Wednesday 19 May 2021

Emerging Stronger Taskforce proposes how Singapore can emerge stronger in a post-COVID-19 world

It seeks to break new ground in digital space, collaborate closely with businesses, people
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 May 2021

A post-Covid-19 Singapore is one that breaks new ground in the digital space to offer unlimited opportunities for its businesses and people, and collaborates closely with them to be sustainable and stronger together.

This is the vision put forward by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce (EST), a year after it was launched last May to chart Singapore's post-pandemic economy.

They are: Creating new virtual frontiers; seizing growth opportunities from sustainability; enabling global champions and growing an agile and strong Singapore core; institutionalising private-public partnerships through Alliances for Action (AfAs); and strengthening international partnerships, especially in South-east Asia.

Speaking at a media conference yesterday, National Development Minister Desmond Lee, who co-chairs the task force with PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng, said the ongoing crisis reinforces the importance of working closely together. "The crisis (is) affecting countries that initially overcame infections but are now facing a new wave," he said, adding that the technology and capabilities which Singapore now has to overcome Covid-19 challenges would not have existed 10 years ago.

"And so that drive and initiative, that will to survive, to find opportunities - that remains absolutely relevant."

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat, who chairs the Future Economy Council (FEC), said Covid-19 has created the "burning platform" for change.

The EST's recommendations were made in the collaborative spirit of the Singapore Together movement launched two years ago, where Singaporeans partner with the Government to shape their shared future, he said.

The 23-member task force was set up under the FEC to give recommendations on how Singapore could refresh its economic strategies.

The recommendations come amid shifts such as growing geopolitical tensions and accelerating digital transformation.

It acknowledged the need to do things differently from previous review committees on the economy, and "pivot towards action". This meant identifying areas of opportunity for Singapore to invest in, and test-bedding new, creative ideas.

Views were sought from about 2,000 individuals across 900 organisations.

The nine AfAs, which involve businesses, unions, government agencies and other experts, and cover areas ranging from supply chain digitalisation to sustainability, helped explore some of the ideas. They also quickly prototyped and executed minimum viable products or pilots which can be scaled up if successful. The task force has recommended that this approach be institutionalised under the FEC.

Mr Lee said: "The AfA approach is valuable in tackling challenges across not just the economic realm, but also in the social space... This collaborative approach also makes for more sustainable and more impactful actions and outcomes."

Mr Heng said the FEC will incorporate the EST recommendations into its current update of the Industry Transformation Maps, or ITM 2025.

It will scale up the AfAs as a more agile and nimble way to undertake industry transformation.

Avoid narrow definition of 'Singapore core', says DPM Heng Swee Keat
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 18 May 2021

The "Singapore core" should not be too narrowly defined in terms of whether someone is Singapore-born, a new citizen, or a foreigner who is helming a company, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Monday (May 17).

"That test for us must be the commitment to Singapore, the commitment to the well-being of Singapore and of Singaporeans," he said.

He was responding to a question at a virtual press conference by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, on which term - "Singapore core", or "Singaporean core" - most accurately captures Singapore's workforce policy, and what global talent will be needed to implement the task force's recommendations.

Drawing on his own experiences running the Monetary Authority of Singapore during the 2008 to 2009 global financial crisis, Mr Heng said many chief executives of international banks in Singapore had given him outstanding advice on how to deal with the crisis - demonstrating that they had Singapore's interests at heart.

"Some of the CEOs from these banks are as Singaporean as Singaporeans who were born in Singapore and went through national service... in fact, some of them, whom I knew personally, had become Singapore citizens," said the minister, without elaborating.

The task force was formed last May to chart Singapore's post-pandemic recovery, and on Monday released a report outlining economic strategies to drive the country's transformation.

Mr Heng noted that Singapore would have to contend with the twin challenges of an ageing labour force that is growing slowly, as well as a digital, networked economy where it is going to be much more of a winner-takes-all situation.

"Nobody is going to be happy with a second-rate programmer, so what you need to do is for us (to) assemble the best possible team," said Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.

Businesses and workers in various sectors will be able to benefit in the process, he added.

As a multiracial, multicultural and multi-religious society, Singapore must not end up like some other countries and territories in the world, where the fear of losing jobs leads to a protectionist instinct where people as well as goods and services from other places are kept out, he cautioned.

