As S'pore's population ages, we must work smarter & welcome global talent: Heng Swee Keat

Looking for the dream team.

Sulaiman Daud | October 16, 2020, 02:52 AM

With the world going through a recent trend towards nativism and turning away from globalisation, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat made a strong case for Singapore remaining an open, global city.

Giving a wrap-up speech in Parliament on Oct. 15, at the conclusion of the debate over his supplementary budget, Heng bluntly pointed out an uncomfortable truth -- Singapore is simply not producing enough of the new generation to support the old.

By 2030, the number of working adults supporting the number of seniors aged 65 and above would roughly halve.

The implication is that working adults in 2030 need to work twice as hard.

While older Singaporeans can be encouraged to work longer, there are two main approaches to deal with this.

Work smarter

Singapore will start early, with enhanced investments in early childhood education and development and programmes like KidSTART, UPLIFT and the Learning Support Programme.

Heng also emphasised that upskilling of workers was the responsibility of both the individual and their company.

Employees need to be proactive to upgrade themselves, while employers need to develop demand-led training programmes.

Welcome talent

But Heng pointed out that Singapore is in direct competition with other global cities such as London, Shanghai, New York and Mumbai.

These cities have hinterlands to draw on the talents and resources of millions or even billions, while Singapore has just four million people to rely on.

"A Singapore that closes its doors to the outside world is bad for all of us," he said, quoting MP Joan Pereira.

As the world undergoes rapid technological change, it is critical that Singapore assembles the "best possible team" to remain useful and relevant to the world.

Heng said:

"We want to make sure we have the best players in our team, playing to one another's strengths, working together as a team. This is why we must remain open to the best talents from all over the world."

Diversity yields opportunity

Heng said by bringing talent from overseas to Singapore, we can learn from them and synthesise their best ideas.

He cited the example of Professor Sir David Lane and Professor Birgitte Lane who have helped spurred Singapore's advances in biomedical sciences.

Heng also pointed to the example of Pedra Technology, born from Singapore's diverse universities.

A deep tech medical start-up from NTU’s labs, its founders are a Korean, two Singaporeans, and a UK citizen born in India.

He added that in our hybrid role as a city and a nation, Singapore must remain open to compete with yet also collaborate with other cities around the world.

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Top image from CNA's YouTube channel.