End goal is to create good jobs, says Liang Eng Hwa at pre-Budget roundtable

Liang Eng Hwa at last year's pre-Budget roundtable organised by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants.
Liang Eng Hwa at last year's pre-Budget roundtable organised by the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants.PHOTO: INSTITUTE OF SINGAPORE CHARTERED ACCOUNTANTS

SINGAPORE - In developed economies of today, economic growth and activities are just a means to an end, which is to create good jobs, said Liang Eng Hwa, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance, Trade & Industry, on Tuesday (Jan 9).

In Singapore's context, this means adopting a pro-business approach in order for these opportunities to take shape, he added.

Mr Liang was giving his keynote address at this year's Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) Pre-Budget Roundtable, where business and industry leaders gathered ahead of the Singapore Budget 2018 to discuss key issues based on the theme "Partnering for Business Growth and Job Creation".

The five guiding topics for the forum were industry transformation maps (ITMs), digital economies, internationalisation, innovation, and jobs & skills.

Mr Liang said that rapid technological advancement will change the type, nature and location of future industries and jobs.

"Every economy is wrestling with the changing nature of jobs, and Singapore is no different," he said.

To prepare the workforce for future disruptions, he pointed out how SkillsFuture is helping to equip adult learners with industry-relevant skills and prepare them to take on jobs.

He highlighted eight emerging areas identified: data analytics, finance, tech-related services, digital media, cybersecurity, entrepreneurship, advance manufacturing, and urban solutions.

He noted that to date, some 15 ITMs, which are tailored for the specific needs of each industry and coordinated by an economic agency, have been launched. The remaining eight will be launched progressively by March this year, making it a total of 23 ITMs which will cover 80 per cent of the economy, said Mr Liang.

But far from being a static plan, stakeholders will continue to refine initiatives progressively and even "course correct" as needed based on feedback or when external demand trends shift.

Businesses also need to continue to build digital capabilities to go to the next level and lift productivity, he said.

Many SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) have embarked on the digitalisation of their operations, he observed. For example, four out of the 10 ongoing digital transformation projects in the Precision Engineering sector are SMEs.

But there is certainly room for more SMEs to develop and grow their digital capabilities to capture opportunities in and outside Singapore.

"It does come with investment costs and risk, but not going digital may well be an unviable proposition very soon. It is better to take some risks now, learn the right lessons if it doesn't work out, and recognise that this is a continuous journey of upgrading," he urged.

Internationalisation is another key focus of the forum, as the rise of Asia and the Asean region present opportunities for businesses here.

With the formation of Enterprise Singapore - a merger of International Enterprise Singapore and Spring Singapore - companies can now turn to one agency to meet various needs to expand overseas.

Mr Liang acknowledged that while the myriad of grants schemes can be confusing, the Business Grants Portal aims to make grants more accessible to businesses without the need to approach multiple agencies.

Finally, he added that as innovation continues to be vital, the intellectual property (IP) ecosystem can be further strengthened to support innovation among companies.

Those in the works include establishing commercially oriented entities to commercialise the research findings and IP of research institutions, said Mr Liang.

The government has launched a S$1 billion fund alongside Makara Capital to support innovative companies to expand and grow overseas, he added. This was launched with an updated IP Hub Masterplan to develop Singapore's IP ecosystem.