SINGAPORE - Amid a challenging global environment, Singapore's people and companies have many opportunities to innovate, deepen their skills and capabilities and stay relevant to the world, a high-powered committee charged with coming up with a blueprint for economic growth has said.
In its report released on Thursday (Feb 9), the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) noted the United States and Europe continue to have innovative companies and people, and many Asian markets have strong potential that Singapore companies are well-poised to tap into.
The sectors to tap into include finance, hub services, logistics, urban solutions, healthcare, the digital economy and advanced manufacturing, the committee noted in its 109-page report.
The report came after the 30-member committee, co-chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S.Iswaran, spent a year talking to over 9,000 workers, unions, companies, trade bodies and others.
"We cannot know which industries will succeed. What we do know is that Singapore must stay open to trade, talent and ideas, and build deep capabilities," the committee said in its report.
"By being innovative, bold and willing to change; by remaining open to the world, and deepening our knowledge of markets everywhere; our businesses and people can grasp the opportunities that this new environment offers, and Singapore can continue to prosper.
"We call upon the Singaporeans of today, young and old, to be the pioneers of the next generation." The CFE sketched its vision of a future economy where people are inspired to learn throughout their lives, businesses are innovative and nimble, the city is connected and vibrant and the government coordinated, inclusive and responsive.
To achieve this, it outlined seven "mutually-reinforcing" strategies for Singapore to stay ahead.
1. Deepen and diversify our international connections
Singapore should boost trade and investment by developing specific bilateral initiatives, working closely with multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, and helping its people and companies gain a better understanding of overseas markets.
The committee also recommended forming a Global Innovation Alliance that will see tertiary institutions and companies here link up with overseas partners to promote innovation.
It cited the example of Block 71 in San Francisco, which supports local startups that want to enter the US technology market and also provides a gateway for US companies to enter the Singapore and South-east Asia markets.
2. Acquire and utilise deep skills
Companies should play a bigger role in developing their workers. Both the private and public sectors should also move towards hiring and promoting workers based on their skills, instead of just academic grades.
The national Jobs Bank and other schemes that help match workers to new jobs should be improved.
More study and training programmes should be rolled out so workers can pick up new skills. For instance, the Singapore Institute of Technology already offers a work-study programme that allows its students to develop specialist skills in their chosen field while learning.
3. Strengthen enterprise capabilities to innovate and scale up
To promote innovation, the committee recommends strengthening the intellectual property (IP) ecosystem, supporting entrepreneurs carving out new business opportunities, and raising the profile of local startups.
Simpler regulation and incentive schemes should be rolled out to encourage greater investment in startups as well.
It also called for more targeted help for enterprises with potential to expand. For example, Fong's Engineering - a precision engineering company - has seen its year-on-year revenue jump by 15 to 20 per cent, and is expanding into China.
4. Build strong digital capabilities
The committee recommends building up expertise in cybersecurity and data analytics, which are high-potential growth industries. To do so, it suggested that the government partners key industry players to train data scientists, use National Service to develop skills in cybersecurity, as well as attract and anchor vanguard technology firms in niche cybersecurity segments.
It also urged the authorities to come up with flexible regulations to enable the adoption of technology, and help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) adopt digital technologies.The committee also recommended the creation of a dedicated programme office to collect and facilitate data usage. More data should be shared with the private sector, such as through the revamped Data.gov.sg.
5. Develop a vibrant and connected city of opportunity
Singapore should strengthen its status as a global aviation and shipping hub, leverage on the future high-speed rail line to Kuala Lumpur to create more economic activities in the region, and enhance its digital connectivity.
It should also create multiple economic clusters of innovation, such as the Jurong Lake District and Punggol, and form more partnerships with private firms.
The committee recommended that the Government partners the private sector to transform Orchard Road into a shopping and lifestyle destination.
6. Develop and implement Industry Transformation Maps
These industry-specific roadmaps should continue to be customised to suit the needs of each industry. Further, they should be grouped into clusters so that the transformation of one industry can have a positive spillover effect on the others.
The Government should also be alert to changing industry configurations.
The roadmaps should map out the opportunities in industries with good growth prospects.
The roadmaps should also provide strategies to help industries that require large numbers of low-skilled workers to increase productivity and upgrade jobs. For instance, IT retailer Challenger has moved beyond its traditional brick-and-mortar retail business into e-commerce.
7. Partner one another to enable growth and innovation
The Government should foster an environment to support innovation and risk taking in the private and public sectors, the committee said.
It called for a review of Singapore's tax system, based on two principles: "First, Singapore's tax system should remain broad-based, progressive and fair, even as revenues are raised over time to meet rising domestic needs. Second, Singapore's tax system must remain competitive and pro-growth."
Trade associations have their part to play in industry development, for instance, by identifying areas that the Government can support.
Unions should help workers prepare for jobs of the future.
The committee cited how the Singapore Manufacturing Federation has partnered the Enterprise Europe Network, IE Singapore and Intellectual Property Intermediary to form a centre that helps Singaporean manufacturers access technological expertise and partnership opportunities in Europe. More than 500 Singapore companies have registered with the centre.