Monday 31 March 2014

The future of jobs - The case of the vanishing mid-level skilled worker

As automation advances, jobs for middle-skilled workers are disappearing. Insight looks at the issue of job polarisation and what might lie ahead for Singapore's labour force.
By Toh Yong Chuan And Tham Yuen-c, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

FOR five years, Mr Norizal Mohamed Hassan's take-home pay as a marine mechanic for a multinational company stagnated at just below $2,000 a month.

"I was frustrated because I was working hard and have a young child," says Mr Norizal, who has a vocational training certificate from the former Vocational and Industrial Training Board.

In January, the full-time employee decided he had had enough and quit - to become a taxi driver. Yes, to be self-employed, with no medical leave and no Central Provident Fund contributions. But the 37-year-old hopes that if he puts in the long hours, he will earn more monthly than in his old job.

The dad of one's switch from a middle-level skilled job to a service sector one that does not require technical training is part of a phenomenon dubbed job polarisation, say economists.

In it, middle-skilled jobs are disappearing while demand for high- and low-skilled workers grows. This has emerged only over the last few years in Singapore, but is a trend that has become established in many industrialised countries as automation replaces workers.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam warned about job polarisation when rounding up this year's Budget debate. Referring to the need to "transform" jobs and develop "obsolescence-proof skills", he declared: "We have to prepare for that new world."

Recent advances in technology are making some workers obsolete, yet boosting the efficiency of others. A gulf is forming in both demand for and the wages of those with the right fit and those whose skills have passed their use-by date.

Of course, ever since the Industrial Revolution, technology has displaced workers. But the same technology has often also created new jobs for which the workers can retrain.

This time around, experts are not sure if this wave of progress will be as creative as it will be disruptive.

With technology cycles getting shorter, it has become harder to predict where the future jobs will be. And it also means preparing for jobs that may not exist now.

Insight looks at what this new world might mean for workers, firms and the Government.

Is Singapore too business friendly for local firms?

With no entry barriers, S'pore companies face full brunt of global competition
By Han Fook Kwang, The Sunday Times, 30 Mar 2014

Singapore is one of the easiest places in the world to do business.

That's an achievement the country is proud of, and it is a key part of its successful economic strategy.

The more attractive it is for companies to set up shop here, the more economic activity will be generated, with more jobs and income for all.

There couldn't be a more straightforward and uncontroversial approach to growing the economy.

The funny thing is that of late, I have been hearing more Singapore companies complain that Singapore has been so successful doing this, the policy is working against them.

And you thought local enterprises should be the first to champion the business-friendly environment.

What's happening?

Local businessmen complain that because there are virtually no barriers to the entry of foreign companies, Singapore firms face the full force of international competition.

The widespread use of the English language, the rule of law, and the open and transparent system level the playing field for all, with local companies enjoying no advantage over foreign ones.

This is unlike in many countries, especially in Asia, where it is notoriously difficult for foreigners to operate.

Beware growing 'parentocracy': NIE don

He warns of students who get ahead thanks to parents with more resources, not merit
By Andrea Ong, The Sunday Times, 30 Mar 2014

Parents will play an increasingly vital role as the education system becomes more complex, but a side effect is that their varied backgrounds and means may widen social inequality, a National Institute of Education don said yesterday.

"It seems to me that instead of having a meritocracy, increasingly what we have in Singapore is a parentocracy," Associate Professor Jason Tan said at an Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) seminar on education.

He described how recent government attempts to recognise more non-academic achievements are viewed by some parents as yet more hoops for their children to jump through.

For instance, the Direct School Admissions scheme was introduced a decade ago to give primary school pupils talented in fields such as arts and sports early placement in a secondary school.

But some tuition agencies now provide coaching on how to prepare portfolios and write admissions essays for the scheme, Prof Tan pointed out. Parents with more financial means will hence have an advantage.

Youngsters also get an edge when parents can tap a strong social network and devise strategies such as polishing extra-curricular talents and preparing impressive portfolios for their children.

So, instead of merit and a child's hard work, parents and the social capital they command now wield greater influence over their offspring's future, he pointed out.

