The Straits Times Future Economy Forum: Singapore has to be a 'runway economy', says Ong Ye Kung

(From left) Ms Lydia Lim, Dr John Powers, Mr Andrew Chong, Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan and Mr Syed Zakir Hussain during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.
(From left) Ms Lydia Lim, Dr John Powers, Mr Andrew Chong, Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan and Mr Syed Zakir Hussain during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung speaks at The Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Thursday (Oct 20).
Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung speaks at The Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Thursday (Oct 20).ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
(From left) Ms Lydia Lim, Dr John Powers, Mr Andrew Chong, Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan and Mr Syed Zakir Hussain during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.
(From left) Ms Lydia Lim, Dr John Powers, Mr Andrew Chong, Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan and Mr Syed Zakir Hussain during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
(From left) Ms Lydia Lim, Dr John Powers, Mr Andrew Chong, Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan and Mr Syed Zakir Hussain during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.
(From left) Ms Lydia Lim, Dr John Powers, Mr Andrew Chong, Minister Ong Ye Kung, Mr Yeoh Keat Chuan and Mr Syed Zakir Hussain during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung (third from right) during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.
Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung (third from right) during a panel on jobs of the future at the Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Oct 20, 2016.ST PHOTO: OLIVIA HO

SINGAPORE - Singapore needs to be come a place where new ideas can develop and eventually take off - much like what airport runways are to planes, Acting Minister for Education (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung said.

While the country has traditionally been a "control tower" - a key site for companies' regional and corporate headquarters - it now has to move on to be a "runway economy".

This means being a place where "ideas are conceived, business plans are developed, resources are put together and from here products and services can be launched to the region or the world", he said at The Straits Times Future Economy Forum on Thursday.

This is one of the key areas of focus for the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), he said of the panel tasked with charting a blueprint for Singapore's economic future. It will release a report early next year.

To become a "runway economy", Singaporeans need a different set of skills, said the minister.

"You're no longer just controlling, monitoring and managing things. You need skills that can actually make things happen. Skills that are practical and applied in nature," he added.

 
 

This also entails a higher appetite for risk.

"If you are monitoring and controlling, you tend to be meticulous, you tend to be confident," noted Mr Ong, who is also Senior Minister of State for Defence.

"But if you have to make things happen, you have to be a bit more gung-ho, and have a stronger sense of adventure.

"Be prepared to take risks, be prepared to fail, but fail fast and fail small, learn quickly and restart again."

He also said the "runway" approach will help alleviate the concerns fellow panellists at the event had express about deepening inequalities in the future economy.

"To benefit the top, we don't have to do anything...The whole point of having a CFE is to make sure its (growth) is inclusive.

"Just doing research and development here is not enough. Companies have to conceptualise their business idea and make it take off here. Then a whole stream of activities take place, and many other people get to be involved," he added.

Skills and innovation are also vital elements of a "runway economy", Mr Ong said.

The Committee is beefing up efforts to build an ecosystem that supports innovation. For instance, it is looking at issues related to commercialising intellectual property, and developing regulatory sandboxes that can be a test-bed for disruptive new ideas.

There are also discussions in the CFE about making use of government procurement to spur innovation.

In many countries, a certain proportion of government budgets are set aside for buying innovative services and products and from start-ups. The CFE is exploring how this could be applied in Singapore, Mr Ong said.