The National Day Rally speech yesterday took an unsentimental view of the economic road ahead. No one would deny that securing Singapore's place in the world is a fundamental requirement for a globalised city-state without natural resources. Indeed, meeting this challenge constitutes the key chapter in Singapore's transformation into a success story since Independence. An ability to adapt to the shifting demands of the global market, by changing domestic work attitudes and practices, placed Singapore on a growth trajectory that saw its economy expand beyond expectations. Even in the last decade, which was not an easy one by any means, the economy grew between 5 per cent and 7 per cent on average. Yet, this pace is no longer sustainable, given a maturing economy and slower growth in other economies to which Singapore is linked.
Much of the answer lies in exploring new frontiers, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated in his speech. Hearteningly, Singapore companies are making their entrepreneurial mark already in digital space. Mr Lee cited the case of Ascent Solutions, a logistics small and medium-sized enterprise (SME), which has developed a tracking device and lock called iSpot that is used to secure a container. The company's success in taking its product to East Africa reiterates the global reach that companies should have if Singapore is to continue to thrive.
Apart from digital space, opportunities exist for SMEs that do not let their size come between their capabilities and their ambitions. This is seen in the ability of Hope Technik, a home-grown engineering SME, to win a tender by Airbus after having beaten top engineering firms in the world. Also, Singapore companies should focus clearly on the immediate region even as they set their sights on wider global forays. A firmer economic hinterland is appearing in South-east Asia, which has overtaken the United States to become the largest market for Singapore's goods and services.
At home, structural, continual and rapid economic disruption, brought on by technology and globalisation, needs to engender a popular mindset that views change as the only constant. Online shopping, for example, is making substantial inroads into the retail scene, and private car-hire services Uber and Grab are disrupting the traditional taxi industry. Even disruption will be disrupted by the advent of driverless taxis. Painful though the transition could be for many in the affected sectors, it would be unwise to delay - let alone seek to stop - disruptive change that gives consumers more choice. Younger Singaporeans are attuned psychologically to the creative destruction that produces new industries and jobs while shedding old practices relentlessly. Older Singaporeans need to keep picking up skills to survive the economy's new normal.