Addressing a 100-strong audience at AMP's annual Community in Review seminar, Prof Tan also dwelt on this year's theme of enhancing social mobility and exploring new approaches to improve Malay-Muslim students' academic performance.

Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders

Fewer alcohol licences, stricter operating hours for businesses among measures suggested
By Amelia Tan, The Sunday Times, 30 Mar 2014

Geylang Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders want more done to keep the area safe, and say the measures should go beyond ramping up police patrols.

Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Edwin Tong wants fewer alcohol licences issued, stricter operating hours for businesses near residential estates, and a stop to foreign worker dormitories sprouting near Housing Board flats.

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef, MP for Marine Parade GRC, who has overseen a series of measures such as lighting up dark alleys, believes a comprehensive review is needed.

Geylang has come under fresh focus after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last Tuesday that he was more worried about the area than Little India, where a riot involving foreign workers took place last December.

Testifying at the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot, he said crime rates in Geylang were disproportionately high and hostility towards the police rife.

Mr Tong told The Sunday Times that the red-light district, with its many bars and lounges, peddlers selling contraband cigarettes and drugs, as well as shops and vendors which stay open late into the night make Geylang more of a potential trouble spot than Little India and increase the risk of violent crime.

"It is difficult for grassroots-driven initiatives to address these problems," he said. As the people who descend on Geylang do not live there or are foreign workers, mostly from China, "the police have to step up", he added.

He also highlighted the predicament of those living in Blocks 38 and 39 Upper Boon Keng Road, off Lorong 3 Geylang. The HDB flats are beside a row of terraced houses which have been converted into dormitories for workers from South Asian countries.

Many of the workers drink alcohol at the void decks of the blocks late into the night and some urinate at the playgrounds. Mr Tong said the problems have not been solved despite his asking police to increase their patrols.

He said: "I think the solution is to stop the houses from being used as dorms. They are just too near the HDB flats."

Seah Kian Peng: Paying more heed to the short-term humps in life

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, 52, introduced the term "hyperopia" to Parliament early this month, when he devoted his Budget debate speech to warning of the dangers of being too far-sighted in policy planning. The two-term MP and Deputy Speaker in Parliament talks to Charissa Yong about striking the right balance, passionate Singaporeans, and how he is open to the idea of dipping into the reserves for the right reasons.
The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

Why is extreme long-term planning something that can be a weakness for Singapore?

Too much long-term planning is not good. Make no mistake, I'm not saying we should discard long-term planning.

But if we're overly weighted towards long-term planning, with not enough weight given to short-term goals and medium- term goals, I think the balance is not right. We're all human beings, you tell me the end point is there, but I need to go through shorter-term humps along the way. It's natural for me to worry about these humps.

I think for the present generation, they still look at the long term but I don't think they think so far ahead.

There's no right or wrong, it's just the way they are. We need to make sure we strike a right balance, and recognise that there are certain short-term (concerns).

In what ways have you seen young Singaporeans starting to think more short-term?

Anything that affects them first and the community second. And for that matter, me first, their family and extended family second, and the community third.

If you roll back the clock, I think the previous generation will think first of their family. But I think now, most will think "me" first.

People are so passionate about each of the things that matters to them. Very, very passionate! There are a myriad of issues: how we care for our planet, how we treat animals, amenities, what are we doing for the elderly and the poor? That's a good thing, but at the same time, it also means there is a lot more tension... fault lines open up and this creates a more contentious society.

Singapore Day 2014: Taste of home for Singaporeans in London

Guests from all over Europe flock to a sunny Singapore Day in Victoria Park
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Sunday Times, 30 Mar 2014

It was Singapore's day in the sun literally at Victoria Park yesterday.

London shrugged off its grey blanket of the past week and unfurled rare blue skies as the temperature rose to around 19 deg Celsius. It almost felt like air-conditioned weather back home, but better, as Singaporeans descended onto the sun-drenched park to sample hawker food and enjoy entertainment by home-grown stars such as the Dim Sum Dollies, Gurmit Singh and Hossan Leong and singers Jack and Rai.

