TL;DR – So… what are his suggestions?
Dr Chee Soon Juan published an article warning that Singapore’s future looks bleak unless we are able to be more innovative and our workforce more productive.
He reminded us that many jobs are at risk of being made obsolete by technology. Things cannot be business as usual in Singapore. Even businesses are going through disruption, and they have to innovate or die. Otherwise, we will certainly be going off a cliff, plunging to our demise. We certainly agree with Dr Chee Soon Juan on all those points.
He’d said in the article,
Focus for a minute: Uber is going with driverless taxis, Deliveroo is looking to using drones to make its food deliveries, and MacDonald’s is experimenting with automation to let customers create their own burgers. Property agents, stock brokers, receptionists, cashiers and sales assistants are becoming surplus to requirements as buyers and sellers directly transact their business through the Internet.
Even higher-end professionals like accountants, lawyers and medical professionals are not in the safe zone: Sophisticated tax software will eliminate the need for accountants, court cases can be fought with the employment of artificial intelligence in place of attorneys, and surgeons replaced with robots which can carry out intricate operations at lower costs.
The discussion is not whether workers are replaceable but how rapidly the process is taking place…
And we aren’t the only ones who agree with Dr Chee. Even the PAP ministers agree with him. They have been talking about how technology is rapidly changing the nature of work and threatening to make many jobs obsolete. Minister Chan Chun Sing, who is also the Labour Chief over at NTUC, is one of those PAP ministers. For example, he reminded property agents that technology will make at least half of them lose their jobs in the future.
It’s not often that politicians from the opposition and ruling parties agree. When they do, it probably means the thing the agree on is undeniably true. And this is a huge issue. If we don’t get this right, Singapore will no longer prosper. Worse, we may no longer exist as an independent nation.
So. Dr Chee has highlighted the problem, and we all agree.
Pray tell, what are Dr Chee’s suggestions?
Given the gravity of this issue, we were hoping that Dr Chee’s article would outline some brilliant strategies to steer Singapore away from the cliff and toward a much brighter future.
Unfortunately, there were none.
Dr Chee offered two suggestions. First, Temasek should divest its portfolio. Second, the mass media needs to be reformed.
Dr Chee’s argument for this first suggestion is that entrepreneurs won’t emerge in Singapore because our economy is overwhelmed by government-linked companies (GLCs). We wonder whether Dr Chee has heard of the founders of Honestbee, Carousell, Reebonz, and Garena. Perhaps he doesn’t consider them as entrepreneurs.
In any case, while Teamsek isn’t divesting its portfolio, it is diversifying. Part of its diversification strategy is to invest in startups. It has pumped in $857 million into Vertex Venture Holdings to invest in startups. True, Vertex Venture Holdings won’t just be investing in Singapore startups, but its portfolio certainly does invest in Singaporean startups (e.g. Reebonz).
As for his second suggestion, Dr Chee asserts that we can only “transform Singapore into a society on the cutting edge of research and innovation” by ditching “1960s standards of state censorship and citizen intimidation”. We wonder whether Dr Chee has been to China. The censorship in China is far tighter than that of Singapore. Yet, no one will deny that the Chinese are incredibly innovative. Just think of XiaoMi, WeChat, and AliBaba.
In any case, Dr Chee’s assertion that Singapore isn’t competitive is completely wrong. In the Global Competitiveness Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), Singapore is the second most competitive economy in the world, just behind Switzerland.
That said, we can’t rest on our laurels. That’s something we agree with Dr Chee. Again, so do the Ministers.
That’s why they are coming up with, testing, and implementing different programmes and strategies to get Singapore and Singaporeans to be more innovative and productive. For instance, Minister Chan didn’t just tell the property agents that they are at risk of losing their jobs, he suggested that they should develop cross-competencies so that they can add value. He assured them that the Labour Movement will support them through that process.
That’s also why the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) was formed in late 2015. In a nutshell, the CFE is a task force formed to retool Singapore for the future, to help us prepare for the uncertainties ahead.
Now, after numerous discussions, after over 20 panels, seminars and conferences and engaging over 6,000 people, we hear that the CFE report is finally ready and will focus on job creation. It’s supposed to be out after Chinese New Year, so anytime now, folks!
Will the things that the government is thinking of doing or are already implementing enough?
Don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.
But we are sure that what Dr Chee is suggesting isn’t enough. Perhaps he has got more ideas that he isn’t quite articulating. If so, we look forward to reading more ideas from Dr Chee on how Singapore and Singaporeans can be more innovative and productive.