John Sartain: 'There is an incredible variety of opportunities now on offer'

Singapore-based Hospitality Resource Solutions Pte Ltd specialises in helping Myanmar living in the city-state to return home and find work. HRS managing director John Sartain, a former general manager of the Pun Hlaing Golf Estate, told Frontier there’s been strong demand for the job-placement service since it was launched in early 2013.

What gave you the idea to launch the business and how does it work?

Many contacts in Singapore were asking me if knew any young Myanmar nationals wishing to return home. Having passed on a few people as a friendly gesture, I began to ask myself if there is a business opportunity there.

I now have a small office in Singapore’s Peninsula Plaza [which has so many shops catering to the Myanmar community it is known as ‘Little Burma’] and have a shop window that we term as a ‘job shop’. We now have over 100 high-quality candidates on our database and a similar number of jobs currently on offer.

The process is quite straightforward in that we take instructions to nd quality people for the roles required without charge, asking for an agreement to be returned. We then work to find suitable candidates in Singapore wishing to return home. There is a great deal of hard work done in sifting through any unsuitable candidates, interviewing them and assisting them in their personal presentation.

We then summarise the CVs and forward those to the company representative. If they wish to interview the candidate, we arrange it. If the candidate is suitable and offered a position, we charge a placement fee.

What is the main reason why Myanmar in Singapore want to return home?

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There are several reasons why Myanmar nationals want to return, but the main one is that there is an incredible variety of opportunities now on offer, in Yangon particularly, and individuals believe the time is right to commence a new career. Secondly, most ‘returnees’ speak excellent English, sometimes Chinese, as well as Myanmar. But crucially, they tend to have an understanding of western business styles and methods.

Finally, there is evidence that it is becoming far more difficult for Myanmar nationals to obtain new or renewals of their ‘S’ passes [which allow mid-level skilled foreigners to work in Singapore]. This is mainly because the Singapore government have a policy that is severely limiting the number of work passes, S passes and even employment passes to ensure that Singaporean workers are not hindered in getting employment.

What are some of the key skills employers are looking for?

There is no doubt that the key skills employers are looking for are young people with language skills, commercial and management experience, specifically with skills in sales, marketing, hospitality, customer service, project management and transport. We started off by specialising in hospitality and it is still a key part of the business but we have now moved into assisting other local and international businesses in Myanmar in other sectors.

Is there a big wage discrepancy between Singapore and Myanmar? Is it an issue for potential returnees?

The salary differential was an issue last year, but is less of a problem now as wages in Yangon in particular have increased by over 30 percent, whereas wages in Singapore are increasing around three percent.

In fact, we have just placed four people on salaries that exceeded our expectations. Of course, the salaries are paid commensurate with qualifications and experience, and the best candidates are getting the best offers. One should remember that there is little in the way of guidelines for salaries and companies tend to offer high salaries to the candidates they do not want to lose.

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