Crowds began forming early and by noon, there were more than 10,000 guests soaking up a slice of Singaporeana and colonising a swathe of the sprawling park, named after the queen of the empire that once ruled Singapore.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrived to cheers and claps and mushrooming smartphones as people snapped pictures of him, but he did one better. He went on stage and took a picture of the waving audience, then turned around to do a selfie with them in the background.

"I am very happy to be here for such a beautiful Singapore Day. Some of you have private messaged me, e-mailed me, commented on my Facebook, liked me... I look forward to enjoying the laksa with you," he told the crowds.

As he left the stage, Mr Lee was mobbed by a surging crowd wanting to take pictures of him or their own selfie with the PM in the background.

The team overseeing the event from the National Population and Talent Division, led by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Grace Fu, also mingled with guests, many of whom work, live and study here.

But more than 16 per cent of those present had travelled from all over Europe to be at the park, some as far away as Munich in Germany and Nice in France, for a chance to rekindle their links with Singapore and "relieve some of their homesickness", said Ms Fu.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's dialogue at Chatham House on 28 March 2014

Outlook for PAP rests on performance: PM Lee
It also depends on what S'poreans want, he says at dialogue in London
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

WHETHER or not the People's Action Party (PAP) can continue to run the Government depends on how well it acquits itself and continues to build on the successes of the past, and on Singaporeans themselves, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Similarly, there can be no straight-line predictions that because the opposition has 40 per cent of the vote, it will not be long before it takes over government, he said, during a dialogue at Chatham House, a think-tank, yesterday.

He was responding to dialogue chairman and former British secretary of defence and transport Malcolm Rifkind, who commented that given that the opposition had scored 40 per cent of the vote in the last general election in 2011, it was "not a long way from overtaking you and taking over power".

Mr Lee replied: "I don't think you can draw straight lines like that. In politics, things never progress in linear fashion. In the end, people will have to decide in Singapore on what government they want and whom they want to run their government.

"And the opposition in the last election did not stand to run for government, in fact the contrary, they made a point to say they are not going to run for government, please vote for me."

To this, Mr Rifkind said it was either not to be believed, or there was a "very odd thing going on".

Mr Lee's rejoinder: "The odd thing going on is that in Singapore, people actually know that the Government generally is doing the right thing.

"But they'd like somebody to be there to put a bit more chilli on the Government's tail."

Is there an ideological cleavage in S’pore?

Singaporeans still support free trade and investment, meritocracy and free enterprise, but want to see a greater emphasis on fairness in society
By Tommy Koh, Published The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

FOR a very long time, Singaporeans appear to have had a shared belief in the following values and principles:
- Free trade and investment
- Market economy
- Globalisation
- Foreign talent
- Meritocracy
Several recent events, however, have prompted thoughtful Singaporeans to wonder whether that consensus is breaking down.

Speaking in London on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong hinted at the problem.

Unlike many other global cities, he noted, Singapore has no hinterland. This made getting the balance "between national identity and cosmopolitan openness, between free market competition and social solidarity" especially important.

Are the stresses and strains associated with the drive to be a global city producing a potentially destabilising ideological cleavage?

Effective policies matter more than courting popularity: Shanmugam

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

SINGAPORE'S leaders need to do the right thing by their people in policy-making, said Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday, rather than get caught up in "the numbers game".

He made the point at a Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) lunch, when asked for his sense of the level of support for the ruling People's Action Party.

"The last thing I want to do is to say that we want to have policies in order to get, from a purely political perspective, some numbers back. I think the moment you start doing that, the country will go down."

For instance, with a rapidly ageing population and concerns over health-care costs, the right thing to do was to introduce universal health-care coverage, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister. This will be in the form of the new MediShield Life, which will replace the national health insurance scheme next year and cover citizens for life.

Premiums are expected to be substantially higher than those for the current MediShield, but the Government has announced permanent subsidies for both low- and middle-income Singaporeans.

The pioneer generation, who are 65 years and older this year, will also receive hefty subsidies of between 40 and 60 per cent.

Many other countries have universal health coverage and the financial burden falls on future generations as the cost is funded by borrowing. But Singapore is careful not to take this path, Mr Shanmugam said.

