Branding Singapore as a talent hotbed is a passionate goal

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Singapore’s new brand platform “Passion Made Possible” is an attempt at authenticity — taking an approach that conveys a facet of the Singapore spirit that both Singaporeans and visitors admire.

Beh Swan Gin, chairman of the Economic Development Board, shared: “It is timely to send a strong and clear signal that companies can … turn possibilities into reality [in Singapore]. Singapore and Singaporeans are where we are today because we pushed the limits of what’s possible, and did not allow constraints to hold us back.”

Lynnette Pang, chief marketing officer of Singapore Tourism Board (STB), added: “It’s beyond what you can do in Singapore. That message is important and we will still do this but we will add another layer, which is when we think about what we are being and what we are interested in and passionate about. People want to be with like-minded individuals and be part of a like-minded tribe.”

Each year, research firm Kantar Millward Brown reveals the extent to which the world’s strongest brands would outperform both the S&P 500 and the MSCI World Index. This year, its study showed that while 10-year returns from investing in the S&P 500 and MSCI World Index stood at 82.1% and 34.9% respectively, the strongest 100 brands commanded an impressive 124.9% return on investment. The same study found that “authenticity” was a key factor behind the value of these strong brands.

A brand that needs to say ‘Yes, that’s us.’

In a similar way, the STB said “Passion Made Possible,” its new branding effort, is a platform that was developed from the inside: “STB began the journey by speaking to internal stakeholders, travel stakeholders, and of course, everyday Singaporeans. Also added to the mix were consumers from key markets … EDB and STB asked what attributes these folks would use to describe us. [Many] stakeholders and Singaporeans felt that we needed a brand that was true to us and others could say, ‘Yes, that’s us.’ ”

In an interview with a marketing trade publication, Lynette Pang, STB’s chief marketing officer shared how Passion Made Possible is part of a longer-term strategy to “tell a great Singapore story.” And to that end, may I offer one other angle — albeit less associated with tourism marketing — that Passion Made Possible could possibly tap into to form part of that compelling story.

According to a global study of nation brands by Brand Finance, Singapore had a brand strength index of 92.9 and has been found to be the only country brand to have scored over 90 — boosted from its reputation for investing and nurturing an industry-ready citizenry.  Brand Finance cited Singapore’s success in nurturing a skilled workforce through the country’s SkillsFuture initiative as a key contributor to the country’s brand strength.

In line with Passion Made Possible’s approach of evoking Singapore’s best self, STB could showcase Singapore’s ability to not only develop a skilled talent pool, but also become a hotbed that attracts and nurtures talent from abroad to realize their aspirations in the global marketplace.

In line with Passion Made Possible’s approach of evoking Singapore’s best self, STB could showcase Singapore’s ability to not only develop a skilled talent pool, but also become a hotbed that attracts and nurtures talent from abroad to realize their aspirations in the global marketplace.

Spearheading SkillsFuture’s ambitious drive is Singapore’s ministry of higher education and its minister, Ong Ye Kung. He has shared how higher education institutions can play a big part in transforming cities, as they help to translate knowledge into new ideas, businesses and jobs.

Citing the example of Pittsburgh, which had huge job losses and urban decay after the United States steel industry was downsized in the 1980s, Ong referenced how universities like Carnegie Mellon introduced courses such as biotechnology, information technology and clean energy to explore high-tech sectors. The city has since attracted tech giants such as Google, Uber, and Facebook.

While the demands of the New Economy have brought about a huge skills gap worldwide, research firm Parthenon-EY found that higher education needs were significantly underserved in the region, where demand outstrips the available supply in local public and private institutions.

Parallels could be drawn from Pittsburgh’s transformative story if Singapore aims to showcase how “passion” could be “made possible” as a talent hotbed — where the very best and brightest people are attracted to acquire skills and higher education, be exposed to the best practices of winning organizations based here, and bring these experiences home, to contribute to their respective economies.

ASEAN is projected to become the fourth largest single market in the world by 2030. It already counts some of the world fastest growing economies among its members, who bring complementary roles to the regional bloc’s economic ecosystem — from manufacturing and logistics centers to financial hubs and innovation labs. And a skilled talent pool will be needed to fuel the region’s growth trajectory.

In fact, Singapore has proven to be an attractive destination for brand-name institutions and international students alike.

Singapore skilled at attracting foreign students

Sam Choon-Yin, dean of one of Singapore’s largest private education institutions, PSB Academy (PSB), and author of Private Education in Singapore: Contemporary Issues and Challenges, chronicles the journey of Singapore’s efforts in 2003 to become a “global schoolhouse”: “The goal set out to attract 10 top foreign institutions within 10 years. Yet in just four years into the program, there were already 15 world-class foreign higher education institutions in Singapore offering niche programs to both Singaporeans and foreign students.”

But lessons show how these efforts, which were, by-and-large, spearheaded by the government primarily through its public education institutions, less successful in helping these marque schools to be self-sustainable.

For example, in spite of receiving loans, grants and other forms of generous support from the Singapore government, New York University decided to close its Tisch School of the Arts Asia in Singapore, citing financial non-sustainability as the key concern.

As opposed to going it alone, however, public institutions should consider partnering with their peers from the private sector in developing and communicating Singapore’s value proposition as a talent development destination.

After all, while Singapore’s publicly funded universities have to navigate a fine socio-political balance of attracting the best students from abroad, and exuding the perception that local students are given priority for the limited places at these institutions, private education institutions (PEIs) have no such concerns.

Privately funded institutions such as the Singapore Institute of Management and PSB are two of Singapore’s leading PEIs. About 12,000 students study at PSB every year, of which about 40% of its student population comprises more than 50 nationalities.

Privately funded institutions such as the Singapore Institute of Management and PSB are two of Singapore’s leading PEIs. About 12,000 students study at PSB every year, of which about 40% of its student population comprises more than 50 nationalities.

Due to the cosmopolitan mix of their student populations, these institutions are accustomed to attracting, engaging and preparing their graduates to seize opportunities in the New Economy. For example, PSB has enjoyed a track record of producing degree and diploma graduates who are industry-ready not only for Singapore but also the countries from whence these international students come.

Market research firm Idstats reported that during the last three years, PSB’s courses had helped more than 70% of international students obtain their current jobs, while about 77% of them had secured employment within six months of graduating from PSB.

These employment rates for international students demonstrate how quality private institutions can credibly partner with its public counterparts to exude Singapore’s value proposition as a talent hotbed, for the next chapter of Singapore’s Passion Made Possible story.

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