'Take the difficult road today', Heng Swee Keat urges firms

'Take the difficult road today', Heng Swee Keat urges firms

Singapore needs to double down on restructuring as its labour force growth tapers or companies will find it even harder in the future, says the Finance Minister.

Labour-intensive sectors will face more stress as Singapore doubles down on its economic restructuring push, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said during a visit to ST Engineering's aerospace facility on Monday (Feb 25). Brandon Tanoto with more.

SINGAPORE: Labour-intensive sectors will face more stress as Singapore doubles down on its economic restructuring push, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said during a visit to ST Engineering's aerospace facility on Monday (Feb 25).

Mr Heng noted that Singapore’s workforce growth is tapering, and if the country does not use this narrow window to double down on restructuring, companies will find it even harder in the future, reiterating a point he had made in his Budget speech in Parliament last Monday.

“If we do not change, then we will be hitting a dead end and changes later on will be that much harder. So it is far better for us to take the more difficult road today so that we will reach the destination," he said.

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FOCUS ON SOLUTIONS: HENG SWEE KEAT

Mr Heng said companies will need to "upskill" the local workforce, and tap on technology, like automation, to address the shortage of skilled manpower.

"Rather than looking at problems, I want to focus on solutions," he said.

Mr Heng cited the example of ST Engineering Aerospace, which has managed to reap the economic and productivity benefits of technology through initiatives like automated equipment that replaced labour-intensive processes and digital systems that encourage a paperless workflow.

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"ST Engineering is among the first few companies in Singapore to set up an in-house training council, to work more closely with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) and to look at the training of their workers,” Mr Heng said.

"I hope that many more companies will embark on this because I think it's important for us to devote time, attention and resources to the upgrading of our workers.”

Mr Jeffrey Lam, deputy president of ST Engineering Aerospace said the company invests millions in technology and engineering development annually.

“We realise that to stay competitive, we need to continue to invest in technology and training of our workforce, so as to ensure that they can continue to be relevant," he said.

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Mr Lam added that the company will also continue to tap on new grants and schemes as well as existing ones that have been extended in this year’s Budget.

“This year’s Budget is very useful because it’s highly focused on bringing technology to companies and improving workforce productivity and relevancy. This Budget has gone a lot further than before in terms of targeting the areas that need support," he said.

Economic transformation was one of the long-term imperatives flagged by Mr Heng in his Budget speech. 

A combination of new initiatives and expansion of existing schemes worth S$1 billion was announced to help companies scale up and digitalise.

For instance, the Enterprise Development Grant and Productivity Solutions Grant will be extended for three years, up to 2023, in order to help firms cope with changes in restructuring and upgrading.

Apart from the new and extended schemes to help firms and workers build capabilities, foreign manpower policy will be tightened.

Source: CNA/aa(hm)

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