TL;DR – Can we fix it?
These few days, it’s not uncommon to read news that our economy isn’t exactly in the pink of health. The numbers certainly don’t look good. For the first nine months of the year, 13,730 workers were axed. That’s the highest level since 2009. Three out of 10 unemployed residents were long-term unemployed. That’s the highest levels since 2002. In September, there were 91 job openings for every 100 unemployed people as of September.
To make things worse, developments in the whole world will bring upheaval over the next few years. These include Chinese economy moving away from an export- and investment-driven economy to a consumption and services economy, the policy uncertainties of a Donald Trump presidency in the United States, as well as the trend of digitisation.
While we know that all these developments in the world will affect Singapore, we can’t be sure exactly how these developments will affect us. It’s therefore not surprising that Singaporeans are getting anxious. What can we do in the face of such uncertainties? Wringing our hands in worry won’t do us any good.
So what should we do? Minister Heng had this to say:
“We need to turn that anxiety into action that will prepare us better for the future. It is not easy, I appreciate that. But I think if we provide a support system and, if we support one another as fellow workers, as employers, I think we can make the grade.”
Indeed, the tougher the road ahead, the closer we must pull together. To weather this storm, everyone – government, businesses, and individuals – will have to play their part and work together. Minister Heng pointed out:
“You need the effort of the workers, you need the effort of the companies and you need the government agencies to support it in the right direction.”
It will be a test of the tripartite relationship. It would not be easy. But Minister Heng is optimistic. He noted that we’ve had a good tripartite relationship. And the groundwork has been laid with schemes such as SkillsFuture. Minister highlighted:
“We are building on strengths built up over the years”
And build we must.
Specifically, as Minister Heng puts it, “We have to build new capabilities.” This will involve Singaporean workers building deep skills, as well as helping companies with research and development to boost innovation. Given that Asia is is still expected to remain the fastest-growing region of the world, Singapore is in a good position to be part of the growth, if we are able to build those new capabilities Minister Heng spoke of.
Charting out this course of building new capabilities is the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE), which is chaired by Minister Heng. The CFE has taken the major shifts in the world into account when coming up with strategies for Singapore’s long term growth. It will release its recommendations early next year, likely in January 2017, so mark your calendar!
Minister Heng has indicated that next year’s Budget will likely respond to some of the committee’s recommendations. It will also touch on restructuring and the broader challenges that Singapore faces. That will only be the start of our long journey back towards a healthy economy.
But, if we are able to do what Minister Heng did, stay focussed on our recovery, and keep trying new things, taking one small step at a time, then just as Minister Heng recovered, our economy can recover and emerge stronger too.