Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at A*STAR Scholarship Award Ceremony

Speech by Minister Chan Chun Sing at A*STAR Scholarship Award Ceremony

Ms Chan Lai Fung, Chairman, A*STAR,
Mr Frederick Chew, Chief Executive Officer, A*STAR
Scholars and parents,
Ladies and gentlemen,

1. A very good afternoon to all of you. 

2. Let me begin by congratulating the students who are here today to receive the A*STAR scholarship award. You have all done well. 

3. On such occasions, I will always remind our recipients that their success is not theirs alone. Today is possible only because of the support of your families, teachers and those important to you.  It is also only possible because of the opportunities provided by our community and country.  So please take a moment to join me in applauding everyone who has supported you in your journey.

4. Our A*STAR scholars are a great source of pride to us. Many are well-regarded in their respective fields and through their work, have made a real difference to people’s lives, not just in Singapore but around the world. 

5. Today, I will talk about Singapore’s talent strategy – of which the ASTAR scholarship is but one part.  

6. Let me start with the changes in the global environment and how the competition to develop and grow talent networks has become the most critical success factor for a country’s development.  

An increasingly fragmented and volatile global economic environment

7. There are three key trends taking place in the global economy which will affect the way we work and how talent flows.
     a. First, an increasingly fragmented world and the dangers it presents.  

     b. Second, the increasing salience of intellectual property in economic competition.
     c. Third, the growing need for multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural teams to produce the winning combination.

8. Let me start with the increasing risk of bifurcation and fragmentation of the global trading and technology system. 

9. We are already seeing signs of these shifts in the current US-China trade conflict, Brexit, and the rise of populist movements in Europe. The global economic environment has become more uncertain and volatile because when markets are bifurcated, trade, talent and data flows will inevitably be fragmented or disrupted.

10. As a small, open economy, the implications on Singapore will be significant. Over the past 50 years, Singapore has been the beneficiary of free trade and increasing economic integration, allowing us to transcend our constraints and geographic boundaries. That order is now under stress.

11. The question is whether Singapore will have the necessary talent mix to allow us to interoperate in a more fragmented world?

12. The second trend is the growth of Intellectual Property (IP) as a competitive advantage. To prosper in a knowledge-based, innovation-driven world, Singapore must continue to have a robust IP and pro-business environment to enable innovation to thrive. Singapore’s strong IP regime, agile regulatory frameworks and robust distribution networks have been vital in attracting ‘high value, high-mix, low-volume’ investments. This is evidenced by top biopharmaceutical companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Roche and Novartis choosing to set up research and manufacturing centres here. 

13. The question again is whether Singapore will be able to continue to have the right talent mix to compete in these high tech, high value-add areas.

14. The third trend is the emergence of multi-sectoral, cross-discipline and cross-cultural teams. When I visit multinational corporations, I frequently see such teams in Singapore working alongside other teams across the world. These teams are highly nimble and dynamic. They are critical for companies to develop ideas and innovate rapidly, and to compete not just domestically but globally. 

15. Again, we ask ourselves, do we have the necessary talent to compete in regional and global markets beyond Singapore?  Are we able to be the best-in-class globally?

We need different strategies to navigate these shifts

16. So if we know that these are the trends, we need to ask ourselves what we need to do.  I have consistently said that to meet these challenges, we need to do three things well: 

     a. Firstly, strengthen our fundamentals — our trusted brand name, strong IP regime and pro-business environment. 

     b. Press on with efforts to restructure and revitalize our economy, to help our companies grow within and beyond Singapore.

     c. Seize new opportunities, such as by creating new growth areas and plugging ourselves into new markets and shifting supply chains.

17. However, two things underpin our ability to execute these strategies successfully — technology and talent. As A*STAR scholars, you are at the centre of both.

18. We need a five-prong talent strategy to meet our challenges:

     a. Up our average

     b. Stretch our top

     c. Work with the global best

     d. Network with the world

     e. Be the most conducive hub for the region

Talent is critical for Singapore to thrive and prosper.  The first and most important element of our talent strategy is to cultivate and grow our Singaporean talent pool

19. Lift our Average.  Since independence, we told ourselves that our people are our greatest resource and they must be developed to their fullest potential. We have and will continue to invest heavily in our training systems. Singapore is now one of the countries that spends the most training and educating its workers. Our education and training budget is more than $10B each year.  We easily invest more than a quarter million dollars in the lifetime education and training of every Singaporean.  

