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Task force charting Singapore’s post-COVID-19 recovery puts out 5 recommendations

Task force charting Singapore’s post-COVID-19 recovery puts out 5 recommendations

A view of the Singapore skyline from Merlion Park. (File photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: Singapore must create new frontiers in the digital realm and seize opportunities in a growing green economy, said a government task force on how Singapore can chart its economic recovery in a post-pandemic world.

The Emerging Stronger Taskforce also recommended that a new public-private partnership that it piloted be institutionalised and for Singapore to strengthen its ties with the region.

These recommendations were laid out in a 118-page report issued on Monday (May 17) by the task force following a year of deliberations.

Formed in May last year, the Emerging Stronger Taskforce said its vision for the Singapore economy is one that “offers limitless possibilities and opportunities for our nation, our businesses and our people”.

“This will be a new way for Singapore to strengthen our economic linkages with the world, and spur our transformation into a Global-Asia node of technology, innovation, and enterprise,” it said in a press release from the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

READ: Emerging Stronger Taskforce will identify global risks, seize economic opportunities for Singapore, says Desmond Lee

ABOUT THE TASK FORCE

The task force is chaired by Minister for National Development Desmond Lee and PSA International Group chief executive Tan Chong Meng, and also includes 21 other members from the private and public sectors.

As part of its work, it first identified six key shifts arising from the pandemic – a changing global order, accelerating industry consolidation, a rebalance between efficiency and resilience in supply chains and production, accelerating digital transformation and innovation, changes in consumer preferences and an increased focus on environmental and social sustainability.

It then zeroed in on areas that it thinks Singapore could invest in before forming nine industry-led alliances to quickly test-bed ideas. These Singapore Together Alliances for Action (AfAs), as they were called, represented a “new model of private-public partnership” which aimed to deliver “minimum viable products” using an agile start-up approach.

READ: Groups spearheading Singapore's post-COVID-19 economic plans announce new ideas

Over the past year, the task force consulted nearly 2,000 individuals from more than 900 businesses, trade associations and chambers, unions and institutes of higher learning.

Speaking at a press conference to mark the launch of the task force’s report, Mr Lee said battling uncertainties arising from the pandemic could shorten one’s field of vision but this presents risks, especially for small countries like Singapore.

“We don't want to look up when the crisis begins to abate … and realise that the world has changed around us and we had this very short-term view,” the minister said.

“So this guided the work of the (task force) and our central question was what must we do to ensure that Singapore emerges from this crisis stronger.”

THE 5 RECOMMENDATIONS

In its report, the task force said its economic vision is for a “virtually unlimited Singapore” but this will only be possible if the country can “find ways to be of value” to others.

“We cannot compete on technology alone, but by creating and providing services in areas which play to our strengths of trust, speed, consistency, and systems-level coordination,” it wrote.

“This will be a new way for Singapore to strengthen our economic linkages with the world, and serve as a vital node at the intersection of high-value global trade, finance, digital, data, technology, and talent flows.”

Singapore must also resist anti-globalisation and protectionism forces by remaining open, particularly to global talent and skills, the task force’s report said.

This is so that Singaporeans can continue to learn from the best in the world, while companies can access the best ideas and understand consumers and businesses beyond Singapore.

1. Create new virtual frontiers

Singapore can build on its digitalisation journey and take its Smart Nation aspirations global, the task force recommended.

For one, a virtual marketplace can be built to support local enterprises in creating new products and digital experiences, and participate in the “trusted trade of goods and services”.

There is “immense potential” to do so, given the country’s digital connectivity as well as the trust and reliability associated with the Singapore brand, the report said.

Amid the rising prospects of a global remote workforce, virtual training and workforce solutions can be used to help companies tap on global talent to better serve demand around the world from Singapore.

IN FOCUS: After COVID-19, where are the Singapore economy, workforce headed?

This may also open up new opportunities for Singaporeans to work beyond the country’s shores, said the task force.

Singapore can also redefine its relevance as a safe and smart city for trade, business, work and leisure as it looks to resume safe travel through the use of technology.

The report cited the industry-led alliance that piloted innovative solutions in the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions (MICE) sector. Through the development of digital tools and redesigning of safe business events and leisure itineraries, a number of trade shows such as the Singapore International Energy Week were held amid the pandemic last year.

2. Seizing growth opportunities in sustainability

The task force proposed making a concerted push to establish Singapore as a carbon trading and services hub.

“This entails developing a carbon marketplace built on quality and trust, that addresses gaps in the voluntary carbon market, establishing a one-stop solution for companies to measure, mitigate, and offset their carbon footprint, and convening partnerships to capture opportunities through research and innovation,” it wrote.

A new “infrastructure company” related to this will be announced later this week, according to Mr Piyush Gupta, chief executive officer of DBS and a member of the task force.

The country should also strengthen food resilience through agri-tech.

