The Economic Development Board's (EDB) tie-up with the World Bank to upgrade talent in the infrastructure sector should both help the domestic economy and plug Singapore more firmly into the wider regional grid. Singapore will benefit from enhanced expertise in a crucial sector which employs an estimated 18,000 people and contributes $2.6 billion in value-add to the economy. The sector attracts investors, who have injected about $200 million over the past two years. According to the EDB, 20 of the top 25 global logistics players conduct operations here. Indeed, most of them have set up regional or global headquarter functions in Singapore. Thus, infrastructure provides a silver lining to uncertain times.
Looking to the future, deeper expertise in infrastructure would give Singapore a greater stake in a booming Asia. The Asian Development Bank estimates that 55 per cent of Asia's population will live in cities by 2030. Now, 44 million more people are joining Asia's urban masses annually. This translates into 120,000 people a day who will need the construction of more new homes, roads, public transport lines and additional infrastructure to supply potable water and adequate drainage. Asia's spatial transformation is being accompanied by the vigorous growth of a middle class that makes it imperative for international manufacturing companies to set up production bases close to their markets.
Then, there is the inter-regional transformation promised by China's Belt and Road Initiative. The development of infrastructure is a key plank of its efforts to draw Asia, Europe and Africa into the integrative orbit of a new global economic order. The Asia-Pacific will need to spend US$26 trillion (S$36 trillion) from now to 2030 on infrastructure. One report says Asean will need more than US$2 trillion in investment in road, rail, port, airport, power, water and telecommunications infrastructure to maintain economic growth. These represent huge opportunities which nations, organisations and individuals can avail themselves of.
The Republic's place in that grand scheme of things is presaged by the fact that about 60 per cent of Asean infrastructure projects are financed mainly by Singapore-based banks. In order for more Singapore players to tap into the opportunities presented by the development of infrastructure, people must develop an instinctive ability to function in different social and cultural settings. The EDB-World Bank industry secondment programme will offer participants a year-long stint in experiencing operating conditions in developing countries. Such hands-on experience should prove invaluable when Asia's infrastructure revolution takes off. Singaporeans who are prepared to think outside of their comfort zones will be the ones more likely to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead.