Jobs and robots to figure at EDB-ST forum

More than 50 Straits Times readers have written in with questions for panellists of the fifth EDB-ST forum at The Arts House tomorrow, as part of the Pioneering The Future dialogue series.

An audience of some 200 EDB Society members and 40 ST readers will pick the brains of veteran banker Peter Seah, businessman Koh Boon Hwee and Economic Development Board (EDB) chairman Beh Swan Gin on such concerns as whether entrepreneurs can thrive in fear-to-fail Singapore; whether the new push for robotics will displace employable Singaporeans in a tight job market; and what Singaporeans could do to help EDB pull more global companies to set up their regional headquarters here.

ST's editor-at-large and forum moderator Han Fook Kwang will also probe the panel on why not enough Singapore companies break into the upper echelons and become world beaters.

In a preview of his response, Mr Seah, who chairs DBS Group Holdings and the National Wages Council, put that down to "a lack of confidence". He asked in turn: "Why did we think we cannot compete with others?"

Mr Seah, who began work when Singapore "was the equivalent of cavemen in banking" reminded that it is now one of the world's foremost banking hubs.

He is also looking to discuss what he called some "glaring gaps" between practices in the private sector and public sector.

Also sharing his insights on those will be Mr Koh, who chairs the Nanyang Technological University's board of trustees. He was managing director of Hewlett-Packard in Singapore, before moving on to chair Singtel and then Singapore Airlines.

Dr Beh, who was permanent secretary in the Law Ministry, may touch on the challenges that SMEs here pose, as well as face, in a country which has flourished thanks largely to MNC activity.

Recalling the Government's early efforts to woo foreign companies to invest here when the unemployment rate was as high as 14 per cent, EDB Society president Lee Suan Hiang added: "We had the right policies for those times, but these policies were perhaps carried on for too long ... We should have seen the writing on the wall beforehand, instead of squeezing our own enterprises."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2016, with the headline 'Jobs and robots to figure at EDB-ST forum'. Print Edition | Subscribe