There is a good chance that Singapore can achieve 6 per cent growth or better this year, but this will take the country back to only where it was before Covid-19 struck, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Meanwhile, Singapore's workers must grow new muscles, seize new opportunities and prepare themselves for life after Covid-19 through training and skills upgrading, PM Lee said in his May Day Rally speech.
Noting that the global recession has been less protracted than initially feared, he said Singapore's economic outlook going forward has brightened considerably.
While Europe is still struggling to contain the virus, the United States is expected to make a strong recovery this year on the back of a large stimulus package and good progress made in vaccinating its population. China's economy is performing strongly too, he added.
"These external trends give us confidence in our own prospects," he said, noting the official growth forecast for this year was 4 per cent to 6 per cent. "Barring a setback to the global economy, and provided our domestic Covid-19 situation remains stable, there is a very good chance we can achieve 6 per cent or better this year."
However, PM Lee noted that challenges remain for sectors like aviation and tourism, which will not recover soon.
He also paid tribute to the efforts and sacrifices of workers in Singapore who have helped the nation keep Covid-19 under control.
He thanked healthcare workers on the front line for their dedication and courage. He also thanked aviation and construction workers, noting that workers in other sectors have been affected too.
While there is some way to go before a full recovery, PM Lee highlighted three trends which the pandemic has accelerated - digitalisation, automation and sustainability - where Singapore can seize emerging opportunities and create new and better jobs.
For instance, many hawkers who previously did not see the need for digitalisation were forced to go online during the circuit breaker period, he noted. Now, more than 1,300 hawkers offer some form of online ordering and delivery and more than half of all hawkers have adopted e-payment services.
PM Lee also cited the example of pet supplies chain Pet Lovers Centre, which had to close all 70 of its retail stores during the circuit breaker. To cope with a surge in online orders, it developed a system to track inventory and upgraded its warehouse with an automated storage and retrieval system, with support from Enterprise Singapore.
Said PM Lee: "That is automation, and it's helped the company. Pet Lovers Centre had its productivity and its warehouse capacity more than double. It's made sure to put itself into a stronger position to ramp up its business when the economy picks up."
Staff morale has also gone up as employees have picked up new skills, become more productive and are paid more.
On sustainability, PM Lee gave the example of Sunseap, a clean energy solutions provider which is installing one of the Republic's largest floating solar farms in the Strait of Johor off Woodlands.
He said installing solar panels is a skilled, technical job that pays quite well, but it is hard outdoor work that is done under the sun, mostly by foreign workers. Faced with a manpower crunch, Sunseap redesigned the role and trained young Singaporeans to take up jobs as solar technicians and engineers.
"It helped that young Singaporeans are enthusiastic about climate change and renewable energy, and they know that these fields are going to become increasingly important parts of our economy," he said.
Nominated MP Abdul Samad Abdul Wahab, who is general secretary of the Union of Power and Gas Employees, said sectors like power reflect how all three trends come together and are creating new opportunities. "In the future, these jobs will not be so labour-intensive because of technology. And with tech, we can get younger workers more interested in the sector," he said.
There will be new roles that emerge, he added.
"We used to have manual meters and we had to send meter readers. Now there are smart meters and the guy who installs them can also read and analyse them."
- Additional reporting by Sue-Ann Tan