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Govt will help small businesses maximise workers' contributions: PM Lee

The government will help small and medium enterprises maximise their local and foreign workers' contributions, amid the ongoing manpower crunch.

SINGAPORE: The government will help small and medium enterprises maximise their local and foreign workers' contributions, amid the ongoing manpower crunch.

This was Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's assurance to firms at the Malay-Muslim Business Conference, organised by the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, held on Wednesday.

He said the government cannot ease up on the limits it has imposed on foreign worker inflows to Singapore and urged firms to tap government schemes for help.

Mr Lee added that the number of foreign workers in the country is still growing, though not as fast as before. More of these workers are being allowed in, but within limits.

He noted that small businesses are very worried about manpower and that many of them want more foreign workers. Those unable to find workers have had to turn away business.

Mr Lee's advice to firms was to offer higher wages and exciting jobs as the best way to attract good people, which is only possible if companies raise productivity and climb up the value chain.

He said: "We have the programmes to help you to attract talent, but the best way to attract good people and keep them, is to offer them exciting jobs and higher wages. And that's only possible if the companies raise their productivity and go up the value chain. And here too, the government is doing our utmost."

Mr Lee noted that one constraint to raising productivity is company size. Some firms only have two or three workers, making it hard to justify investments in automation.

Therefore, Mr Lee said the government is providing grants for firms to join forces and raise productivity, through collaborative projects.

Under a Partnerships for Capability Transformation programme, small firms can work with larger ones to learn from their experience, and upgrade capabilities.

If smaller players can raise productivity and hire better workers, Mr Lee said they will be in a better position to venture overseas.

He cited Malaysia's Iskandar region as a place of opportunity, with lower costs, greater land supply, and in close proximity to Singapore.

"Singapore is just too small a market to support any business activities within the domestic market itself. If you have bigger ambitions..., bigger dreams of building a global business, you have to venture overseas," said Aidil Zulkifli, chief executive of Plutus Software.

"We have no choice,” said Zahidi Abdul Rahman, president of the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“We have to venture abroad. We have to look for opportunities in other countries. But more important than just keeping our cost down is the opportunity to be in a market that is almost a hundred times bigger than Singapore."

Mr Lee said competition, coming from all over the world, is intense for Singapore.

Technological change is transforming businesses and industries so companies must be efficient and well-run in order to succeed, he said.

Mr Lee also said thriving Malay-Muslim businesses reflect the progress made by the community. He expressed confidence that with opportunities in Asia, and a base in Singapore, many more successful enterprises would follow.

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