We must do everything we can to develop all S’poreans: DPM Wong


When Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong says something about helping Singaporeans, you can bet your last dollar that he will do it.

Fresh from announcing the new S$1.5 billion support package last Friday (Oct 14) — after repeatedly saying in Parliament that the Government is monitoring the situation closely and will step in whenever necessary — DPM Wong said that Singapore must remain open and, importantly, highlighted that Singapore will continue to develop its people.

He was speaking at the Singapore Economic Policy Forum today (Oct 18) where he outlined that “double-barrel strategy” of openness and people development that Singapore must undertake in order to continue to thrive.

“At the same time, do everything we can to develop our people – and enable Singaporeans to excel and succeed in their chosen professions and careers,” he said.

The ugly anti-foreigner sentiment

DPM Wong emphasised the importance of staying open.

“Our first imperative is to stay open and connected to the world. This is not just essential, but existential, for Singapore,” he said.

He went on to say that staying open is the basic driver of human progress but populism and economic nationalism around the world are threatening to put paid to this openness.

Citing the example of Brexit, where claims that the UK would be economically better off by leaving the European Union were not founded on sound economics, DPM Wong said that Singapore is not immune to such populist claims and in recent years “very ugly anti-foreigner sentiment” is surfacing in some

“Some say we are not trying to shut Singapore off, we want to stay open in principle, but why not just get rid of more foreigners and then we can reclaim more good jobs for Singaporeans? Sounds very reasonable.”

But that thinking is fatally flawed, said the DPM.

“Getting rid of the foreigners doesn’t mean that the jobs will automatically go to Singaporeans. On the contrary, if our policies become overly restrictive, global companies based here will simply find other places to operate in, places with larger markets or larger pools of expertise.”

If global companies decide to move to other places, our economy will contract, incomes will decline and go down in a tailspin.

“We’d end up with far worse problems, and it’s Singaporeans who will ultimately pay the price.”

Equipping, empowering and assuring Singaporeans

The investment in skills and human capital has been and will continue to be a key priority for the Government, assured DPM Wong.

The aim is to invest significantly in all Singaporeans and help them to build up the skills and capabilities they need to succeed throughout their working lives using SkillsFuture framework.

But going for sporadic, half-day courses cannot possibly be enough to build deep skills and more must be done for mature workers in their 40s and 50s, who are more at risk career disruption, he added.

“All this will require a fundamental upgrading of our SkillsFuture ecosystem.”

To achieve this, the Government must consider three things:

  1. how much more SkillsFuture credits it can provide Singaporeans at major life milestones to keep their skills up to date.
  2. how to give employees peace of mind and time off work to upgrade.
  3. how to better support workers with families who will be naturally concerned about their incomes while they pursue training full time.

“We must couple all this with effective curation of courses, and close partnership between industry and the training providers, so that training is more responsive to changing industry needs, given our more dynamic environment,” he said.

He added that while building a new SkillsFuture system is not going to be an easy task, if there is one country in the world that can do this well, it is Singapore.

This is because of the strong foundation of close tripartite partnership built up over many decades.

A refreshed compact

DPM Wong noted that all this put together will be a key part of a refreshed compact with all Singaporeans: that Singapore remains open as a vibrant hub for the world and Singaporeans can be assured that they will never walk alone through their careers.

“We will walk this journey together with all Singaporeans. To invest in you, and help you excel and succeed. To equip, empower and assure you throughout the way.”

As DPM Wong continues with the Forward Singapore exercise, he hopes that Singaporeans will better understand the importance of staying open.

“I hope that through the series of conversations we are having in this Forward Singapore exercise, Singaporeans will better understand the importance for Singapore to stay open, and reject strongly any attempts to move us away from this basic and fundamental orientation.”

Cover photo credit: MCI