Safeguard future of manufacturing

A worker at a medical manufacturing plant in Woodlands.
A worker at a medical manufacturing plant in Woodlands.PHOTO: ST FILE

In his commentary on Wednesday, Professor Arnoud De Meyer said that manufacturing here is not an outmoded sector but an important job multiplier and a source of innovation ("Made in S'pore, plugged into the world").

He warned of serious implications on our nation's technological development if manufacturing shrinks further.

Manufacturing has been the prime mover of our economic growth for decades. In 2005, it contributed 28 per cent to our gross domestic product (GDP). Its GDP share has since fallen to 20 per cent last year.

The continual decline in domestic exports is a worry. We cannot become another Hong Kong, where manufacturing is almost non-existent now.

We need to ensure that the sector's ecosystem and critical mass are maintained, as manufacturing is closely intertwined with other segments of the economy.

Our information, communications and aviation industries, for example, will be impaired without an active manufacturing support service.

Unlike Hong Kong, we do not have a hinterland.

There are defence and security considerations, too.

Budget 2016 has plans to stimulate 20 economic sectors, but is there any focused strategy to prevent the manufacturing sector from sliding further?

We require a whole-of-government approach.

We also need to change the mindset of workers, entrepreneurs, educators, and parents and students on the importance and prospects of manufacturing.

More tuition subsidies should be given to technical students so that they do not have to pay higher fees than non-technical students.

We must alter the reward system so that workers with technical skills are paid well. More help could be given to technical workers and manufacturing firms that meet our strategic needs.

Manufacturing industries that merit promotion should be given a more liberal treatment on foreign worker and immigration restrictions.

We should continually look for new industries around the world, including in non-English-speaking nations, to bring to Singapore.

Lower the barriers for foreign entrepreneurs who have good ideas and want to open factories here. Allow them a grace period to employ more foreigners if they cannot get enough local workers, or before they can transfer skills to locals.

There are thousands of good manufacturing multinational corporations here, and we should protect and spur those that are still viable to operate here in other parts of the global value-generating chain, if not in production.

Ng Ya Ken

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'Safeguard future of manufacturing'. Print Edition | Subscribe