Singapore not expecting a full-year recession at this point, says DPM Heng Swee Keat

Singapore not expecting a full-year recession at this point, says DPM Heng Swee Keat

DPM Heng Swee Keat speaking at a REACH-CNA dialogue session on Jun 15, 2019
DPM Heng Swee Keat speaking at a REACH-CNA dialogue session on Jun 15, 2019. (Photo: Jeremy Long)

SINGAPORE: The Government is not expecting a full-year recession for the Singapore economy at this point as there are still areas of strength, such as the information and communications and construction sectors, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat on Friday (Jul 12). 

Mr Heng's comments came after official estimates released earlier in the day showed the economy slowing sharply, growing a meagre 0.1 per cent year-on-year in the second quarter. This marked its lowest growth rate since the global financial crisis in mid-2009.

READ: Singapore economic growth slows to 0.1% in Q2, lowest in a decade

The latest growth number reflects the heightened uncertainties and risks in the global economy, especially with the trade tensions between the United States and China, Mr Heng said in a Facebook post. 

“We are prepared for the cycles the economy will go through. The Government is monitoring the situation closely, and is working with employers and unions to prepare for all scenarios.”

But even as the country tackles short-term challenges and helps those affected by the current economic cycle, Mr Heng said Singapore must continue to focus on the medium and long term. 

“The Future Economy Council will continue with our industry transformation plans, build stronger enterprise capabilities, and make the most of the opportunities around us,” added Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister. 

Echoing the need to focus on long-term fundamentals, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that this will involve building real and new capabilities, expanding into new markets and acquiring new skills. 

He noted that Singapore will have to “surgically” help its companies and workers adjust to the new realities, instead of artificially boosting demand in general. 

This is because the current economic challenges differ from those seen in the previous financial crises and involve longer-term shifts in supply chains and production patterns, which will unlikely revert to the previous norms even if there is a respite from the short-term trade tensions among the major global economies. 

READ: New jobs can be created through technology, but workers need help retraining for these positions: Chan Chun Sing

Commenting on the latest growth numbers, Mr Chan wrote on Facebook: “As trade is three times our GDP (gross domestic product), Singapore will be subject to the uncertainties of the global investment climate, and shifts in global supply chains brought about by the turbulent international trade environment."

While Singapore may not benefit from all of the trade war-induced shifts in production and trade flows in the short term, it is focused on attracting high-quality investments for the long term.

READ: Singapore well-placed to weather uncertainties but Government ready to step up support: Chan Chun Sing

“Our investment pipeline gives us confidence that we are on the right track,” he wrote, reiterating a point that he made in Parliament earlier this week about how the Economic Development Board is on track to achieving its target for foreign investments this year.

“Companies looking for a stable political environment, pro-business ecosystem, skilled workforce, progressive regulations, superior connectivity and rule of law, still see Singapore as an attractive destination,” he said, citing significant investments by global companies such as US energy giant ExxonMobil, German gas and engineering giant Linde and British pharmaceutical giant GSK.

NEED FOR SINGAPOREANS TO UPGRADE "FASTER"

Nevertheless, Mr Chan cautioned against complacency and stressed the need for Singaporeans to upgrade themselves “faster” than other countries so as to seize new opportunities.

“The Government will continue to help our businesses transform their businesses and workers acquire new skills to keep pace with the changes," he said.

And despite near-term headwinds, the Government remains confident that the country’s fundamentals will help it to ride through current challenges, while creating the conditions for longer-term success, he added.

“Let us work together to weather this storm, and emerge stronger when the skies clear."

Also taking to Facebook on Friday was Manpower Minister Josephine Teo, who wrote that attractive job opportunities remain despite the slowdown in economic growth.

Financial services, professional services and infocomm technology are among the sectors looking to fill about half of the existing 60,000 job vacancies for Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs), she said.

“Some of these most sought-after PMETs include software/web developers, systems analysts and managers in business development, sales & marketing. They can expect to earn minimally between S$4,000 to S$5,000.”

New and better jobs will also continue to emerge as the economy transforms.

Mrs Teo pointed to the financial service sector where technological advancements will help to reduce manual and repetitive tasks, allowing workers to focus on higher value job roles.

This can be seen from how bank tellers are now being retrained as digital ambassadors, customer service officer and even chatbot trainers. 

READ: New jobs can be created through technology, but workers need help retraining for these positions: Chan Chun Sing

In the services sector, with foreign worker quotas set to be tightened, some employers are also looking to hire more, even as they restructure to become more manpower-lean. Taking up these jobs may require training or adjustments in salary expectations, she said.

Companies and workers can tap the over 100 Professional Conversion Programmes in more than 30 sectors, as well as Career Trial programmes that aim to help jobseekers gain experience through short-term work trials.

“From 2016 to ‪2018, Workforce Singapore has helped about 76,000 people move into new jobs through the Adapt and Grow initiative,” she added.

As growth slows, Mrs Teo noted that “practically every union leader” she has met, as well as many professionals, executives and business leaders from various industries, are paying close attention.

But they are not in a state of panic, she wrote, as “most of them know that it is in the nature of business cycles”.

“After the good times, there could be lean years. The wisest among them systematically prepare for such times and switch into high ‘agile’ gear when necessary,” she continued.

For jobseekers, this means becoming more flexible in the way they think and act, she wrote.

“For example, those seeking jobs may keep themselves updated on industry trends and expand their network of contacts. They may also consider job openings they might have looked past previously.”

The Government is ready whenever more employment support is needed, said Mrs Teo.


Source: CNA/sk(gs)

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