This can be done by improving the economic viability and sustainability of indoor vertical farming in Singapore, as well as identifying broader agri-tech opportunities that Singapore should invest in and attain leadership in over the coming years.

READ: Singapore’s farms face an even greater challenge in a post-COVID-19 world

The traceability and accountability of industry value chains should also be strengthened through “end-to-end digitalisation”, the task force said.

This includes establishing common standards to facilitate data flow, which will help partners across the ecosystem to make better decisions on optimising asset deployment and their environment impact.

3. Enabling global champions and growing an agile, strong “Singapore core”

The Government should support the growth of a pool of innovative and international Large Local Enterprises through innovation, internationalisation, mergers and acquisitions, and talent development. It must also enable “a broad base of companies” to succeed, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises and microenterprises, so as to create good jobs for Singaporeans. 

But more can be done with “support from industry, for industry”, said the task force.

It recommended the leveraging of “queen bee” companies including in the area of training and upskilling, as well as the use of commercial frameworks to bring along smaller companies or suppliers in their respective ecosystems or value chains.

This should be augmented by the Government providing digital infrastructure, such as common data or digital platforms, to enable all companies can access best-in-class practices, technology and resources.

Commentary: No worker is untrainable. Employers have to step up to help

Businesses, training providers, institutes of higher learning and unions should also play a bigger and more sustained role in upskilling and creating career progression pathways for workers, the report said.

For instance, businesses can work with unions to adopt “a preventive or predictive upskilling approach” to identify job disruption and training needs early on, and develop workforce training plans.

More can also be done to help workers take ownership of their own skill journeys, to identify and bridge gaps in their current skills in order to move into redesigned or higher-value work.

Still, as the local workforce is being developed, Singapore “must remain open to skills from abroad to complement our workforce”, the task force said.

Mr Lee cited the built environment sector as an example, where industry transformation meant that new skill sets are in demand, and foreign talent will have to be brought in to enable skills and knowledge transfer.

For instance, the building of three-dimension (3D) models for construction projects requires modellers and designers who can design and translate architectural concepts and layouts into these models. It also needs another team that can work on pre-fabrication and precast design, including the possibility of “building an entire room in a factory and finishing it off before bringing it on site”.

“So (this) totally changes the way in which we seek to build and this is already happening,” he said.

“We are building a core of local workers to do that but we've had to supplement it with people from abroad to enable us to grow that opportunity.”

4. Institutionalise the Singapore Together AfA model

The task force said its industry-led alliances, which taps on the complementary strengths of private and public sector stakeholders, has seen initial success and should be institutionalised.

But given that it is a “relatively new modus operandi spurred by the COVID-19 crisis”, it should be further nurtured to ensure its adoption and effectiveness in the economic realm.

“Early learning points from the EST’s AfAs should be taken into account to strengthen the execution of future AfAs, and key criteria should be set for commissioning and closing AfAs,” it wrote in its report.

It also recommended that future alliances in the economic domain be primarily, but not exclusively, established under the Future Economy Council to serve as an additional platform for private-public collaboration and a key enabler for transformative economic growth.

Commentary: Contours of Singapore’s post-COVID economy are coming into sharper focus

That said, in line with the model’s “start-up” approach, one should be prepared that not every of these alliances will succeed in delivering outcomes.

“We should therefore expect and be open to AfAs ‘graduating’ in different ways,” the task force said.

5. Strengthen international partnerships, especially with Southeast Asia

Singapore should also position itself as a partner for recovery and growth, and foster “win-win” partnerships with its closest neighbours.

This is why the task force recommended that Singapore partner countries in the region, including at the business-to-business level, and deepen its engagement and knowledge of the region.

It also suggested strengthening digital connectivity across Southeast Asia towards a “single digital area”.

This can be done by riding on existing government efforts and engagements with ASEAN that set out stronger digital integration in the area of data flows, promote regional recovery through inclusive digital transformation and enhance cybersecurity cooperation.

A “VISIONARY” REPORT: HENG SWEE KEAT

The Future Economy Council, which the task force reports to, said it has accepted the recommendations and will incorporate them into its work, particularly the Industry Transformation Maps 2025.

“In particular, we will institutionalise and scale the Alliances for Action as a more agile and nimble way to undertake industry transformation,” said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, who chairs the council.

This industry-led alliance model is also being piloted beyond the economic sphere, with Mr Lee driving the Singapore Together movement with Second Minister for Finance and National Development Indranee Rajah, he added. The Singapore Together movement was announced by Mr Heng in 2019 as part of the fourth-generation leaders’ new strategy of getting Singaporeans involved in policymaking.

Mr Heng, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies, described the task force’s report as “visionary” and “timely” as the country battles both near-term challenges brought about by the pandemic and longer-term risks.

“This is only the beginning of the next bout of economic transformation that we are embarking on,” he said. “As COVID-19 is likely to stay with us in some form and for some time, it is critical that our businesses and workers take this downtime to accelerate our learning and transformation, and form new partnerships.”

Source: CNA/kg

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