Comment: Chan Chun Sing’s latest speech on hunting for ‘perfect’ employees reminiscent of Man Utd’s fortunes


It has been a piss-poor decade to be a Manchester United fan.

Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/2013 season, United fans all over the world are on a never-ending, one-way journey to mediocrity with the occasional false dawn.

It’s not so much about losing the man himself (no one is bigger than the club) but more to the point that the United are more interested in taking shortcuts to success.

Case in point: Manchester United have lost its footballing instincts to commercial concerns (granted, the game is tied with money), tearing up the blueprint laid out by Ferguson, which was to focus on talent development and complement them with a few experienced players.

Gone are the days of the class of 92, when the manager developed and groomed a team made up of mostly unknowns from the youth team such as David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes.

Suffice to say, the unknowns went on to win every trophy imaginable and became footballing superstars.

Unfortunately, United’s recent forays into the transfer market reeked of desperation, looking for that illusive “perfect” player that fulfils not only sporting ambitions but also marketing purposes. Take a look at Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger – big names that will excite any fans but ultimately they simply don’t fit the playing system.

While for the majority of the youth players, their development got stunted and only a handful made it to the first team.

Look, I know how it goes: a trophy-laden club = a champion image = more star players = more fans = more advertisers. But the football club has never taken the shortcut to success and we know where shortcuts lead us to often times.

And I got reminded of this hunt for the “perfect” player and neglecting of developing existing talent when I read Education Minister Chan Chun Sing recent speech.

The hunt for the “perfect” employees

Companies should rethink how to develop talent at the workplace, he told the audience at the Workplace Learning Conference on Apr 26, 2022.

“First, too many companies only seek to hire individuals who already have the competencies to meet their needs. Too many companies are also still using a proxy “degree” or “diploma” in their search process, rather than specifying more specific skillsets in their searches. Second, too few companies focus on training their existing pool of workers or hiring individuals who show potential to meet their needs. These suggest that companies still prefer to “hunt for the perfect”, rather than “develop the available,” he said.

He further explained that it will be a zero-sum game if companies only bring in fresh grads to inject new skills or poach employees with the skillsets they need.

 If companies look only to bring in fresh graduates to inject new skills or seek out and poach employees with the skillsets they need from one another, this will be a zero-sum game that is not going to increase the overall talent pool.

“It will just lead to a wage spiral without new capabilities. We must all break free from such a mindset if we want to stay competitive as an economy, and as a society.”

What the Education Minister said hits too close to home: Hunting for the perfect footballers rather than developing the existing pool.

Cautionary tale

If Singapore needs a cautionary tale, just look at the current state of Manchester United.

The years of looking for the “perfect” signings have cost the team its place in the football world. Yes, United continue to be rich but like what former United manager Louis Van Gaal describes the club as a commercial club instead of a football-first club.

And their bitter rivals have overtaken them: Manchester City and Liverpool are not just dominating the English Premier League but also in the Champions League. At the moment, United are years away from these two rivals.

Speaking of which, the possibility of United playing in the Champions League next season is next to zero.

The appointment of the new United manager Erik Ten Hag, known for developing existing talents, is a step towards the right direction. Is it too little too late? No one knows for sure.

Interestingly, Minister Chan – an Everton fan – posted this during the tail-end of the Alex Ferguson era in 2011.

By the same measure, a well-trained, well-led Singapore can also stay competitive and achieve greatness.

Cover photo credit: Chan Chun Sing and Manchester United Facebook pages