The renaming of the tripartite Council for Skills, Innovation and Productivity as the Future Economy Council is not merely a semantic change. It represents a concrete effort to implement the recommendations of the Committee on the Future Economy, which came up with transformative strategies to take Singapore forward. The renaming, announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his May Day Rally speech, reveals the need to maintain purposeful momentum. Singapore's economy has arrived at a crossroads where cyclical setbacks threaten to coalesce with the structural problems of the global economy. Only bold innovative measures can work to break the stalemate.
The new council has its work cut out for it. It must oversee the creation of jobs by bringing in new enterprises and investments, and expanding existing businesses; find replacement jobs for unemployed workers; and create jobs for future workers. Achieving the first objective would depend on Singapore being able to offer investors the advantages of a skilled workforce and a market-friendly environment. In its work culture, even disruptive economic change would have to be negotiated via careful planning and the rational implementation of survivalist policies, and not met with labour unrest.
The second goal - of caring for the unemployed in the short term - would require workers to upgrade their skills on the basis that yesterday's jobs will not return. Pragmatic Singaporeans are well prepared psychologically in this regard, having witnessed and survived many unexpected changes on the labour scene. Yet, even they will require help to come to terms with the seismic dislocations of the near future because many of them came of working age in an era of plenty, which has conditioned aspirations and rewards.
Meeting the third objective - that of caring for the needs of future workers - will require a keen matching of expectations and reality. Young Singaporeans who are currently pursuing academic careers would have to tailor their worldviews to the exigencies of a labour market where many traditional assumptions have fallen by the wayside. For instance, some fresh graduates find themselves competing for the same jobs with applicants who have experience. Thinking of career growth instead of focusing narrowly on remuneration is one way in which to gain a foothold in the new economy.
Employers, too, must play their part. The tripartite system requires them to partner the realistic demands of labour. Even as companies restructure, they must realise that short-term expedients such as retrenchments have to be justified against the long-term need to build up a core of workers who can see their firms and themselves through a wrenching period of transition.