SINGAPORE - New initiatives to attract and retain top talent will be rolled out to secure Singapore's success in a post-Covid-19 world, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21).
"We want to make top talent everywhere sit up, pay attention, and think seriously about coming to Singapore," he said, adding that the Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Trade and Industry and economic agencies will soon announce new measures to achieve this.
While Singapore already has schemes in place to draw top talent, such as in the technology industry, it still needs to do more, especially in sectors with good potential, PM Lee said.
Singapore must build a world-class talent pool because this is an age where talent makes all the difference to a nation's success, he said.
Singapore does its utmost to develop its own talent and help every citizen reach their fullest potential, he added, "but when it comes to top talent, we can never have enough".
Hence, "we need to focus on attracting and retaining top talent, in the same way we focus on attracting and retaining investments", PM Lee said.
Other countries are also making a special effort to court top international talent, such as Germany, as well as Britain, which recently introduced a special visa for graduates from top universities globally.
"In this global contest for talent, Singapore cannot afford to be creamed off or left behind," he said.
In fact, Singapore has a window of opportunity to draw the best talent now, with its track record of tackling Covid-19 helping it to stand out even more.
"Our trusted Singapore brand of quality, reliability and efficiency... gives us a competitive edge," PM Lee said.
"Those with special talents and skills are looking for places to move to, where they and their families feel safe and welcome, and where they can make an impact," he noted.
Meanwhile, "businesses want to invest in places where the talent is... where the politics and policies are stable, and where the system works", he said.
Singapore has been successful in attracting the interest of talented people and international firms.
"That is why even during the pandemic, the Economic Development Board continued to bring in many good projects, and even now, we have a very strong investment pipeline of potential projects which we have a good chance of getting," PM Lee said.
He acknowledged the concerns of Singaporeans about the impact of large numbers of non-residents living and working here.
The Government is following up to tackle the problems and ease these concerns. "But while we manage the overall population of foreign professionals here, we must not stop seeking out top talent who can contribute to our Singapore Story," PM Lee said.
For example, the biomedical sciences grew in Singapore because top names in the field - the "whales" - were attracted to move here, after Singapore decided to make a big push for the sector in the 1990s. They then nurtured local talents - "the guppies" - who were new to the field at the time, but now have grown into "whales".
One key figure who played a role in persuading top biomedical science talent to move here is Mr Philip Yeo, who was chairman of the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB), which then became the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star).
Today, Singapore's biomedical sector employs 25,000 workers and contributes almost a fifth of Singapore's manufacturing gross domestic product, PM Lee said.
Home-grown scientists are also now doing cutting-edge research and development, with some who have become principal researchers and others who have founded start-ups.
During the pandemic, researchers here made significant contributions like helping to secure vaccines early and developing test kits. Singapore has also attracted major projects, including from Sanofi and BioNTech, which are the leading firms for vaccine-manufacturing facilities.
In fact, PM Lee said he was told that BioNTech was investing in Singapore when he met former chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel before she retired last year.
"They take note. It is significant. It means something to them. It means a lot to us," he said.
He added: "Had we not sought out top talent 30 years ago, then continued to build up our biomedical research teams and activities, and develop home-grown talent, all this would never have happened.
"This is the difference that top talent can make."
It is also why Singapore must seize the opportunities now.
"If we can get the people we want to come here, it will really help Singapore to shine brightly as a hub of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth," he said.
"It will also make our own talent want to stay in Singapore, to participate in building a dynamic and outstanding nation, and every Singaporean will benefit from our progress and success."
An MOM spokesman said the ministry will be making an announcement soon on the policy changes to enhance and clarify the work pass framework to better support Singapore’s need for talent.