful and creative (and foreigners are ALWAYS more creative and brighter innit?),and why overpay so many local lawyers when guys from India, Pakistan and the rest of the jolly commonwealth can fill those places? Yes! Its time to import more foreign lawyers with the right to litigate wholesale! 
    Like · Reply · 6 · 10 hrs · Edited
    • Hide 16 Replies
    • Calvin Cheng Any businessman who hires cheaper but worse people will quickly go bust.
      Like · 9 · 15 hrs
    • Aaron Zhang Yuanzhi If we r that easily replaceable by these lower grade fts,we really deserve to lose our jobs 
      It's up to us to upgrade ourselves in order to stay competitive
      Isn't it?
      Like · 6 · 13 hrs
    • Chris J. Chung Calvin Cheng Only theoretically, the reality is that they're hiring them by the dozens and training them in-house, those who cut it sufficiently get to stay, those who don't make it get tossed, and its STILL cheaper than hiring individual locals, filing the paperwork and paying the OT and all.
      Like · 1 · 13 hrs · Edited
    • Calvin Cheng No company that has a HR policy based on churn will compete well in the long run either. It's more expensive to hire lots of shit foreigners who u have to sack than a good local that can stay for years. Not theoretical. My own experience.
      Like · 4 · 13 hrs
    • Chris J. Chung Aaron Zhang Yuanzhi You bring up a valid point, but upgrading's a catch-word at middle levels, truth is that even if you jumped through all the hoops and got yourself upgraded, your employer might be tempted to keep you, but ONLY at your pre-upgrading pay. If you want higher, he'd figure that he doesn't need the rocket scientist for the role (and most mid-level roles in sing ARE that mediocre!), and he'd jettison you in exchange for three foreign hires, so we're back to square one. You might take your skills and make a run for it (as many have done), but that depends on luck and all, and you're outta the system in that event.
      So in short, yeah, you "deserve" to lose your job, but when the axe falls, you really gonna tell yourself, your wife and your kids that? 
      Like · 1 · 13 hrs
    • Chris J. Chung Calvin Cheng and I'm telling you from my experience (and those of guys I know) that the revolving door's still affordable, far better than keeping fat locals anyway, and in most cases, the work's so basic (by western standards) you don't need the MSc.s, the MEngs, the Ph.D.s etc, those we hire from overseas exclusively FOR our overseas desks, I will NEVER run that risk in sing whatsoever, nor will I even THINK about it! Ok, so maybe they don't do that at A*Star, but how many A*Stars are there in sing to begin with? Most work locally CAN be filled by the foreign hires at dirt cheap prices, that's where the problem lies.
      Like · 2 · 13 hrs · Edited
    • Timothy Lee I second that. I am not saying by experience. I was even the casualty! And why we even need to defend this country. We can get cheap cheaper cheaperest soldiers globally!
      Like · 1 · 13 hrs
    • Chris J. Chung ^Don't tempt them! 
      Like · 12 hrs
    • Edward Tay Chris If the job is "so basic" by your words, then the employee had been overpaid in the first place. That is why the organisation will hire a cheaper working from overseas. Don't think closing borders are going to work - this is the Internet generation and mundane work is no longer going to fetch a premium if it can be outsourced to a cheaper country.

      Since you bring up legal practice I would highlight that law firms will hire two types of lawyers - those who have a special skill or analytical ability for the multi-ten-or-hundred-million dollar lawsuits and hire the cheap labour for the low end work - not exactly a bad thing since this would ultimately bring down the legal fees for the masses. Even for legal work, other than litigation, a lot of matters can easily be outsourced to a cheaper lawyer in India (leaving the Singapore lawyer to just review the work for Singapore law compliance). So like it or not, it is going to cut across all industries - except maybe medical (even then in the case of general practice I'm not so sure since instruments can send data overseas for prescription) or dentistry (that must be the safest profession now).
      Like · 12 hrs
    • Chris J. Chung Edward Tay What you call a premium others would call their ricebowl and fair wage, and as for legal work, tell that to Calvin, I don't think he'd too thrilled hearing that his work could easily be completed by some bargain basement counterpart working from the backrooms of Bangalore or Madras 
      Like · 11 hrs · Edited
    • Carlos Bott That's why most companies outsource entire engineering, back office medical and technical staff to (primarily) India and the Philippines. For the same cost of a fresh ITE or poly graduate you get an industry veteran with 5 to 10 experience, several published titles and credits and very specialized experience. Be happy that MNCs have seen Singapore's infrastructure and low taxes as a plus. That's the only thing it has going for it as a vast majority of companies seek to keep employment costs to a minimum. Don't you think for a moment companies like Ubisoft Singapore and LucasArts Singapore (before Disney) didn't outsource a majority of their animation and coding departments to the Philippines, Ukraine and Vietnam.
      Like · 11 hrs
    • Chris J. Chung ^and given that they're no more than mere sweatshops, what's the glamor and benefits of having them around in the first place?
      Like · 10 hrs · Edited
    • Carlos Bott Ubisoft and LucasArts definitely do not run sweatshops. But as media and content providers, they have strict deadlines. Projects do not miss deadlines due to crap like Work-life balance. 
      MediaCorp is no doubt any different. As we say in the media industry, the show must go on.
      Like · 10 hrs
    • Edward Tay Chris Simple. If it takes 100 foreigners to keep 10-20 Singaporean middle and upper middle managers at work (and by middle managers I mean those in the monthly $12-15k range and by upper middle those in the $20-30k range) then it is worthwhile to keep the company here. Not to forget a few $5k O and A Level secretaries (only MNC secretaries will fetch $5k, local companies will not pay more than $3k). 

      Should we sacrifice these local jobs by forcing the MNC to hire entry level and lower-level managers at uncompetitive rates? I would contend not.
      Like · 10 hrs
    • Edward Tay Chris By the way, the employer does not owe the employee a "fair wage". The employer owes the employee instead fair value for the services rendered. If that is higher than a "fair wage", well and good. If that is lower than a "fair wage", then too bad.
      Like · 8 hrs
    • Chris J. Chung Carlos Bott If they're interested in offering only the lowest pay for any work as you mentioned, then sure, they are sweatshops 
      Edward Tay The scale seems a lil inflated,. but regardless, I'm not the one advocating the fair wage and flexi-hours conc
      ept, though the noise at the grassroots level seems rather strident these days. In terms of response, we can always pull a George Yeo I guess, and he does seem happier now than ever before 
      Like · 6 hrs

No comments:

Post a Comment