1. Budget 2017: Whither Singapore?
While the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) has stopped short of casting a long-term plan, however by joining the dots of the CFE’s recommendations and the proposals of the Budget 2017, these dots are possibly forming a bold and inspirational vision.
In the past, we have excelled as a regional entrepôt and hub.
Moving ahead, through innovation, digitization and overseas’ expansion, we can reposition ourselves to become a Global Hub.
A hub that’s not just for products, services and finance but also a hub for ideas, knowledge, talents, technology, and expertise.
This is an opportune time for Singapore to rise up as many developed countries are adopting austerity measures and taking a cautious approach in response to the slowing down of the global economy.
We can strengthen our capacity and capability to capitalize on the silver lining in every dark cloud and leapfrog over competing economies to forge a brighter future.
In the future, whenever a business or a consumer buys or sells anything from one country to another, and even if the goods do not physically go through Singapore, we can have a stake in the transaction.
We can extract values, including financial profits from the transaction.
Singapore will become like a high value-added toll gate of international trade and commerce.
In this regard, we can take a leaf from Israel, a small country like us but it has planted a large footprint in advanced technology and in many areas of daily life.
What’s holding us back is helping our people to master deep skills to operate in a globalised economy.
Besides sending them out to the world, we should also bring the world to us.
We need to continue to attract an adequate pool of foreign enterprises, entrepreneurs and investors to help us capitalize on new and emerging products, markets, businesses, and opportunities.
To do that, we have to aggressively tackle undue concerns about foreign talents and dangerous rationale underpinning xenophobia. These challenges seem to be rearing its ugly head every now and then, and especially on the wild wild web.
We need to promote the fact that if the right foreign talents are effectively assimilated and integrated into the workforce, it can be a plus factor to society and a major contribution to the economy.
There are ample evidence to suggest that diversity, pluralism and multiculturalism in our economy can contribute to improving creativity and innovation.
The assimilations and contributions of talents from different countries, cultures, creeds and customs in our workforce can bring forth more unconventional ideas, concepts and models.
It will help to contribute to radical breakthroughs and results.
If we can leverage on a wider spectrum of local and overseas talents and enterprises, we’ll be in a stronger position to become a global hub of the new economy.
2. Culture For Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The quality of our achievements in the future economy depends on the quality of our culture for entrepreneurship and innovation.
To strengthen such a culture, we need to aggressively tackle and eradicate the culture of “kiasuism.” A culture that tends to avoid risks, abhor failures, and over-adore success stories.
As long as we consciously or subconsciously hold on to such a culture, it will prevent us from pushing the envelope, spreading our wings overseas, and challenging all odds to grow our economy.
To remove the “kiasu” culture, we need to start from the young and help them inculcate a pioneering spirit throughout the formal educational system.
In rolling out Budget 2017, we should ensure that our students are given hands-on projects, locally as well as overseas to help them become self-directed learners and learn how to contribute to the economy and society.
They should be given appropriate rooms to fail and latitude to come to terms with these failures or resolve them.
These projects should escalate in terms of potential challenges, complexity, and conflicts.
Through these projects, the students can develop self-discipline, determination, grit, perseverance and resilience.
In addition, they can inculcate skills that they may not learn through classroom-based programmes.
These skills include metacognitive and fluid intelligence skills, entrepreneurial and innovative skills, leadership and persuasion skills, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills, financial literacy skills, and giving back skills.
These life skills can put them in a better position to contribute to the economy and society.
Unless and until, we develop a culture for entrepreneurship and innovation, we will not be able to respond to the tidal waves of changes and craft our own pathways to the future.
3. Improving Productivity
While Budget 2017 is a targeted, balanced and catalytic budget for strengthening enterprises, it may not have fully addressed the relatively low level of labour productivity.
This is a major challenge, especially for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) because labour productivity is limited by finite resources of workers and operational capacities of businesses.
In the new economy where the battle line is not just defined by efficiency of the workforce but also on innovative value-creations of the enterprise, the Authorities will need to enhance productivity from a more holistic perspective.
It includes setting up the ecosystem to help SMEs create and develop game-changing business models, transform operational architectures, strengthen competitive advantages, and focus on value-creations and not just on value-additions.
To do that, the Authorities may have to hire more and appropriate talents from the private sector to complement its strengths and cover its downsides.
These talents should have the requisite experience and expertise to understand challenges faced by SMEs and help them leverage on different resources that are provided for in Budget 2017 and other initiatives.
As many SMEs are limited in terms of their size, strength, scale and scope of operation, the Authorities will have to proactively reach out to them. These enterprises will need more personalised guidance to help them capitalize on the various initiatives.
