TL;DR – Let’s peer into the crystal ball.
The Public Service Division (PSD) organises an annual Public Policy Challenge (PPC) where tertiary students competed to come up with public policies based on a case given to them. The case for this year’s PPC was to come up with public policies for Singapore to develop and leverage on the digital economy.
At each PPC, a minister will have a dialogue session with the participants. Given this year’s theme, Minister Chan Chun Sing was the natural candidate to dialogue with the participants.
Because Minister Chan Chun Sing is the deputy chairman of the Committee on Future Economy (CFE). And the CFE has zeroed in on five key areas: 1)Jobs and skills for the future, 2)Singapore as a connected city, 3)Innovation, 4)Governance, and… you guessed it… 5)the digital economy.
Throughout the dialogue, Minister Chan provided the participants with many glimpses into the future.
What the future should not be
Before Minister Chan spoke about what the future economy of Singapore could be like, he asked the participants whether they think that Singapore should strive to be the next Silicon Valley. To his relief, none of the participants thought that Singapore should be.
Minister Chan reminded participants that there are already a number of “Silicon Valleys” around the world. If Singapore tries to be yet another “Silicon Valley”, then that will just be a “me too” behaviour and there will not be anything distinctive Singapore. We will find it difficult to compete.
Similarly, just because artificial intelligence (AI) seems to be quite hot now, it doesn’t mean that we should go blindly into it. Instead, we will have to consider where our competitive advantages lie. If we cannot be the first mover, then do we have what it takes to be the fastest follower?
How can we better overcome our constraints in the future?
In the future, just as it is today, Singapore will face a similar set of resources and geographical constraints. But the digital economy offers new ways of overcoming these constraints. Yes, it might even offer opportunities.
Specifically, Minister Chan suggested that we should leverage on data and digital connectivity.
Yes, while we’re experiencing a downturn with many companies downsizing, particularly in the banking and finance sector as well as oil and gas industries, there are still emerging sectors and new jobs.
Minister Chan said that companies can identify new business opportunities through collecting, storing, and analysing data. Furthermore, data security is also a growth area for the economy. All these, in turn, will help them create new jobs.
Data? But why Singapore?
But what gives Singapore a competitive advantage in the sectors of data and connectivity? Minister Chan explained that there are three things that Singapore is well-known for that work in our favour –
- We are open and connected
- We are stable and predictable
- We can be trusted
Minister Chan used an example to further illustrate this point. Let’s say Person A has an item to rent out. He can advertise this on the internet. Just so happens that Person B wants to rent this item. If Person A and Person B don’t know each other, they might not trust each other. So Person A might want Person B to pay him first, but Person B might only want to pay Person A after he has finished using the item and confirmed that it’s of the advertised quality.
Minister Chan asked the participants whether they saw a problem in this situation or an opportunity. He said half-jokingly:
“Those who see a problem are suitable to be civil servants, while those who see an opportunity are more suitable to be entrepreneurs.”
Such situations require a third party that both people can trust. Given Singapore’s reputation as a trusted brand, we are well-placed to turn such problems into opportunities for us to grow.
How to be prepared for the digital economy
In helping Singaporeans be prepared for the digital economy, Minister Chan said that we will need to focus on different things for different groups. For the young children, we should expose them to the opportunities available and impart in them some basic knowledge. For the youths, we should help them become smart users. For the middle-aged, we ought to help them keep up with the changes.
As to whether it makes sense to help older workers who are close to retirement age to upgrade their skills, Minister Chan replied with an emphatic yes. He said:
“If you don’t upgrade their skills, that’s one definite way to make sure they retire even earlier!”
But if we help them upgrade their skills, then there will be a high chance that they can continue working for many more years.
Key to a bright future
Securing a bright future for Singapore isn’t just the job of the government. Instead, Minister Chan said that each generation of Singaporeans must collectively arrive at a vision that inspires them and the next generation.
Hopefully, when the Committee on the Future Economy releases their report in the first quarter of next year, we will all be inspired by the vision of the future it presents.