The government of Singapore is driving initiatives to attract foreign workers to R&D and clinical roles through tax incentives and employment visas, according to the Singaporean native and head of Asia for life sciences search firm RSA.
“There’s so much need for scientific talent there. And it’s working – there is a lot of migration. In some parts of Singapore for every two people there’s one foreigner,” she said.
The small country has several science parks, with major R&D bases for the likes of Pfizer, GSK, Novartis and Takeda.
Around 30% of expats working in the Singaporean pharma industry are from India and China, Chin estimated, with the rest arriving from Europe, the US, and Australia.
Many bring their whole families and are attracted by the low income tax rate – “15% is considered very high” – and excellent public housing.
China and India
China and India are other hotspots for foreign pharma workers, said Chin, “but in those countries it’s more leadership and corporate talent, as opposed to scientific talent. They’ve got their own domestic talent in science. Those countries have a huge population, and lots of MDs graduating each year.”
Chin says she looks for specific traits to determine whether foreign candidates will fit well in an executive role in China or India.
“Even if they’ve worked for multinationals all their lives, working with headquarters can be a challenge.”
To predict whether a person will be successful at working in a certain culture, Chin looks at whether their skills and experiences can be transferred.
“I wouldn’t assess them based on their language skills. I’d see how much they know about China – they could have been [travelling] in or out but not have actually lived there.”
“I check whether they have been successful in a different country that’s very similar by population size or demographics.
“For example if I was looking for a country manager in the Philippines – and this person is American – but has been successful in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand or even Taiwan, I think this person has been very successful in adjusting to the local culture and will have a very high success rate in the Philippines.”
The different business cultures in North America and China need to be understood and overcome by American candidates, she said.
“Negotiations are very different in China – things can be unspoken and grey. Have they been exposed to some of this?”
Japan – a tough job market
But foreign candidates hoping to find a senior role in Japan-based pharma companies like Takeda or Astellas may be disappointed, said RSA's expert.
“Once upon a time Japan used to be a very hot life science country – but there’s less happening in there now and the challenges there are different because Japan is such a unique market.
“To be able to be successful in Japan the person would need to really know Japan. Companies there try to hire Japanese employees for leadership roles.
“But even then, the problem is some of these Japanese employees may not be able to understand the corporate culture unless they have been working at corporate HQ.”