So, the costs of funding premiums for those 65 and older is being drawn from this year's Budget that provides for an $8billion Pioneer Generation Package.

Health-care policy in this case was necessitated by population changes, Mr Shanmugam said, and Singapore could not be ideological about it. "Be honest and upfront. Explain the cost, explain the trade-offs... and on the whole you will be all right."

Doing the responsible thing also extended to how the Government responded to the Little India riot, he said. It took the "hard political calculation" - despite being politically costly - to put in place temporary measures to keep the peace in the heritage neighbourhood, even before a Committee of Inquiry (COI) had completed its investigations.

Alcohol sales were banned on weekends, for instance. The measures were to ensure there would be no repeat of the Dec 8 mayhem, he said, adding that this was the Government's responsibility to citizens.

"To leave it to the COI and refuse to do anything is an abdication of responsibility, which a lot of governments do," he added. "Then they cannot be criticised."

Last month, Parliament also passed a temporary Bill to curtail the authorities' powers in Little India. It had been relying, after the riots, on an emergency-type law that conferred wide-ranging powers - including the use of lethal force - to maintain order.

Mr Shanmugam took issue with a suggestion that foreign worker rights did not rank highly in Singapore. Workers choose to come, and want to stay here, he said.

"Do you think he (a worker) chooses to come to Singapore because we treat him worse than any other country that can take him?" he asked. "Many of the statements that have appeared in the international media don't bear a moment's scrutiny."

Criticism of Malaysia's handling of missing MH370 plane 'unfair': Shanmugam

By Leonard Lim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

SOME of the criticism levelled at Malaysia on how it has been handling the disappearance of Flight MH370 is unfair, Singapore's Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Calling the mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane a "most unusual, bizarre situation", he noted that many theories have been put forth on what could have happened.

"I don't think enough account has been taken of the fact that there was very little to go on, very little that the Malaysians or anyone knew of the matter," he told journalists during a lunch of the Singapore Foreign Correspondents Association (FCA) at Shangri-La Hotel.

The Malaysian government has come under fire, both at home and abroad, since the Beijing- bound plane went missing after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.

Some criticised its leaders for releasing information too slowly, while others said Prime Minister Najib Razak had jumped the gun when he announced on Monday that the plane was lost at sea in the Indian Ocean, but did not provide further verifiable proof.

China has also called for more transparency in the ongoing investigation.

Mr Shanmugam was also asked about the apparent lack of cooperation among ASEAN members during search efforts for the jet, and perceptions that there was a lack of unity due to countries' competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

He disagreed with the suggestion, saying that there was "no lack of will" in wanting to cooperate.

The responses, Mr Shanmugam added, must also be seen in the context of the resources these countries have.

Singapore dispatched a Fokker-50 maritime patrol aircraft, a naval helicopter, two C-130 transport planes, two warships and a submarine support and rescue vessel.

Other ASEAN countries provided whatever assets they had, the minister noted, and there was no evidence to suggest any were "tardy" in their response.

Singapore ranked 60th among major cities for average residents' cost of living: Asia Competitiveness Institute

Think-tank ranks Singapore 60th most costly city for residents
Local institute says findings from its 2012 annual living cost survey put Republic on par with cities in the region
By Xue Jianyue, TODAY, 29 Mar 2014

To better reflect the cost of living for average citizens, a local think-tank is considering the creation of a new affordability index that measures transport, housing, healthcare and education costs.

The announcement yesterday by the Asia Competitiveness Institute (ACI), a research centre at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, came amid a renewed debate on the rising cost of living in Singapore.

It led Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam to explain during the Budget debate in Parliament that the EIU report had measured the cost of higher-end products, such as imported cheese, filet mignon and branded raincoats. These items are typically bought by expatriates.

Thus, the cost of living differs between expats and locals due to currency movements and the different goods and services consumed, said Mr Tharman.

ACI academics yesterday also released the findings from their annual cost of living index, which showed that, in terms of affordability for residents, Singapore ranked 60th among 109 major cities in 2012, after taking into account the consumption habits of average residents.

