SMEs urged to seek new opportunities, develop workforce to survive Covid-19

Minister Gan Kim Yong said businesses can find new opportunities for transformation and growth even amid the crisis.
Minister Gan Kim Yong said businesses can find new opportunities for transformation and growth even amid the crisis.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Singapore's small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should seek to capture new growth opportunities in a world that is unlikely to return soon to the days before Covid-19 struck, said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong on Wednesday (Sept 15).

In order to better capture these opportunities, companies also need to develop a future-ready workforce to ensure business sustainability in the long run. They must also remain outward-looking and stay engaged with the global economy, he said in his opening remarks at a virtual conference organised by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI).

An annual Business Survey shared by the SCCCI at the event showed that a majority of Singapore companies, mostly SMEs, view rising costs, availability of suitable manpower, adaptation to Covid-19 safe management measures and transforming or pivoting to growth areas as top business challenges.

Mr Gan said that while it has been a challenging period, businesses can find new opportunities for transformation and growth - even amid the crisis.

"Sustaining a business is a marathon, and these are particularly difficult times," Mr Gan said at the SME Conference and Infocomm Commerce Conference 2021.

"But if we change our perspective to proactively identify new growth opportunities, prioritise the development of our people and renew our efforts to engage the global economy, I am confident we will do well in a post-pandemic world."

He referred to recommendations by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce, which envisions businesses here tapping new growth areas by digitalising supply chains, growing smart commerce through online-to-offline partnerships, increasing productivity through robotics and finding solutions to meet new sustainability goals.

Still, while many businesses have managed to successfully connect with their partners and consumers through innovative virtual means during the pandemic, the Government recognises that relationships cannot always remain online, Mr Gan said.

"As Singapore transitions to living with Covid-19, we are looking to ease our border restrictions to facilitate business and international travel, and regain our air and maritime connectivity."

The minister said that business transformation, competitiveness and the capacity to capture new opportunities hinges on Singapore's ability to invest in its people and create a more motivated and resilient workforce.

"People are at the core of our business. We need to equip them with the right skills to take on new or redesigned job scopes to meet future demands."

The Singapore government has in place a suite of measures to support business transformation and help companies upskill and reskill their workforce, including the Enhanced Training Support for SMEs that provides subsidies to sponsor employees to attend training courses funded by SkillsFuture Singapore.

Businesses can also leverage the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit to invest in their workforce development. Meanwhile, the Enterprise Leadership for Transformation supports leaders of promising SMEs in developing their capabilities.

Moreover, the expansion of the Progressive Wage Model reflects the Government's commitment to grow wages in line with productivity, he said.

The SCCCI survey showed that 67.5 per cent of respondents experienced rising manpower costs, including the cost of foreign workers, while 63.1 per cent were unable to recruit local staff with the needed skills and 49.5 per cent said that it has become more difficult to get foreign workers.

In response to the manpower challenges, 70.2 per cent of survey respondents said that they automated or digitised their business processes to cut down on their staff requirements.