SINGAPORE: The country is going through difficult economic conditions, facing flat export markets at a time of domestic restructuring, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a dialogue session on Monday (Oct 24).
But he expressed confidence that Singapore is on the right track: “We are feeling the pains of restructuring, but not yet seeing the dividends of our hard work. But we are pursuing all the right strategies, and I am confident that given time these strategies will work for us.”
The Prime Minister, who was addressing students from the Singapore Institute for Technology (SIT), also urged young Singaporeans to be resilient, and to take up the mantle of charting Singapore’s future.
“You compare yourself with your parents' generation - you've got the benefit of the 30 years of hard work; you're at a higher base, and you are poised to take Singapore further forward,” said Mr Lee, noting that while Singapore may not grow as fast as it did in the last 30 years, it should still be able to grow at two to three per cent per year, similar to other developed economies.
“And more than that, we are in a position to make Singapore an endearing and fulfilling home, because many of you have dreams which go beyond just climbing the corporate ladder or earning more money. You want to contribute to the community, care for the environment, or you want to master a skill, art or sport that you are passionate about - and all those are part of what makes Singapore tick.”
Mr Lee added that how well Singapore does, and the kind of society it will be in the next 30 years will depend on the next generation of Singaporeans.
This will be determined by whether they make the most of the opportunities they have, whether they are resilient in the face of uncertainty and change, and whether they work together as one united people, like the previous generations did, he said.
“We've created for young Singaporeans today many more opportunities than your parents ever had. Thirty years ago, the education system was not like it is today. At that time, just five per cent of students entered university, and another five per cent of students had to chance to go to polytechnic,” said Mr Lee, noting that 32 per cent of present cohort entered university, with 47 per cent in polytechnics, and the rest in ITE.
He also highlighted Singapore’s emphasis on establishing education institutions with applied pathways, and building people with industry-relevant qualifications.
“To create more university places, to produce more graduates, print more degrees - it's not so hard...the difficult thing is to train people and to build the economy at the same time, in such a way that after you graduate - having done something which you want to do - there is a job which is available, which will match your aspirations and what we've invested in you,” he said.
"And that's much harder, because you have to create the jobs and you have to match the expectations, and sometimes, we have to manage the expectations... and that's why in Singapore we don't have a youth unemployment problem - unique among many of the developed countries," he added, pointing out that youth unemployment is a serious problem in Europe, and countries like South Korea and Taiwan.
Projecting ahead, Mr Lee acknowledged that a major uncertainty is the economy, as technology transforms industries and old jobs fade away. He reiterated that Singapore is at a new phase in its development - one in which the jobs available and the skills in demand are different from before and are changing rapidly.
And while there is a support structure in place, Mr Lee urged Singaporeans to draw up the resolve and spirit to take up schemes like SkillsFuture and Earn and Learn, switch jobs, and to “learn, and unlearn and relearn things all of your life”.
Despite the current difficulties in the world economy, Mr Lee told the SIT students that he believed the leading cities in the world - New York, London, Berlin, Shanghai, Sydney - and even Singapore, will continue to be vibrant, prosperous hubs of opportunities, innovation, culture, influence.
"Move forward steadily, resolutely, resourcefully. You've got to have it in you. Things happen - yes. We will take it in our stride, we will respond. We are not made of candy floss... We are not like the strawberry generation - these are durians, very tough."