To compete in a knowledge-intensive industry, an organization needs specialists + good managers (what I call generalists).
In labor-intensive industries, specialists or knowledge experts are less important. Important roles (below the C*O level) in such an organization are effective managers. Singapore has a reputation for producing effective managers.
Singapore is trying to move off labor-intensive into knowledge-intensive sectors such as life science, research, high-tech design, high-tech manufacturing (such as chip making, where I once worked), education/training… The sector I know best is the Info tech (IT) sector. IT is often cited as knowledge-intensive, but the large workforce required in a typical IT project makes it more and more like a blue-collar labor-intensive industry. You don’t need top experts in a typical IT project. You do need good managers. They make important decisions, shape the team culture, create the communication patterns, select team members for each task, motivate and lead….
Now let’s zoom into a special sub-sector within IT. In investment banking, IT is relatively labor-intensive, with large headcounts. In contrast, quant and true front office trading roles are specialist roles — very few head counts but very high financial impact.
What I found recently in Singapore vs Wall St job market is — Wall St pays big bucks for both specialists and generalists, whereas Singapore primarily rewards generalists. Certainly there are quant and trading roles in Singapore, but I can’t qualify for those so I only focused on tech roles. On Wall St, there are a good number of well-paid developer positions — specialist positions, paid on par with entry-level managers (Some architects are paid like mid-level managers). Very, very few such roles in Singapore. In Singapore, well-paid IT roles are exclusively managers and high-level architects (largely hands-off). These generalists are no doubt important — they are important on Wall St too, and also in traditional industries. It’s easy to recognize their importance so they are well-paid.
I’m not a manager, and without substantial management track record. I’m more of a knowledge specialist (aspiring to an expert). That’s why it’s so tough for me to get a suitable job in Singapore.