Letter of the week: Singapore should relook current trajectory and prepare for the future

A small country like Singapore need to be self-reliant in goods and services to the largest extent possible, says the writer. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

As Singapore's fourth-generation leaders seek to refresh our social compact (Why Singapore needs to refresh its social compact, June 29), it is timely to review our priorities as a nation.

For decades, we have measured success using economic factors like gross domestic product. With this comes a natural focus on "moving up the value chain" while outsourcing or importing everything from labour to food supply. This worked for many years.

Yet, it would be naive of us to expect that what worked in the past will continue to work in the future.

The world is going through significant transitions. Geopolitically, nations are inching away from collaboration to conflict, while environmentally, the world is faced with depleting natural resources and the impact of extreme weather patterns.

It is not hard to foresee the next few decades being moulded by conflicts (both regional and cold wars) and supply shortages (both in agricultural produce and natural resources).

In such an environment, the countries that thrive would not be the ones with the best service sector or the most educated workforce. For a small country like ours to survive, besides having a credible military, we also need to be self-reliant in goods and services to the largest extent possible.

As a country, we need to start placing emphasis on practical skills crucial to the normal functioning of a society. It took the Covid-19 pandemic to remind us of the importance of under-appreciated professions like those of nurses and cleaners.

Perhaps it is time to review our reliance on low-cost foreign workers for so many crucial services and start building up these skill sets ourselves. If the standing and pay of these hands-on jobs can be raised, more people would be willing to take them up.

The Government, being the largest employer, should take the lead in creating a structure of apprenticeships and career paths to facilitate this transition to a future in which Singaporean plumbers, farmers and construction workers are valued the way PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) are today.

While no one can predict what the future holds, what is certain is that continuing on our current trajectory puts us at risk of being ill-prepared for anything but the status quo. Instead, let's forge a compact for an inclusive Singapore where every citizen is valued and contributes to the best of his ability.

Eric Teo Hong Kiat

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.