20. Today, our workforce stands out globally in both aptitude and skills. Our students do very well by all international yardsticks.  But the competition is catching up quickly as their societies develop. 

21. In order for our workforce to remain competitive, we must ensure that Singaporeans have the skills that are both relevant and in demand.  With these skills, Singaporeans will be well-equipped to seize both current and future opportunities, and fulfil their aspirations. 

22. In our economy today, Singaporeans must be life-long learners and continuously upgrade their skills. We are supporting companies and workers with training options and subsidies to stay relevant, such as through the SkillsFuture Training Subsidy. 

23. Stretch the Top.  Beyond continuously uplifting the average, we also invest to stretch our top.  The ASTAR Scholarship Award is part of our wider national strategy to allow our best to excel to their potential.

     a. For example, in the area of Science and Technology (S&T), we will continue to build a strong local talent base. Currently, 70% of Research, Scientists and Engineers (RSEs) are citizens or permanent residents. 

     i. I am happy to note that A*STAR has made significant contributions to Singapore’s efforts in nurturing our talent base.

     ii. To date, A*STAR has nurtured a pipeline of around 1,600 Singaporean PhD talent through various scholarship schemes. More than 850 scholars, with many of you here today, have completed their PhD/postdoctoral training and are now actively contributing to the Research, Innovation & Enterprise (RIE) ecosystem in Singapore.

     b. Looking ahead, the digital economy has tremendous potential to be the next frontier for the Singapore economy. Our people and businesses must be ready.

     i. The TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) and its partnerships with training providers such as AI Singapore and General Assembly enable Singaporeans to stay up to date with the relevant emerging and deep tech skills in the resultant tech ecosystem.

     ii. The A*STAR Computing and Information Science Scholarship (ACIS) (pronounced as A-C-I-S) launched last year provides Singaporeans with the opportunity to learn and conduct research which can be applied to real-world issues, across the whole spectrum of computing science, from deep learning for healthcare, data analytics for improved machine learning, to modelling and simulation for advanced applications. 

     iii. Today, I am pleased to announce 11 recipients of the ACIS scholarship, who will have the opportunity to pursue a PhD in AI and Computer Science, to meet Singapore’s growing demand for talent in the computing field, and to advance science in Singapore. 

     c. We have also developed a strong partnership with our private enterprises to collectively develop and nurture a strong Singaporean core of industry leaders to anchor strategic industries, via the Singapore-Industry Scholarships (SgIS). Since 2012, 840 recipients have been awarded the scholarship, which has a strong focus on meaningful industry exposure and skills development. 

Third, Singapore must welcome global talent to work alongside Singaporeans in globally competitive teams and advance the frontiers of innovation together

24. Thirdly, Singapore must continue to welcome global talent to work alongside Singaporeans and advance the frontiers of innovation together. To compete effectively in the world, our teams must be globally competitive. Many countries recognize this too, and are aggressively attracting companies and talent with marketing campaigns and fast-track visa schemes. For example, Hong Kong launched the Technology Talent Admission Scheme (TechTAS) in 2018 to attract Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) talent, and France revamped its French Tech Visa to make it easier for French start-ups to access skilled manpower. We will need to do the same. 

25. We must have strong, dynamic and fast-growing companies in Singapore, both local and foreign. These companies bring opportunities and attract top global talent, which in turn creates more opportunities for Singaporean businesses and workers.  To encourage such companies to set up and grow, we will need to assure them that they will be able to have access to highly-skilled global talent, both Singaporean and non-Singaporean. Once the companies are here, they will look to hire people capable of anchoring and advancing their important and high-value activities here, such as product development and innovation.

26. Thus, we welcome highly skilled manpower from other countries, especially those with high-end digital and engineering skills, to complement our local workforce with new and updated skillsets. This is crucial to our longer-term competitiveness, and ensures that Singapore stays relevant to a world which is fast evolving. 