In rolling out Budget 2017, the Authorities will have to develop services that are customised to meet the needs and requirements of SMEs.
For example, in a fast-changing world, the Authorities will need to help enterprises set up environmental scanning and intelligence gathering systems on a global basis.
Such systems can help enterprises predict business trends; preempt opportunities; achieve first-mover advantages; move up the food and value chain; and become a market maker rather than a price taker.
Unless we improve our productivity level, we will not be able to take advantage of the opportunities in the future economy on a more stable, secure and sustainable basis.
4. Helping Elderly Workers
As one of the fastest-aging countries, we will be faced with a growing challenge of creating and sustaining employments for a growing pool of middle-aged and older workers.
The challenge of looking after them is compounded by decreasing total fertility rate, smaller family units, and longer life expectancy.
What’s more, as we come to grips with fast-improving disruptive technology, many of the jobs held by these elderly workers may become devalued and disintermediated.
Budget 2017 should herald the start of an aggressive long-term programme to help a a fast-aging workforce enhance their employment prospect and employability.
We will do well to resolve the challenge now and continue to fine-tune the solutions so that we will be better prepared to resolve similar or even potentially worst problems in the future.
Budget 2017 is long on values and aspirations of helping the workforce, including elderly workers. However, it’s short on details of how the proposals will be implemented to achieve the desired results.
I trust the Ministry of Manpower’s Committee of Supply will cover not just how various initiatives will be carried out by the government.
It will also look into enrolling key stakeholders from the people, private and public sectors to collaborate and co-create solutions to tackle this issue.
For example, to ensure that the elderly workers are gainfully employed, we need to make improvements to the supply and demand side of the employment market.
On the supply side, we must provide incentives to help the elderly workers to improve their attitude, knowledge and skills and improve their values to employers and their contributions in the workplace.
The incentives should help them to, for example, inculcate discipline for self-regulation, personal care, and lifelong learning.
Improve their passion, competence and fitness for gainful employment.
By helping elderly workers to work hard and smart, it can help to eradicate contentions in
in many quarters that older workers have increasing medical and accidental problems, absenteeism rate, and labour turnover.
On the demand side, there should be stronger policies and regulation against age discrimination.
We need to educate employers to believe in the potential of older workers and help them invest in empowering these workers to take on different and even more difficult roles and responsibilities
The Authorities can offer more targeted incentives especially during these challenging times to free up their workers to re-skill, retool and redesign themselves.
Enrich their job scopes, including developing flexi-time and flexi-place arrangements so as to enhance their commitments and contributions to the workplaces.
Additional subsidies can be provided to employers to develop an elderly workers-friendly environment and organise health and wellness programmes for these workers.
It will not only strengthen their productive life but also enhance their performance and contribution.
The Authorities should proactively look at how to engage the support of relevant grassroots organisations and VWOs, or even help to set up such organisations to headhunt these vulnerable workers and reach out to them.
In addition, these workers may need personal coaching to help them ascertain relevant training courses and register for these courses.
They may even need personalised guidance to help them participate in the courses and persevere to complete all the necessary training programmes.
By building a learning country and a deep-seated culture for continuous improvements, our workers can continue to stay relevant and effective, and at the cutting edge of the new economy.
5. Building A “Gotong Royong” Spirit
In the final analysis, the motives, means and ends of any budget is to improve quality of life. That should be the focus and basis for evaluating success of Budget 2017.
Budget 2017 should therefore catalyze our people to take a stronger ownership of our communities and country.
Together, we will create more initiatives to build on the “one united people” spirit and strengthen families and communities.
Develop a home where we will have a deeper sense of rootedness and belonging.
Help to take care of each other and look after the last, the least, the lonely, and the lost among us.
We should hold on to a deeper belief that it’s in our Little Bright Red Dot that we can find purpose for living, happiness and fulfillment on individual, family and community levels.
In rolling out Budget 2017, we should aim to build on such a “gotong royong” spirit by incentivizing more bottom-up and peer-to-peer initiatives.
It should encourage more partnerships between the public, private and people sectors and encourage key stakeholders to connect, collaborate and co-create solutions for our communities and society.
We certainly need to foster more helping hands, including non-governmental organizations and volunteers to help us strengthen the bond between families and communities.
These helping hands can also be deployed to help address challenges of an aging population and potential fault lines that can divide and polarize our people, including xenophobia, not-in-my-backyard syndrome, and even racial or religious misunderstandings.
As a people, we must have the self-efficacy to believe we can battle all odds as a country.
Every one of us carry equal responsibility to strengthen our social ecosystem and make Singapore a livable and lovable home.
I hope this message will find a place in your heart.
By the way, I have also recorded other reflections.
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