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Ministerial Address by Mr Heng Swee Keat, Minister for Finance, at The Future Economy Conference and Exhibition 2017, at Marina Bay Sands Expo & Convention Begonia Ballroom

01 Nov 2017

Mr Teo Siong Seng

Chairman, Singapore Business Federation

All our friends and partners from unions, TACs and companies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good morning.

A. Introduction 

1.    Congratulations, SS and your whole team at the Singapore Business Federation, on the inaugural Future Economy Conference and Exhibition. 

a.    This is a great effort by SBF.  It is exciting to join all of you to shape the future of our economy together.

b.    Each of you is busy running businesses, unions or industry associations.

i.    I value your interest, and I hope today will bring you new insights, new connections, and a new sense of opportunity and confidence.

ii.    When we talk about the future economy, it is important to remember that, amid the changes, we continue to see growth opportunities.  In particular, Asia continues to lead the global growth outlook. The rise of the middle-class and urbanisation with the region will increase the demand for financial services, hub services, logistics and urban solutions. 

iii.    Within the region, Southeast Asia continues to be a bright spot for trade and investment. Consumerism, increasing regional integration propelled by the ASEAN Economic Community, infrastructure gaps, and spin-offs from China’s Belt and Road Initiative are amongst some of the growth drivers of the region.  And we in Singapore are in a position to take part in and contribute to this growth. 

B. A critical role for each of us 

2.    I thought hard about how I can contribute to our exchange of ideas today.  And I thought, I would make just one point – it seems simple yet it gets to the very heart of our future economy.  The point is this: Everyone has a stake in the future of our economy; everyone has a critical role to play; and everyone has to act as one.  Let’s look at this level by level. 

a.    At the national level, the Government, SBF as the apex business chamber, and our unions’ role is to work on the conditions for growth, and catalyse partnerships and capability development.

b.    At the industry level, our Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) must lead sector-wide initiatives and seek shared solutions for their members.

c.    At the enterprise level, our companies must build capabilities, and partner one another.

d.    And at the individual level, our people must acquire, grow and use skills at a deep level.

3.    These 4 levels are not separate, but interwoven networks. The strengths that we build in each of these networks will complement and invigorate our combined efforts to transform our sectors and the wider economy. Within these interwoven networks, SBF and the TACs in particular must play a leadership role to drive initiatives that will level up the sectors and create value for all their members.  This conference is a great example of one of the ways in which SBF and TACs can play a leadership role. 

4.    Let me quickly touch on what we can do at the enterprise and individual levels, then share some ideas about the industry and national levels. 

a.    At the enterprise level, the company’s critical role is to build capabilities that allow it to create new value, stay relevant, and compete. 

i.    Specifically, the most important capabilities for our companies are: internationalisation, innovation, smart technology use and development, and human capital development.  These are the capabilities that will endow individual companies and whole industry sectors with the fighting edge. 

b.    At the individual level, all of us can play our part by continuously acquiring, developing and using our skills and capabilities, in tandem with the changing nature of work.

i.    We are continually building upon our SkillsFuture initiatives, to support individuals to reskill and upskill. Individuals should make the most of SkillsFuture, as well as learning opportunities elsewhere, to build up their relevance and confidence.

5.    I have spoken at length about the enterprise and individual levels during the Economic Society of Singapore dinner.  I feel very strongly about these and am happy to discuss more during our panel discussion if you are interested.  But, for today, since we are at a conference that is the brainchild of SBF, I will talk more about the strong leadership and collaboration we need at the industry and national levels.

C. Industry level – Partnership to build industry-wide capabilities

6.    While, as individuals and companies, we grow our own skills and capabilities, we also need industry-wide capabilities that can benefit all the companies and workers within each sector.  There’s no better way to share what I mean than to describe a real life example.

7.    I’ve shared a story before about a Swiss company I visited that was training more people than it needed in the operation of complex machinery – in other words, it was investing in training people who would end up going to their competitors!  Some people have told me, they find it hard to understand why a company would train people for its competitors, and hard to imagine this taking place in Singapore.  In fact, it is already happening in Singapore! 

a.    The Supply Chain and Logistics Academy (SCALA) trains new and mid-career talents for the industry, and trains mentors who can coach new hires from the Professional Conversion Programme.

i.    SCALA is housed at YCH’s Supply Chain City and gets YCH management’s close personal attention, but it doesn’t train for just one company -- it trains more people, who then go into the other logistics companies.