Fourth, Singapore must be well connected to the world to secure frontier opportunities for Singaporeans

27. Next, we must connect Singaporeans with the world, and the world to Singapore. This will bring exciting opportunities at the global and regional frontiers to Singaporeans. While others are building walls, we must build bridges. 

28. To enhance our connectedness, we have launched programmes such as the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA). The GIA is a global network connecting Singapore to leading innovation ecosystems and key markets around the world. Singaporeans and businesses will be able to gain overseas experience, connect, and collaborate with their overseas counterparts through this initiative. 

     a. Earlier this month, Enterprise Singapore announced the expansion of the GIA network to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in addition to cities such as Bangkok, San Francisco and Tokyo. As part of the GIA, Ngee Ann Poly aims to send 100 students over the next two years to undertake internships with Vietnamese start-ups and expose them to the vibrant innovation ecosystem and business scene in HCMC.
29. Given that Singapore is well positioned in the fast-growing Asian region, it is important that Singaporeans know how to work in more than one market. To be a truly global node, we must have a global mindset and global skill-sets. To this end, we are developing capabilities in Singaporeans to equip them with the requisite knowledge to identify growth opportunities and navigate challenges in overseas markets. The Global Ready Talent Programme provides funding support to companies to send locals for overseas internships and management associate programmes, to gain in-market experience.

30. We also encourage and support Singaporean entrepreneurs and their companies to venture beyond our shores to seize new growth opportunities. Enterprise Singapore recently launched the Scale-Up SG programme, which provides customised assistance to high-potential local companies to scale up and internationalise.  We hope that these companies will become industry leaders at a global level, and in turn create more and better jobs for Singaporeans.

Attracting overseas Singaporeans and regional talent back to this region 

31. Last but not least, Singapore will continue to strengthen ourselves as the regional and safe harbour for talent. ASEAN remains extremely relevant, especially in this fragmented global environment.  We provide a base and springboard for regional talent.  We welcome regional talent to join us and use Singapore as a platform to reach out to the region and world.  We also welcome regional talent returning from around the world to partner Singaporeans to seize the opportunities in the region.  

32. Returning Singaporeans and Southeast Asians bring with them a wealth of experience and a global mindset, thereby further enriching Singapore and our ecosystem. One way we are doing this is via online communities. We have launched an Overseas Singaporeans in Tech LinkedIn Group, an online community to connect overseas Singaporeans with local hirers and support them with relevant citizen resources.

     a. Take Glenn Low for example. As an undergraduate, he participated in the NUS Overseas College (NOC) Programme and interned at American advertising platform start-up Rocket Fuel. After graduation, he was offered a position at the firm. He and his then-girlfriend - now wife - spent the next few years in the US gaining professional experience. Two years ago, he decided to relocate back to Singapore. With valuable insight and experience from the Bay Area under his belt, today, he is now working at Google as a Senior Strategist. 

     b. Singapore needs more Singaporeans like Glenn who had the benefit of a good overseas experience to return to Singapore. With their global mindsets and global skills, they are important to support the growth of our vibrant start-up and tech ecosystem.

33. Ultimately, the presence of these top-tier experts and companies creates opportunities for Singaporeans to work on cutting-edge projects, in globally competitive teams alongside people with experience from all over the world. It also creates pathways for Singaporeans to progress into senior management roles at top companies. This exposure will also inspire Singaporeans to build new ventures, in Singapore and in ASEAN.


34. Even as the world becomes more fragmented and with the headwinds ahead of us, Singapore and Singaporeans can remain confident. We will continue to focus on our fundamentals, and remain a safe harbour for companies looking to invest in the region, and for global talent looking for an exciting and inviting place to work and live. We will continue to ensure Singaporeans will be well-placed to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities created. 

35. If we are successful, we will strengthen our economic competitive advantages based on our deep and wide connectivity, the competitiveness of our workforce, the quality of our ideas, and the standard of trust we offer to the global markets. This way, we will remain exceptional, and thrive in the world.

36. Thank you. 


Contact Us Feedback