The ACI’s findings put Singapore’s cost of living similar to that in Seoul (59) and Hong Kong (58), said economist and ACI Co-Director Tan Khee Giap.

The institute also found that compared with New York, housing in Singapore for average residents was 27 per cent cheaper; medical costs were 75 per cent lower; and education costs were 73 per cent lower.

However, the costs of alcohol and tobacco as well as transport costs were higher in Singapore by 86 per cent and 22 per cent, respectively.

“This is because we have years of (government) subsidies on these three areas and I think after 2011, we found even more targeted subsidies for these three areas,” said Dr Tan.

On the higher cost of living for expats in Singapore, he said: “It is most expensive for expats who have high-end consumption with a very high quality of life, made possible by their company to compensate for the fact that they were relocated from their country. So, that shouldn’t be confused with the cost of living for average citizens.”

He added that Asian cities, in particular, have a lower cost of living for average citizens, in contrast to cities in developed Western countries, such as New York.

ACI research also revealed that rising costs for expatriates were almost entirely due to the appreciation of the Singapore dollar by 25 per cent against the US dollar from 2005 to 2012. If such appreciation had not occurred, Singapore would only be the 16th most costly city for expatriates.

University places rise to 14,000 in 2014

Target to offer admission to 30% of cohort reached a year ahead of plan
By Sandra Davie, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

THE Ministry of Education (MOE) will open up more university places this year, bringing the number of places at the six universities, including the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and SIM University (UniSIM), to 14,000.

This means the Government's target of providing university places for 30 per cent of an age group will be reached a year earlier than planned.

Education Minister Heng Swee Keat announced this in a Facebook post yesterday as he congratulated SIT on officially becoming an autonomous university. With the new status, five-year-old SIT can confer its own degrees. Previously, it could award only joint degrees with overseas institutions.

About one in five polytechnic graduates is expected to win a place in the publicly funded universities this year, said an MOE spokesman.

Most of the new varsity places are being created from the expansion of SIT and UniSIM.

UniSIM in Clementi will add three full-time degrees to its part-time offerings. The courses in marketing, finance and accountancy will offer 200 places.

SIT, which offers niche degrees from overseas universities, will run its own programmes this year in infrastructure engineering, software development and accountancy and add another 200 places.

The other four varsities, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), National University of Singapore (NUS), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) and Singapore Management University (SMU), are also adding places with new courses.

35 foreign workers arrested for rioting at dormitory

14 workers charged with rioting at dorm
Bangladeshi men and 3 others from India among 35 foreign workers held
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

FOURTEEN men from Bangladesh were charged in court yesterday with rioting at a workers' dormitory in Kaki Bukit.

Three others from India, allegedly involved in the same fracas, each face a single charge of affray.

The two groups were among 35 foreign workers who were arrested after a mass brawl broke out on Tuesday night at the Homestay Residence Dormitory in Kaki Bukit Avenue 3.

The first group of 14 were accused of having been part of "an unlawful assembly whose common object was to cause hurt" to the three Indian workers.

If convicted of affray, the three from India could be imprisoned for up to a year and/or fined, while the 14 others could face a maximum of seven years in prison if they are found guilty of rioting.

In a statement on Thursday night, the police said the fight took place during the screening of a live cricket match, understood to have been between Bangladesh and the West Indies.

The violence apparently erupted after Bangladesh lost the game.

Easier, faster Wireless@SG log-in from 1 April 2014

Number of hot spots for free Wi-Fi access will be doubled by next year
By Kenny Chee, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

AN EASIER and faster way to log into Wireless@SG, Singapore's free national Wi-Fi network, will be introduced next Tuesday.

This change is part of the Government's goal to create an overarching network for mobile gadget users to move smoothly among 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks, said the telecoms regulator, the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).

The free Wi-Fi will also be more widely available as the Government will double the number of hot spots to 10,000 by next year, and 20,000 by 2016.

The enhancements were cheered by users and analysts such as Ms Khin Sandi Lynn.

Having more hot spots and swifter log-in will "reduce network congestion during peak periods and major events as it would be hassle-free to log into the Wi-Fi network", said Ms Lynn, industry analyst for forecasting at market research firm ABI Research.

