In his 2013 New Year’s Day Message, PM Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the need to create a Singapore Core in the nation’s immigration policies, even as the number of foreign talent was increasing. This pre-empted the now-notorious White Paper on the population when the government threw in the magical 6.9 million population that created such a backlash that they had to take several steps back. Yet, amongst it all, then Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan Jin highlighted three themes on the development of the Singapore Core in the workforce: good jobs available to Singaporeans, good work environment for all workers in Singapore, and continuous development of Singaporeans to help them remain relevant. To this end, the government has placed an objective of two-thirds of Singaporeans holding a PMET (professional, managerial, executive and technical) job by 2030. In this article we assess how far we have moved along these three themes in building the Singapore Core.
Key Singapore Core strategy
In the growing years, Singapore had focused on attracting MNCs into the country to help develop the base, and provide sustained employment. While MNCs have the breadth and depth to make this happen, they don’t have the “Singapore Core” mentality. Once competitive advantage of setting up shop in Singapore has eroded, or if there was a bigger and shinier alternative, they will up and leave. This will strand the “Singapore Core”, leaving the government to pick up the pieces. The strategy therefore shifted to our SME companies. Whilst previously left to fend for themselves, a lot more resources are now being poured into developing SMEs as the Singapore Core. SPRING Singapore has become the champion for growing the core, and pouring in resources to help them innovate, collaborate and grow. The definition of SMEs was also expanded to ensure they receive the resources required for sustained growth; they are now defined as having annual revenue of up to $100M, or headcount of up to 200. There is therefore huge upside for developing the Singapore Core.
Good jobs for Singaporeans
Developing SMEs to professionalise their services, raising productivity and becoming manpower lean, would allow more Singaporeans to earn a good salary, have an empowering job, and contribute more value both to the company and to the economy. To this end, the government has started on painful restructuring, hitting GDP growth by a few points, to make this happen. This is a bitter pill to swallow; yet there is no way out. If we continued to rely on foreign talent, they will soon displace the Singapore Core, leaving a deep void when they return to their country. Yet that is not the extent of it; they return with the knowledge they gained from Singapore, and set up operations to compete with us. So we develop them only to have them eat our pie. Not a very clever move. Good jobs need to be kept for Singaporeans, first and foremost; and only after that, shared with our neighbours. This is not being xenophobic, just strategic. We have started down this road, but more needs to be done to think more strategically about manpower; operations need to be redesigned so that we raise the productivity level of our Singapore Core. But we are getting there, albeit a little slowly.
Good work environment
Singapore has been voted top in many statistics; best business environment in the world, Asia’s most networked city, least bureaucratic country to do business in, most transparent country in Asia, top 10 country in Asia for most motivated workforce, best expatriate living country in Asia. Singapore has done a lot to make the work environment conducive and strives to maintain its top billing.
Continuous development of Singaporeans
The SkillsFuture initiative will be a key strategy to develop Singaporeans. In this initiative, the government has set aside $1 billion per year until 2020; this is a $5 billion budget to help Singaporeans continue to develop themselves, not just in the area of workforce development, but also in expanding their repertoire, so that they become more adaptable to change, and to embark on new career tracks, moving them up along the PME pathway.
Singapore is well on its way to developing the Singapore Core as defined by the three pillars. While there is still a long way in getting there, the support provided by the government has been unprecedented, and will remain so as we traverse the path of greater “Singaporeanism”. But we do this not in exclusivity or xenophobia, but in an inclusive society that requires all peoples to rise up and do their part. Singapore Core is a strategic initiative that will define us when we celebrate SG100!