Singapore strong on digital adoption, healthcare and social safety nets, less so on flexible work arrangements: WEF

The WEF said countries like Singapore, which are digitally advanced, are well placed to manage the impact of Covid-19, in a report released on Dec 16, 2020.
The WEF said countries like Singapore, which are digitally advanced, are well placed to manage the impact of Covid-19, in a report released on Dec 16, 2020.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - For the first time since its launch about 40 years ago, the World Economic Forum's (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report has suspended its annual ranking of the competitiveness of countries.

Faced with the need for new thinking on economic recovery, as well as missing data from international organisations amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the WEF has instead turned its focus to the qualities that will empower a country for future economic transformation.

It has identified 11 priority areas for governments across four key areas: the enabling environment, human capital, markets, and the innovation ecosystem.

These are listed in a special edition of the WEF annual report released on Wednesday (Dec 16).

It also said that countries like Singapore, which are digitally advanced, are well placed to manage the impact of Covid-19 because they have strong social safety nets and robust healthcare systems.

"While the immediate priority is to respond to the health crisis... it is also a moment to determine how we may shape our economic systems in the future so that they are not just productive but also lead to environmental sustainability and shared prosperity," it added.

Here is how Singapore fared in some of the areas:

1. Human capital development

Singapore tied with Finland for having a tertiary education system that is well placed to meet the needs of employers. It scored 79 out of 100 points, behind Switzerland (82).

Overall, human capital development in advanced economies has stagnated over the last 10 years, the report said. "Across developed and developing economies, talent gaps remain large, local education systems are increasingly outdated and there are limits to international mobility."

It added that global talent shortages will remain significant unless countries ramp up reskilling and upskilling programmes. It cited Singapore and France as examples of countries which have funded workers for additional training.

2. Safety nets and financial soundness

Economies with strong safety nets - such as Denmark, Finland and Norway - are better able to salvage livelihoods.

The report also cited Singapore, Taiwan, Finland, the United States and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as economies with strong financial systems.

This means they can more easily provide credit to small and medium-sized enterprises and keep them afloat, it said.

3. Governance and planning

Countries that can better plan and coordinate health measures with fiscal and social policies are more successful in tackling the crisis, said the report.

Countries that have performed "relatively well" in this area include Singapore, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria and the UAE.

4. Healthcare system and research capacity

Anecdotal evidence shows economies that experienced previous coronavirus epidemics like Sars - such as South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan - had better protocols and technological systems in place to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

Countries with greater biotechnology capacity and established collaborations between universities and companies - such as Switzerland, the US and the Netherlands - are better able to develop solutions to cope with future pandemics, the report said.

5. Digital transformation

Singapore is placed third on a list of top 10 economies with a robust digital legal framework. The US is first, followed by Luxembourg.

It also fared well in information and communications technology adoption (sixth) and digital skills (sixth). But it is not among the top 10 for flexible work arrangements like virtual teams and remote working.

The report noted that while countries should incentivise companies to move towards digital business models, invest in ICT development and digital skills, and update their digital legal frameworks, few countries are advanced in all these aspects.

6. Movement of people

Singapore is among the 30 economies out of 141 surveyed where hiring foreign labour has become harder than it was in 2008.

Others include Austria, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Iceland, the United Kingdom and Sweden.

The tightening of migration policies has limited companies' access to the international pool of talent, said the report.

It also said Covid-19 has sharpened the decline in international openness, and there is a risk that these protectionist policies and mindsets will persist.