In short, sending and receiving information would be smoother with fewer slowdown periods.

The improvements were announced yesterday by Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim at an IDA exhibition at Esplanade Xchange.

Calling it timely, he said public Wi-Fi services, including Wire-less@SG, will meet the growing demand for free Wi-Fi in the wake of the pervasive use of mobile devices.

To obtain swift access on Wireless@SG, phone users just have to do a one-time log-in, using identification data already stored on their SIM cards. This can be done in seconds.

Singapore pioneers' exploits unearthed

Pioneer JC team pens new book on contributions of 12 buried at Bt Brown
By Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

BUS tycoon Tay Koh Yat was good at moving people: he pulled together a 10,000-strong Chinese Civil Defence force to keep peace and order before the Japanese troops invaded Singapore in 1942.

And after the war, as chairman of the Singapore Chinese Appeal Committee, Tay submitted evidence which led to the punishment of Japanese generals and officials responsible for the massacre of the Chinese on the island.

The Kinmen-born Tay was also part of the overseas Chinese movement involved in the 1911 revolution against the Qing Dynasty.

He is one of 12 trailblazers featured in a new book, 1911 Revolution: Singapore Pioneers In Bukit Brown, by a team of 23 students of Pioneer Junior College.

The 60-page book has old photos, illustrations and sketches of their graves at Bukit Brown, and serves as a record of the 1922 municipal cemetery, part of which will be making way for a highway.

Available at Kinokuniya for $15, the book has had "promising sales", said the college, though the bookstore could not give figures. The college said it is also considering using it for teaching.

Tay's contributions and patriotism left a deep impression on former Pioneer Junior College student Lim Hyesu, 19, part of the team behind the book. "He struck me as a caring and compassionate man, who put the welfare of his fellow countrymen first."

The students - from the college's History, China Studies in English programmes and Art Club - delved into the National Archives of Singapore, and scoured journals, news articles and the Internet. They also made trips to Bukit Brown cemetery to unearth stories about these stalwarts.

Saturday 29 March 2014

A tale of two cities

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday received London's Freedom of the City award while on a visit to the British capital. This is a transcript of his speech at Lord Mayor’s dinner, 27 March 2014
The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2014

I thank Lord Mayor Woolf for her very kind words.

I am deeply honoured and yet humbled. I would like to dedicate this award to the people of Singapore who have worked so hard to build our nation. Special credit must go to our Pioneer Generation, who dreamt of a far better Singapore when we became independent, and took us a long way along the journey there. This award also reflects the long and close friendship between London and Singapore and between our peoples. I am therefore happy that my colleagues and friends are here to share this occasion with me.


I FIRST visited London in 1969. I was a teenager, and London seemed marvellous. It was the Swinging Sixties, and London was the capital of cool.

Yet, it was also a time of upheaval: Protests against the Vietnam War, student sit-ins, hippies and flower power. I had an enjoyable but sober time attending plays and concerts, exploring museums and art galleries, and spending hours browsing in the greatest bookshop in the world - Foyles.

Later, I went to university not in London, but in Cambridge, then still in splendid isolation in the Fens. But I would visit London regularly because my late first wife, Ming Yang, was then a medical student at the Middlesex Hospital. Hence, London in the early 1970s held many happy memories for me.

But for Londoners and for Britain, those were difficult times. The British Empire was over, and Britain was adjusting to its new place in the world. Bitter union disputes afflicted the economy and disrupted lives.

I especially remember the miners' strikes because the consequent blackouts caused me to attend supervisions (tutorials) in Cambridge by candlelight.

Global events were also affecting the British economy. In 1973, I arrived at Heathrow Airport having spent the summer back home.

I found a group of Arabs excitedly trying to find out what was happening in the Middle East. The Yom Kippur War had broken out. It led to the first Opec oil shock, which caused inflation and recession worldwide. This worsened England's woes, and cast a pall over London for years.

But by the end of the decade the situation and mood improved. Mrs Margaret Thatcher became prime minister in 1979. Mrs Thatcher's reforms were fiercely contested, but they fundamentally altered Britain's economy and society.

