Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, at the Singapore Metal & Machinery Association's 80th Anniversary Dinner25 Apr 2015
Mr Ow Chin Seng, President, Singapore Metal & Machinery Association,
His Excellency, Duan Jielong, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of Singapore,
Members of SMMA,
My current and former Parliamentary Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
1. I am delighted to join you this evening to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Singapore Metal and Machinery Association (SMMA). This is a significant milestone and reflects SMMA’s long-standing history of service to its members, which as I understand, now number more than 340.
2. 80 years is a long time! I would like to congratulate SMMA for staying relevant to its members through the ups and downs of history, and especially for your contributions to building our nation over the last 50 years.
Our Future Economy: Driven by Innovation and with a Vibrant SME Sector
3. We are in the midst of a period of economic restructuring. As we upgrade our economy, and adjust to the reality of a tight labour market, we must also put full effort into uplift our SMEs.
4. The future Singapore economy must be driven by innovation and skills, but it is also important that it has a vibrant SME sector. Our local SMEs must remain at the core of our economy and society, not just as a legacy of history but as sources of innovation and future growth.
5. This means going for quality and deep skills, in each area of specialisation. It means taking opportunities brought about by technology or new markets. And it means reconfiguring ourselves, sometimes through mergers, or by developing consortiums of companies that can take on larger opportunities together.
Enhancing the Role of Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs)
6. In Budget 2015, we emphasised the need for Government and our Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to work closely together. Individual SMEs are often focused on day-to-day operations. Our TACs can help them by developing collaborative strategies among businesses in the same industry – strategies to attract manpower and talent, to build up skills and to explore overseas markets.
Taking Advantage of Government Schemes
7. The Government has significantly increased the resources we are putting into helping our SMEs. The schemes are there – tax incentives, grant schemes through SPRING, IE Singapore, IDA – when you add them all up, they are a very generous set of supports. TACs, such as SMMA, can help more companies take advantage of our schemes.
8. A significant part of Budget 2015 was about SkillsFuture. We are embarking on a major new phase in developing our people. SkillsFuture is in fact a major opportunity for our TACs to enhance their roles, in helping their members meet the needs of the future.
9. Many of our SMEs lack their own training capacity. So SkillsFuture is a real opportunity for a new form of industry collaboration – for Government to work with the TACs and businesses to develop our workforce. Develop courses that suit the needs of the industry – short courses, modular courses, helping workers take advantage of new technologies.
10. These training options must be meaningful to individual Singaporeans, meaningful to the industry, and meaningful to Singapore’s future.
11. A very important part of this initiative will be to develop a pool of mentors who work with specific industries and firms. SMEs on their own will find it difficult to train up their people and take full advantage of SkillsFuture. So the TACs and a pool of mentors will be crucial in helping our SMEs.
12. During this year’s Budget, we also strengthened government support for our SMEs to internationalise. This is a key strategy for the future. I am heartened to see that SMMA goes beyond promoting industry collaboration in Singapore, and organises trade-missions to visit different countries in order to explore new markets, and to promote co-operation between local and foreign trade associations, to help your members to go regional and international. The number of guests from foreign trade associations present today is a testament to this good work.
13. I believe SMMA can continue to play an important and constructive role in helping Singapore-based companies across the entire spectrum of metals and machinery to meet the challenges of economic restructuring, develop new capabilities and internationalise.
14. Our new phase of development, in the context of a tight labour market, poses challenges for businesses, especially SMEs, but it also presents significant opportunities for the enterprising and innovative. Trade associations like SMMA have a crucial role to play in this journey or restructuring, developing deep skills in the workforce, and internationalising.
15. In closing, as SMMA celebrates its 80th anniversary, I thank SMMA members who have achieved commercial success for their generous efforts to contribute to the community. I know that SMMA has supported various charitable causes and also provides education bursaries and scholarships to children of needy employees of your members. Thank you for doing your part in helping to make Singapore a strong and inclusive society.
16. On this note, let me congratulate SMMA once again on this happy occasion.
 Mr Zheng Chao, Minister Counsellor, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Singapore, is also attending.
 Current MPs attending are Ms Denise Phua (SMMA Honorary Advisor), Mr Liang Eng Hwa and Ms Foo Mee Har. The former MPs attending are Dr Lee Boon Yang (SMMA Honorary Advisor), Mr Ang Mong Seng and Mr Loh Meng See.
 Other guests seated with DPM at the VVIP table include Mr Thomas Chua, President, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) and Prof. Phua Kok Khoo, Founding Director of the Institute of Advanced Studies, NTU.