Making Singapore future-ready

The Committee on the Future Economy is releasing its report on how Singapore can stay ahead in a challenging climate this week. Insight takes a look at the key issues and some of the possible responses.

CFE report likely to urge continuing economic restructuring efforts to spur new ways to grow

The countdown has begun to the much-awaited release of the findings of the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE).

The 30-member team, which first met in January last year, will issue its report within the next two weeks.

It has been looking at how Singapore can stay ahead in the challenging climate of disruption that is turning almost every industry on its head, and amid geopolitical uncertainty that is adding to the woes of a slowing world economy.

Singapore itself has been stuck in a protracted period of slow growth - the economy has expanded less than 5 per cent every year since 2012 - amid a slew of challenges that include mounting international competition and, at home, issues such as an ageing population and technology changing the nature of jobs.

The question now that many might ask is: How does the CFE plan to fix this?

However, the reality is that while its report will offer some answers, it would be unwise to hold out for a "blockbuster" solution to the country's growth challenges.

Instead, the report is likely to urge pushing on with Singapore's economic restructuring efforts - encouraging companies to innovate, deepening skills and expertise in key growth areas, and looking abroad to new markets.

Mr Liang Eng Hwa, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC and chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade and Industry said: "I believe the CFE report is about the execution plan; essentially a whole-of-system approach to transform the economy and decisively position Singapore to capture the opportunities of the future landscape.

"By making bold and decisive shifts from value adding to value creating, we open up new economic spaces and grow the economy in a very different way. The point is that we can still be an exciting and vibrant economy even with a 2 to 3 per cent growth trajectory."

Insight looks at some of the answers that might emerge from the report, to evolve new ways to stay ahead in a challenging climate.

Next up: CFE report

The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) was set up in October 2015 to come up with strategies to grow Singapore's economy in the long run.

It is split into five sub- groups that look at innovation, key industries and markets of growth, jobs and skills, connectivity and city planning.

The 30-member CFE is co- chaired by Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran. Most of its members are from the private sector. Over the course of last year, the committee held over 80 discussions with more than 1,000 students, educators, parents, union members, business leaders and academics.

The CFE members have taken part in over 20 panel discussions, seminars and conferences, at which they reached out to more than 6,000 people.

Its fifth and final meeting was held in December. It is expected to release its recommendations sometime in the next fortnight. The Government will respond in its Budget on Feb 20.

Learning culture ensures workers have the right skills

A roadshow promoting a wide range of courses, including baking and financial literacy. To help workers better navigate the changing nature of work, the SkillsFuture movement was rolled out two years ago to drive a culture of lifelong learning. The idea is to keep picking up industry-relevant technical skills and essential generic skills throughout working life. PHOTO: ST FILE

So you are a taxi driver who has lost your rice bowl because of Uber. Or you are an office worker who faces the prospect of your new colleague being a robot.

These are some effects of the so-called "disruption" - where technological developments completely transform traditional work environments - affecting Singaporeans and causing apprehension about the future, especially for the middle-aged and above.

This is even as the country reaps the fruits of decades of far-sighted, tightly managed and prudent economic planning.


A liveable home well-connected to the world

An artist's impression of Jurong Lake District, which will be Singapore's second Central Business District. With a scarce supply of land, the Government is looking to develop mixed-use clusters outside the city - some of which may even be pilot towns for self-driving cars. PHOTO: URBAN REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY

How do you make the most of being a small island with scarce physical resources?

It's a question that has become part of Singapore's identity over the past 51 years, and it is taking on a new urgency as space gets even more limited.

But technological developments are opening up new possibilities, both in terms of making the most of physical constraints and in connecting with the world.


Opportunities for growth as companies look beyond home

Some home-grown companies might be content to rest on their laurels once they reach a certain level - expanding regionally or further afield is not for them.

But this mentality is fast becoming obsolete. The mobility of top global talent and speed of technological change means that companies here will have to be plugged into supply chains around the world or risk being left behind.

That is why overseas growth is expected to be a key focus for the the Committee for the Future Economy (CFE) in its findings, due in the next two weeks.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Making S'pore future-ready'. Print Edition | Subscribe