Britain's victory in the Falklands War in 1982 boosted national pride and restored belief to your people. That year, my father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, became an Honorary Freeman. In his speech, he spoke of his experiences of London since World War II, and challenged Britain to draw on the spirit of the Falklands War to rejuvenate and transform itself.

And so Britain did. In the decades that followed, Mrs Thatcher and her successors - from both parties - oversaw a steady revival in Britain's fortunes. Britain outperformed many continental economies, reversing the situation in 1960s and 1970s. Optimism returned, and Britain's international standing rose.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong receives Freedom of the City of London and dedicates award to Singaporeans

PM's 'very good day' in London
By Zuraidah Ibrahim, The Straits Times, 29 Mar 2014

IT WAS a city Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first visited at age 17, and 45 years later, the city of London made him one of its own, presenting him with the honour of being a "freeman" with its Freedom of the City award.

At an elegant ceremony comprising top business leaders, financiers and academics, Mr Lee was given a scroll of the award by the Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf.

She called on him to see Mansion House, the official office of the city of London, as his "home away from home" where he would always be welcomed as a friend.

The occasion was especially meaningful because it was in the same room 32 years ago that then-PM Lee Kuan Yew was accorded the same honour.

Ms Woolf harked to the historical and close ties between Singapore and Britain. Just as in the speech honouring the elder Mr Lee then, Ms Woolf recalled the special relationship Mr Lee had in having studied at Cambridge, where some of the city's freemen were from, and some of Britain's brightest minds hailed from.

She also reminded the audience, which included Mr Lee's former tutors from Cambridge, that he was a Cambridge "wrangler" - someone with first-class honours in mathematics in two, instead of the usual three years.

When the elder Mr Lee received the award, then lord mayor Sir Christopher Leaver, remarked that "as a young man, you chose as your theme and slogan, one word "Merdeka", which can be interpreted in English as "Freedom". He spoke of Mr Lee's efforts to transform a young nation.

He also said London held many happy memories for him. Mr Lee brought smiles all round during his speech when he said that when he first visited, the city "was the capital of cool" in the swinging sixties, but he stayed "sober" nonetheless and enjoyed the plays and concerts, and visiting museums and the "greatest bookshop in the world - Foyles".

Indeed, on Thursday, despite a packed schedule of a luncheon with businessmen and talks at 10 Downing Street with his counterpart David Cameron, he squeezed in a visit to the British Museum to catch a special Vikings exhibition. As he said in his Facebook post: "All in all, a very good day."

Indranee Rajah: Life lessons from my mother

Senior Minister of State for Education and Law Indranee Rajah, who stood up for a constituent who was heckled online for wearing a shirt with holes, opens up to Susan Long about the Singapore she wants and the life education she hopes to impart to today's youth.
The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2014

AS A former school netball player, Ms Indranee Rajah knows this: "You cannot stand flatfooted in court, you have to be on the balls of your feet." And she hopes to take this fleet-footedness to education today.

The Senior Minister of State for Education and Law, who is leading a national review of polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), wants to help "future-proof" the next generation's education in an increasingly volatile world, where change lurks around every corner.

Paraphrasing American futurist Alvin Toffler's book Future Shock, the 51-year-old notes that "we teach our kids to prepare for their careers, but one of the things we don't really do is prepare them for future change and how to handle it".

The best way to do this, she feels, is to ensure that students get real depth and substantive knowledge, along with portable skills to prepare them for the future, like communication, leadership, resilience and adaptability.

Back from a recent study trip to Switzerland and Germany, the chairman of the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE), which has 98 members on various committees charting future directions for polytechnic and ITE education, is expected to present its recommendations in the second half of the year.

One of the early directions she is looking at is introducing more apprenticeships to deepen students' practical knowledge. That means industry taking on an educational role, as in Europe, instead of placing the onus on educational institutions to produce graduates "all ready to be plugged into work".

She cites how 10-year-olds in Germany choose either the academic or vocational path. If they choose the vocational path, leading to a wide variety of occupations from IT to banking and engineering, they join a company, not a school.