He said jobs and skills transformation will also be a key part of the task force's work, so that workers can benefit from these changes across various economic sectors.

"We want to equip Singaporeans to have that cultural sensitivity... to be able to go out to the region, to be leaders in building new connections. So we must have that confidence and the drive to do so," he added.

At the same time, he stressed, the authorities will put a stop to bad employment practices.

"On the whole, I think we must get our strategic direction correct - that we welcome people from all over the world who can add value to us, (and) who share our views."

Singapore's economic transformation must lead to better jobs, wages, lives, says Desmond Lee
Workers will be given resources, help needed to take on new roles being created
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 18 May 2021

Singapore’s economic transformation is meaningful only if it brings better jobs and wages for workers and improves their lives, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee yesterday.

And the Emerging Stronger Taskforce (EST) has worked closely with the labour movement to address the needs and concerns of workers, and make sure none of them gets left behind in the post-Covid-19 economy, he said.

Mr Lee, who co-chairs the task force guiding Singapore’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, was at a media conference after the task force issued its report.

As Singapore reshapes its economy into a node for technology, innovation and enterprise, workers will be given the help and resources they need to take on the new jobs being created, he said.

“We need to enable our workers to play their part in proactively closing skills gaps and preparing for a much more uncertain future.”

The task force has submitted its recommendations to the Future Economy Council, and they include strategies to build an agile and strong Singapore core in the workforce.

Task force member and unionist Jessie Yeo said contrary to what some have said – that the “EST’s work is actually done 10,000 feet above the ground, and people don’t quite understand” – there are ample opportunities for better job prospects for workers.

For instance, it has piloted a new approach to public-private partnerships through Alliances for Action (AfA).

Ms Yeo recounted how an older bus captain involved in the AfA on autonomous vehicles was initially concerned about having to pick up new skills. He later realised that technology had removed many of the pain points, she said. “Today, he’s very happy that he’s able to move in an autonomous vehicle versus (the) traditional (way of) driving a bus on the road.”

Mr Lee acknowledged that workers in some sectors may be apprehensive about what the task force’s recommendations may mean for them, and said the Government will work closely with unions and companies to address their concerns.

One recommendation is that the Government makes a concerted push to help grow local companies into global champions, or large local enterprises.

Mr Lee gave the example of AEM, which provides testing solutions for semiconductor manufacturing. The firm has gone from being a contract manufacturer to a global provider of test solutions based on its own core intellectual property. It saw tremendous growth amid the pandemic and recorded its highest revenue of over $500 million in the past fiscal year. Its market capitalisation also crossed $1 billion.

Mr Lee promised support to help such companies position themselves at critical nodes in the global value chain and “punch above our weight”.

Smaller players will not be left out. Under the AfA on Smart Commerce, CapitaLand and online shopping platform Shopee reached out to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and micro SMEs to help them go from “offline to online, and then online to offline”. Said Mr Lee: “It... was a university of smart commerce that enabled operators like Shopee and others to be able to work with many SMEs to onboard them because it was for mutual benefit, mutual gain.”

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who chairs the FEC, said Singapore has a variegated landscape of companies of different sizes, productivity, wage levels and workforce, among others.

Among the micro SMEs with revenue below $1 million, some are mom-and-pop shops and others are young start-ups. “So we need to take a very clear and differentiated approach... a segmented approach to understand the needs of our companies to see how we can work together with them.”

For the very small micro SMEs, including neighbourhood shops, there are a number of platform solutions to help them adopt e-payment systems, for instance.

To help medium-sized enterprises with growth potential, agencies have moved away from pushing particular grants for a specific area they are in charge of to a more company-centric approach that tailors the help based on a company’s needs, he noted.

Mr Heng and Mr Lee said the key to helping Singapore companies is to bring them together in one ecosystem. Smaller companies need to work together and “hunt as a pack”, so that they will have a good fighting chance when they go overseas, said Mr Lee.

“In this world, size matters. We don’t have size all the time or most of the time, but if we can work together and collaborate very efficiently, very effectively, and very innovatively using technology and digitalisation as a spine, and having that positive mindset of collaboration... that gives us a fighting chance not just locally, but to strike at markets overseas as well,” he added.


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