Coronavirus: Task force to help Singaporeans ride rapid industry changes

It wants workers and firms to tap new areas like digitalisation and supply chain changes

The impact of the pandemic is global, and some of the changes may be permanent.
The impact of the pandemic is global, and some of the changes may be permanent.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

A new task force, looking at ways to deal with the longer-term economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, is assessing what can be done to empower Singaporeans to ride the fast-paced changes in various industries.

This requires the Emerging Stronger Taskforce to understand the evolving situation and its impact, as well as to anticipate and position people to seize opportunities as "the long tail of the pandemic and its economic fallout runs its course", Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said yesterday.

Mr Lee, who co-chairs the task force, made the point in an interview with Money FM 89.3's Claressa Monteiro.

The impact of the pandemic is global, he said, describing its consequent shift as "significant" and "once in a generation".

Some of the changes may be permanent and a few are already felt, he noted, citing especially the impact of the circuit breaker measures on the hospitality, travel, aviation, food and beverage, and retail sectors.

These sectors have to change very quickly and, as industries adapt, workers will have to do the same "because we want to protect workers, we want to protect Singaporeans", said Mr Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.

As the sectors transform, jobs may change or disappear, but "we need to empower Singaporeans to be able to ride this very rapidly accelerating change".

The 17-member task force, which he co-chairs with PSA International group chief executive Tan Chong Meng, has held two meetings this month.

Mr Lee said that even as the task force focuses on addressing the economic challenges, it is intent on helping workers, businesses and the economy tap new offerings from areas such as digitalisation, virtual reality and changes to supply chains.


"Our commitment is to speak to Singaporeans from all walks of life as well as big companies plus small and medium-sized enterprises... who care about the future of Singapore," he added.

At the same time, Singapore needs to bolster the social aspect, he said, noting that this is being done by the Singapore Together movement that he co-leads with Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah.

"As much as we want to transform our economy and position Singaporeans for changes... we also need to make sure that our society, our homes, our families, our communities are resilient and strong, and can adapt to the kinds of challenges that the pandemic will throw at us now and in the long term," he said.

During the interview, Mr Lee also spoke on the initiatives for helping the underprivileged. These include ComCare, the Temporary Relief Fund and Covid-19 Support Grant.

Amid the pandemic, many families, who would ordinarily be doing all right, would have felt the full brunt of the economic impact, which is why new schemes were rolled out to help them, said Mr Lee.

He added that Singaporeans and businesses have been generous in helping the vulnerable.

"No one is ever too young or too old to contribute, and it is very encouraging. Every little bit helps because the impact when brought together can really make a difference," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 23, 2020, with the headline 'Task force to help S'poreans ride rapid industry changes'. Subscribe