SINGAPORE: Singapore companies must respond quickly to the changing business environment while also taking innovation and technology seriously, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Apr 17).
He was speaking at the two-day Bridge Forum CEO Summit in San Francisco, organised by the Economic Development Board (EDB) and GIC, which manages Singapore's foreign reserves.
The forum connects their partners in Asia with networks and business leaders in Silicon Valley to discuss the subject of tech disruption.
When asked by the session’s moderator, EDB managing director Chng Kai Fong, what Singapore can do better in, Mr Heng said: “I hope that our companies take innovation and technology seriously.”
He added: “The speed of technological changes, the speed that others are changing business models means that if you don’t change, you’re going to be left behind. So it’s quite critical, first and foremost, that our companies are really going out to all these changes quickly.”
At the same time, Singapore must ensure that workers are not left behind amid the rapidly changing environment, Mr Heng said.
He pointed out that Singapore has embarked on a push for skills upgrading and lifelong learning.
“Lifelong learning is not just a slogan. It’s something we are working very hard on,” said Mr Heng, who also chairs the Future Economy Council.
He noted that such efforts have been made possible with the tripartite relationship between businesses, unions and the Government.
The unions take a “very supportive” approach, Mr Heng added. “They work with companies and say, what are the changes that are needed and how do I prepare our workers. If our workers are going to do that, will they benefit?”
“If you look at stories of successful transformation around the world. It is always that the people must believe that the change is good for them, because otherwise you’ll get a strong reaction against the change,” he said.
“In Singapore, ever since our founding, we have the tripartite relationship – businesses, unions and workers and the Government. It is important to have all three elements working together.”
He told the audience: “If you look at all the backlash against globalisation, it is in all the places where workers feel that their interests have been compromised and not taken care of.
“In an age where technology can replace many of these simple jobs, it is even more important for us to focus our minds on this.”