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 potent