GPC urges govt to boost R&D to build resilient economy

A worker in a medical clean room environment at Univac Precision Engineering at its manufacturing plant in Woodlands.
A worker in a medical clean room environment at Univac Precision Engineering at its manufacturing plant in Woodlands.PHOTO: ST FILE

Other ways: Help firms to expand globally, align education to jobs

Getting the Singapore economy in the right shape to meet future challenges will mean boosting support for research and development (R&D), helping local firms extend their reach internationally and updating the educational system from primary school all the way to one's working life.

This, in summary, was the finding of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Finance, Trade and Industry, as it studied ways to build a resilient economy that will not fall prey to the kind of discontent and division seen recently in Europe and the United States.

The GPC had submitted a full list of recommendations to the Government last month - ideas it felt would help transform the Singapore economy in line with future needs - and made public some extracts on Thursday.

The publication comes just before the Committee on the Future Economy is set to release its report on how Singapore can transform itself for the future.

Among the GPC's suggestions was to lean on R&D to drive innovation and boost competitiveness.

One way the Government could help to do this, the GPC said, would be to offer long-term risk capital and seed funding to take direct equity stakes in promising local firms.

The aim is to support and align these companies' R&D efforts, while anchoring their capabilities in Singapore. "Besides the state investment agencies as providers of patient capital, the Government should also encourage the locally established foundations and family offices to be another source of capital for local enterprises' efforts to boost R&D capabilities," the GPC said.

It also urged the Government to give more help to firms to expand, internationalise and innovate.

For example, the Government could establish export credit agencies or similar bodies to plug funding gaps and extend credit support as companies internationalise, by offering loans, insurance and guarantees to local exporters and exporters' customers.

The GPC also highlighted the importance of skills development to maintain a resilient workforce amid rapid changes to working cultures and environments.

One suggestion: aligning education to future employability.

What this means, for example, is that schools and educational institutions should incorporate more real-world context-setting and inject international market conditions and scenarios into the classroom.

"The institutions should also facilitate opportunities for young Singaporeans to interact with local talent exemplars, innovators and entrepreneurs."

The Government could play its part by, for example, developing a central registry of internships to expand and better match internship opportunities.

As for working adults, the GPC said employers and trade associations and chambers (TACs) should take a bigger lead and greater ownership in skills development.

It suggested, for instance, increasing the role of apprenticeships and traineeships as a pathway to placement in companies.

Tax incentives can encourage this route to employment, which can help reduce mismatches of expectations and skills, it noted.

It also suggested that the Government allow companies to tap SkillsFuture credit and expertise to develop in-house training programmes relevant to their firms or industries.

Finally, the GPC noted that it was important to narrow the mismatch between people's skills and expectations.

This could be done, for example, by setting up a national registry to track educational outcomes.

"Such metrics will help students distinguish between providers who teach skills and nurture mastery compared with those which provide hope without adequate substance," it said.

"Skills development outcomes should be assessed on the opportunity to practise the skills at the workplace."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2017, with the headline 'GPC urges govt to boost R&D to build resilient economy'. Print Edition | Subscribe