Creativity is not something that is often used to describe Singaporeans. Yet, we would not be where we are today if not for creativity, DPM Heng said at The NUS115 Distinguished Speaker Series on 13 August 2021.
Our creative capacity and our willingness to go against the tide is our strength, he said.
This creativity is seen in our founding generation when they forged a new path forward that bucked conventional wisdom. At a time when critics saw MNCs as the new colonialists, Singapore welcomed MNCs to invest here.
Then, against the advice of external consultants, the Singapore Government developed a new airport in Changi which gave us an outsized presence on the world map.
Our openness to the world is a necessity
For Singapore being open to the world is not a choice. As DPM Heng pointed out, we are land-constrained with no natural resources.
“No matter how brilliant our plans are, we would not have succeeded if we had insulated ourselves.”
By being open, we rode the wave of globalisation. Salaries improved and job opportunities grew. And Singapore became a vibrant city full of energy and ideas.
It is impossible to “bubble wrap” Singaporeans from foreign competition and still expect to succeed, Mr Heng said.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, remote working has become more commonplace now.
“Working from home” is just one step away from “working from anywhere”. “If workers can work from anywhere, employers can easily seek out the best skilled workers from all parts of the world.
“In fact, some cities are starting to market themselves as the destination of choice for global remote workers,” Mr Heng said.
“Even more physical jobs – such as port crane operators – can now be done remotely, in the comfort of a control room. And the control room can possibly be located thousands of miles away. This means foreigners do not have to be in Singapore to compete with us. It would be increasingly difficult, if not impractical, to confine opportunities by geography.
“But embracing openness does not mean leaving our companies and people to fend for themselves.”
Mr Heng said the government is helping businesses to transform and putting an even greater focus on jobs and skills – growing the SkillsFuture movement, and strengthening the tripartite effort on retraining and upskilling.
There is room to adjust our foreign manpower policies, and there is scope to strengthen our laws on fair treatment at the workplace, Mr Heng said.
“But closing our doors is ineffective and provides a false promise of security. We must not box ourselves into a false choice.”
“Instead, we should embrace both openness and equip our people with the experience and skills to succeed – this is how we will thrive in a rapidly evolving world. This way, our workers can remain confident about their position in the world, and know that they can continue to make a difference – not just when they are fresh out of school, but throughout life,” Mr Heng said.