8.    We need more of such industry-level collaboration, and going digital is a valuable focus area.  

a.    At Budget this year, I announced the Industry Digital Plans (IDPs) under the SME Go Digital Programme, to help SMEs build up their digital capabilities. 

b.    The IDPs are tailored to each sector and aligned to the objectives of the sector’s Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs). These IDPs help guide SMEs’ deployment of digital technologies at different stages of their growth.

c.    I am happy to share that the first IDP will be launched today, for the Logistics sector. The Logistics IDP will bring industry leaders together to collaborate on projects to help more companies adopt impactful, interoperable tech solutions.

i.    IMDA will embark on 3 partnerships with cloud solutions provider VCargo Cloud and 3 major players in the logistics sector - Bollore Logistics, Dimerco, and LCH, to work with SMEs on digitalisation. 

ii.    In support of the urban logistics initiatives relating to the Logistics ITM, the Singapore Management University, Fujitsu, A*Star and IMDA will also co-develop a solution to coordinate and optimise delivery trips into malls and participating facilities across Singapore, using complex algorithms. 

d.    More IDPs will be launched in the coming days. 

e.    Such multi-stakeholder collaborations can benefit many companies and uplift the entire sector. We need more industry bodies and leaders to participate and contribute to meaningful collaborations in each of, and across, our industry sectors.

D. National level – Leadership to shape our future economy

9.    At the national level, we have our unions, apex business chamber SBF, and the Government, each taking the lead in complementary efforts to support our people, enterprises and industries.


10.    In the future economy, our unions must continue to take the lead in preparing our workers for the jobs of tomorrow. 

a.    NTUC’s Future Jobs, Skills and Training unit (FJST) is taking the lead to help our workers develop the skills needed for the workplace of tomorrow. 

i.    The unit is developing pilot projects in areas such as financial services, infocomm technology and media, precision engineering, healthcare and early childhood and private education.

ii.    I welcome and encourage more of such efforts by the unions.  Vivek is on our panel later, and can share with all of us more about how unions are leading the charge to support and train our workers.


11.    SBF is also a leader in driving our transformation efforts. 

a.    I remember when then-Minister George Yeo moved a bill in Parliament in 2001 to establish SBF. He championed setting up the SBF because a strong business federation with a deep understanding of and connections with industry groups and companies would be an invaluable addition to our tripartite structure. 

b.    The vision was for SBF to play a leadership role amongst industry groups and companies, on ways to boost their ability to compete and succeed.  

c.    Almost 20 years on, in a time of accelerated global change, this leadership role is all the more critical.  Now more than ever, SBF will make a difference for its members by drawing TACs, companies and all stakeholders together, highlight issues of importance for companies to learn about and act upon, and drive meaningful ways for all to grow and to work together. 

12.    As Singapore’s apex business chamber with over 24,000 members, SBF’s role goes beyond being a bridge between businesses, unions and the Government. It plays an important leadership role in bringing together TACs and companies to act on efforts that support the growth of our industries and economy. 

a.    I’m glad that SBF has recently taken the lead to form an alliance with 31 Singapore TACs and business groups as founding members of the TAC Compact. 

i.    As a stronger enabler of the business community, the TAC Compact can better mobilise support for collective ideas, resources and efforts to navigate complex business challenges in a collaborative manner.  

b.    I took heart when I learnt of your new Issues Committees. 

i.    Providing deeper insights to relevant business issues, and offering a platform for companies, TACs and government agencies to co-create solutions – these are real, valuable services for your members. 

c.    The first Issues Committee that SBF set up is on digitalisation. It works with partners to help businesses build digital capabilities and adopt digital technologies.  

i.    I am pleased to note that SBF and IMDA are signing a Memorandum of Intent (MOI) later to collaborate on strategic projects to drive digital transformation across the business community. 

ii.    I encourage business leaders to lend your support and expertise to these Issues Committees and our TACs’ Councils. 

iii.    I also look forward to partnering with SBF as you continue fulfilling your leadership role and serving your members by leading collaboration and inspiring capabilities development.


13.    The Government, too, continues to play its part by maintaining macroeconomic stability, strengthening microeconomic foundations, and building deep capabilities to address structural changes in the economy.

a.    The $4.5billion Industry Transformation Programme is the keystone of our support for businesses.  In Budget this year, I announced another $2.4billion over the next four years, for measures to build our capacity for the future economy. 

b.    Public sector procurement allows us ways to actively support and catalyse the development of new technologies, to the benefit of growing SMEs.

i.    Gov-PACT works with SMEs and start-ups without track record on projects initiated by government agencies – this allows the businesses to build up their capabilities and even innovate new solutions. 

ii.    Since April this year, SPRING has worked with six government agencies on Gov-PACT. 

iii.    The third Open Innovation Call by JTC, launched in partnership with Gov-PACT, issued eight challenge statements, SMEs came forward with 70 proposals offering promising solutions. 

c.    We have also started the Global Innovation Alliance to help SMEs and start-ups gain exposure to innovation hubs around the world, through a network of Singapore and overseas partners in key demand markets.


14.    Let me conclude by going back to what I said at the start: Everyone has a stake in the future of our economy; everyone has a critical role to play; and everyone has to act as one.  

a.    Today, inspired by SBF’s initiative to bring us all together, I spoke in particular on the leadership role that SBF and the TACs must play to drive initiatives that will level up all companies and industries, and create value for all their members. 

b.    The future economy calls for transformation at all levels. This transformation is a national effort that requires the active support of leaders from SBF and our industry bodies, along with our companies and workers. 

15.    I hope many of you will come forth to lend your strengths and support. Let us partner across all levels and strengthen these interwoven networks to transform our economy together.

16.    Thank you.