It is the company that pays them as an apprentice, then helps them find their school. From age 15, they spend three days a week at the company and two days in vocational school.

Sixty per cent to 70 per cent of every cohort in Germany and Switzerland chooses the vocational route, and Ms Rajah notes that most people view it as being on par with the academic route.

"To them, it is choose one or the other, it doesn't really matter because they are both equally good routes in their eyes," she says.

What struck her afresh is that an economy needs - and has room for - all sorts.

"You need academically strong people who like research and the theoretical part. But we also have a need for people more comfortable in a hands-on environment," she says.

Changi Airport is named the World's Best Airport 2014

Changi Airport soars high in global survey
By Royston Sim, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2014

CHANGI Airport has kept its top spot in an annual global airport ranking survey.

London-based firm Skytrax yesterday named it the world's best airport for the second year in a row.

Changi beat South Korea's Incheon International, which also finished second last year. Munich Airport came third.

In addition, Changi was also named Best Airport for Leisure Amenities, for the array of facilities it offers passengers with time on their hands.

Changi Airport Group chief executive Lee Seow Hiang said the award provides great motivation for his staff to continue to aim higher. "At Changi Airport, we remain steadfast in anticipating the needs of our customers, which is the cornerstone of the Changi experience," he said.

Mr Lee also credited the award to the Changi airport community, "for their unyielding commitment to service excellence".

The Skytrax World Airport Awards survey ranked 410 airports worldwide based on a poll of 12.85 million air travellers.

The survey evaluates customer satisfaction across 39 areas of airport service and offerings, including check-in, arrivals, transfers, shopping, departure at the gate, and security and immigration.

Skytrax chief executive Edward Plaisted said Changi offers "a travel experience in itself", and noted that it continues to develop its standards.

Only 8.3% women on listed firm boards

57% of boards are all male, says latest poll of 300 firms in S'pore
By Chia Yan Min, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2014

WOMEN are still woefully under-represented on the boards of Singapore listed companies, according to findings by a task force set up to address the issue.

As of April last year, only 8.3 per cent of listed company directorships were held by women, a survey by the recently formed Diversity Task Force found.

This was far fewer than in some other advanced economies such as Australia at 17.3 per cent, and Britain at 19 per cent.

It was also fewer than in Asian economies such as Malaysia at 8.7 per cent, China at 9 per cent and Hong Kong at 9.4 per cent.

Other studies in recent years had also found female representation rates in Singapore languishing at around the current level.

The latest survey, which polled 300 Singapore listed companies, also found that 57 per cent of boards here were all male.

The Diversity Task Force was set up in 2012 in response to concerns about female under-representation in top corporate positions. It was initiated by Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob when she was minister of state for the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

The task force, comprising private sector and women's groups members, is expected to release a report and recommendations for businesses and the Government by the end of next month.

Workplace health problems cost $3.5b a year

Council launches guidelines to prevent ergonomic-linked woes like stiff necks
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 28 Mar 2014

THEY may not be as dramatic as falls from heights or collapsing scaffolding. But ergonomic-related workplace health problems such as stiff necks, strained backs and numb wrists cost Singapore a whopping $3.5 billion a year, said the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council.

These "work-related musculoskeletal disorders" can result from bad practices such as poor posture, repetitive action or incorrect handling of heavy loads.

In most developed countries, they are the most common type of occupational disease, noted Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower Hawazi Daipi.

"Being a developed country, we can expect Singapore to show and experience a similar trend," he added at yesterday's Workplace Ergonomics Forum, hosted at SIM University.

These problems are already the third most common source of occupational disease here, after deafness and skin disease.

To help firms, the council yesterday launched a set of guidelines on improving workplace ergonomics - that is, how workers interact with equipment and the environment.

These include tips on how to lift heavy objects safely and good office workstation design.

From this year, back injuries due to ergonomic risks - such as carrying heavy loads - will be classified under "work-related musculoskeletal disorders" in the annual WSH statistics. Previously, they were classified as minor injuries.

The change "will give us a more complete picture of the injuries caused by poor ergonomic practices and increase awareness on the ground as well", said Mr Hawazi.