Back in the 1980s, one of our founding fathers Dr Goh Keng Swee identified the potential of biomedicine and set up the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB).
Fast forward to the 90s, the Singapore government took Dr Goh’s vision and pushed for it, setting up the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB), the predecessor of A*STAR.
The then-chairman of the NSTB, Mr Philip Yeo, went round the world looking for the top biomedical scientists, researchers, engineers and persuaded them to come to Singapore.
Singapore’s playbook was simple: Get these top talents (Mr Yeo called them whales) to bring their expertise here and teach them to our talent (whom Mr Yeo called guppies). The Government gave these “guppies” scholarships to study biomedicine all the way to the PhD level.
The “guppies” trained under the “whales” with the aim of becoming “whales” themselves one day.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared this story at the National Day Rally 2022 today (Aug 21) to underscore the importance of being open to top talent from around the world.
Because of that decision to bring in biomedicine talent into Singapore, our country today has homegrown scientists doing cutting edge research and development. Some have also developed and commercialised their own work.
Singapore’s biomedical sector is also thriving, said PM Lee.
“It employs 25,000 workers and contributes almost one fifth of our manufacturing GDP. We have also attracted major projects, including from Sanofi and BioNTech – these are leading firms – for vaccine manufacturing facilities.”
The biomedical industry made significant contributions to Singapore during the Covid-19 pandemic as well, helping to maintain an international database of Covid-19 genomic data and developing test kits and diagnostics.
“Had we not sought out top talent 30 years ago, and then continued to build up our biomedical research teams and activities, and develop homegrown talent, all this would never have happened,” said PM Lee.
Adding that this is an age where “talent makes all the difference to a nation’s success”, PM Lee said:
“We need to focus on attracting and retaining top talent in the same way we focus on attracting and retaining investments.”
Other countries are doing what they can to attract top talent too.
Germany allows skilled professionals to live in the country even before they manage to secure a job. The United Kingdom rolled out a special visa for graduates from 50 top universities outside the UK (including Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University and the National University of Singapore).
PM Lee said that Singapore has a window of opportunity now to attract top talent and international companies and has to seize our competitive edge of quality, reliability and efficiency now.
“In this global contest for talent, Singapore cannot afford to be creamed off, or left behind,” he said.
Singaporeans are rightly concerned about the impact of having large numbers of non-residents living and working in our country, he said.
While the government is actively working to ease these concerns, PM Lee added that “we must not stop seeking out top talent who can contribute to our Singapore Story”.
Singapore already have schemes to attract and retain top talent but more needs to be done, especially in sectors with good potential.
He added that the Manpower and Trade & Industry ministries, along with the economic agencies will soon announce new initiatives to attract top talent everywhere to Singapore.
Top image credit: MDIS