SINGAPORE - With more frequent global shocks and greater economic and financial volatility expected to become a regular feature of the post-pandemic world, Singapore needs to build an even more resilient networked ecosystem, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (March 22).
The Republic's economic transformation efforts thus far have put it in a better position to deal with these shocks, enabling businesses to respond and pivot in the changing operating environment through the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.
Speaking at the Singapore Apex Business Summit, Mr Heng noted how Singapore's industry transformation maps (ITMs) have built stronger foundations for industries, linkages within and across sectors, as well as fostered bonds between stakeholders.
"Instead of seeking to pick winners and losers, we promoted the foundations of a networked ecosystem involving all stakeholders - from the business community to our workers and unions, to the Government, and also researchers and the media," he said.
The four-day summit, which is organised by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) and events firm MP Singapore, is held at Sands Expo and Convention Centre.
Mr Heng noted that in the three years before the ITMs - roadmaps to drive sector transformation - were established in 2016, Singapore's productivity growth stood at 2.3 per cent per annum - better than that of most other advanced economies.
Productivity growth improved to 2.7 per cent per annum between 2016 and 2019, and this continues to increase despite Covid-19, he said.
Between 2019 and 2021, Singapore's productivity increased by 3.9 per cent per annum, added Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies.
As global shocks - like the ongoing armed conflict arising from Russia's invasion of Ukraine which has dampened the global economic outlook - become a regular part of the endemic Covid-19 world, Singapore needs to strengthen its ecosystem, he said.
Many efforts to do so are ongoing, he noted, such as investments in new capabilities and upskilling, diversification of supply chains, and bolstering of trade connectivity.
Mr Heng highlighted four key attributes which will matter most in the "next bound of resilience": openness, innovation, sustainability and trust.
Openness has been crucial to Singapore's success, he pointed out.
"At a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia in many parts of the world, Singapore is not immune to these forces. We must not lose sight of this foundational attribute, especially for a nation that is so dependent on trade," he said.
Singapore needs to double down on openness and connectivity, not just in trade but more critically, also talent, said Mr Heng.
The country must have the skills and talent to take on new opportunities with the emergence of new industries and growth areas, he said.
"We will do all that we can to bring out the best in all Singaporeans. But realistically, with a small and ageing workforce, we will not have all the skills, and in sufficient numbers, to meet these new demands.
"Hence, we must remain open to drawing from our region and around the world, to enhance our local workforce."
Businesses must do their part in helping Singapore continue to remain open to talent, by developing Singaporean workers and bringing in overseas talent that are of the "right quality, complementarity and diversity", he added.
Mr Heng also noted that the best way to face a world with more frequent disruptions is to make changes before Singapore is forced to do so.
The minister said a further mindset shift is required for Singapore to fully embrace innovation, and companies should look to collaborate with their competitors to grow further.
To this end, the Alliances for Action (AfAs), which were started in 2020 to help Singapore emerge stronger from the Covid-19 pandemic, present a promising approach, he said. The AfA model brings together public and private sector partners to rapidly prototype new ideas and scale those which are successful.
The SBF has been an active driver of such an approach, and the chamber is embarking on the Boost Up initiative to help companies innovate by redesigning their products and services, and strengthening branding and marketing.
This is in partnership with the institutes of higher learning, government agencies and the private sector, Mr Heng noted.
"I look forward to SBF catalysing even more partnerships and collaborations in support of innovation and to build a more resilient economy," he added.
On sustainability, the minister spoke about the acceleration of global climate action and acknowledged the challenges of making the green transition. Sustainability has been made a key priority across sectors as part of Singapore's ITM 2025 plan, he said.
"Just like how our original ITMs made a strong push for digitalisation, sustainability is now a centrepiece of our collective ITM 2025 response - one that will enable us to move decisively on our climate commitments while opening new opportunities."
Mr Heng also stressed the importance of trust, which he said is ever more important in times of crisis and great uncertainty.
"Trust will be even more important post-pandemic, where more frequent shocks would mean more ups and downs," he said, elaborating on the importance of trust between companies and their employees.
"Trust is difficult to earn but can be easily lost. But as long as business leaders have the interest of workers at heart, I am confident that we can strengthen this attribute and build a more resilient economy in times to come."
Mr Heng also spoke about the need to further strengthen business leadership and fellowship, to build and anchor more resilient enterprises in Singapore.
In this aspect, the SBF, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is stepping up and forming an AfA on business leadership development, he said.
The chamber will work with other trade associations and chambers, corporations, education institutions and government agencies, and the collective effort will sharpen Singapore's leadership edge, he added.
More than 3,000 business leaders and government officials are attending the summit in person and online.
The summit, which ends on Friday, comprises five conferences including SBF's flagship event, the Singapore Regional Business Forum, which is in its sixth edition.