1. First, let me welcome all of you to the launch of the Global Ready Talent (GRT) Programme for Singaporeans.
2. I believe most of you would have read the headlines this morning. It says that Singapore, after 20 years, has regained its position as the most competitive economy in the world. It is not an easy task and takes a lot of hard work behind-the-scenes, amongst the government agencies, the enterprises, and our workers. For us to sustain this level of competitiveness, all three parties - government, enterprises, and workers - must play a part.
3. The role of the Government is to make sure that we have the most conducive, predictable and progressive business environment for our enterprises and workers to thrive in. For that, the Government must make sure that it has teams of people that understand the markets and future trends, and make rules and regulations that not only prevent bad things from happening, but also enable good things to happen. It is no longer sufficient for government officials to be aware of the local situation. In fact, as Minister in-charge-of the Public Service Division, I challenge our public service colleagues, especially the more capable ones who will undertake leadership positions, to go forth beyond the shores of Singapore to understand the world. So that when they come back, they make better policies.
3. But that is on the government. Coming back to the story, how do we ensure the competitiveness of Singapore’s economy? Ultimately, it boils down to the competitiveness of our enterprises and workers. For enterprises, we keep urging them to innovate their products and processes, and expand their markets. But in order for the enterprises to do that well, talent is a critical enabler. In fact, the most competitive economy in the future ultimately will be the one who can muster and organise its talent best.
4. During the A*STAR Scholarship Award Ceremony earlier this year, I shared our five-prong strategy to build up our talent. Lifting the average for all Singaporeans, stretching the top for the best in Singapore, supplementing our local pool with people from the global pool, allowing our talent pool to connect with other talent hubs around the world and finally, making sure that Singapore remains a hub welcoming of all talent, so that we can build complementary, multinational and diverse teams in Singapore. The five-prong strategy remains valid. Today, this is another piece added to the jigsaw.
5. We launched this programme to make sure that we continue to grow and strengthen the pipeline of Singapore talent going out, so that our enterprises can have the substrate, the foundation to do all the wonderful things we aspire them to do – innovation of products and services, innovation of processes etc. So for all the young people who are present here today, what do we hope to achieve from you through this programme? Very simple, a few things.
6. First, the fact that we grow up in Singapore where it is a comfortable environment does not mean that the entire market is the same. All of our enterprises need to know what is happening beyond the shores of Singapore. Companies that have done well in Singapore are also those that have ventured overseas and used the world as their hinterland. But in order for us to use the world as our hinterland, we must understand the world and the region. So the first thing that we hope to achieve through this programme for young people is greater awareness and exposure to the markets and issues beyond Singapore.
7. The second thing that we hope you will bring back, as you venture forth to the region and beyond, is to help Singapore constantly check our blind spots. While we might have done well in many ways, we are never and we should never be complacent. If each and every one of you can bring home at least one good idea to strengthen Singapore, then we will be much better for it.
8. Let me share this story of the Israelis after their national service. In Israel, both boys and girls serve national service. Generally, they would have six months to a year from the time they finish national service to the time they enter university. They have a culture to go to somewhere outside Israel to learn something during this period. But in Israel, they do it in a very different way. They do not ask, “where have my friends been to?”, but “where have my friends not been to?” They have a culture to walk the less beaten path to bring back something unique and special, to value-add to the job that they are doing and the society that they are building. I think this is very encouraging and we should take a leaf from them. This is why, during my conversations earlier, I was very proud and happy to know that more young people are going overseas to learn. But I hope that when we go overseas, we will not just take the well beaten path – the big cities of London, Beijing, San Francisco etc. I hope that once in a while, if not more often, we also go to the Jambi-s, the Manado-s, the Papua-s to understand the opportunities.
8. The third reason why we hope that more Singaporeans will go overseas is to establish their networks in the region and beyond. Singaporeans have a very unique opportunity to mingle and mix with people from many nationalities in our schools. In fact, this is the starting point of our learning journey to manage and work with cross-cultural colleagues. But what we do in the schools alone are necessary but not sufficient. We need to complement this with efforts like the GRT programme to make sure that beyond the schools, we continue this journey to network with the rest of the world, so that we can fully operate across cultures and nationalities.
9. Fourth but not least, it is important for our young people to understand the markets beyond Singapore. There are many jobs in Singapore created by multinational corporations (MNCs), with many leadership positions. However, when we talk to the MNCs, one thing stands out. They are not looking for leaders who understand only the Singapore market. The MNCs that are in Singapore operate on the basis that they use Singapore as a springboard, as a platform to serve the region and beyond. When they look at the top leadership positions, they are looking for people with a diversity of experiences beyond Singapore. The foreigner who comes to work in Singapore has a natural edge, as they understand at least two markets – their home market and the Singapore market. For Singaporeans to thrive when we reach the leadership level, we too must understand the markets beyond Singapore.
10. I always use the example of the heads of Shell and ExxonMobil, Ms Goh Swee Chen and Mr Gan Seow Kee. Both of them grew up in Shell and ExxonMobil. But they did not grow up in Shell and ExxonMobil in Singapore. They ventured with Shell and ExxonMobil respectively around the world before they came back to Singapore to undertake the highest leadership position in Singapore.
11. These are the reasons we hope that, through the Global Ready Talent Programme, we will build a stronger and bigger pipeline of Singaporeans who can operate and compete across the region and the world.
12. There will never be a time when we say that we have enough or sufficient talent. Talent is a worldwide competition - it is a relative game as much as it is an absolute game. And we will spare no effort to develop our own local talent pipeline while supplementing it with the global network.
13. Today, we are very happy that as a start, we have more than 100 companies who have expressed interest in this programme, and at least 60 companies have come on-board with specific positions to help our young people go overseas and be exposed to the opportunities and challenges overseas. But we are not done yet, I am quite sure that after this launch we will have many more companies that will come on-board.
14. Over the next five years, we aim to offer 5,000 overseas placements to Institute of Technical Education (ITE), Polytechnic, University students and young graduates. Enterprise Singapore is prepared to provide funding support of up to 70% to local enterprises for allowances and salaries. We will not stinge on investing in our people. Our fear is not that we will not have enough resources to allow our people to be exposed overseas. Our only challenge is bringing our enterprises on-board the programme to create more opportunities for our students. Our next challenge is to make sure our young people have the gumption to say that “I want to do this because I want to bring back something special for myself, for my company, and for my country.”
15. This is not a new idea. The French have exactly the same idea. Every year, the French business associations work with their overseas missions to send thousands of French students all across the world to understand the opportunities. Some of them work in French companies, but many of them work in non-French companies. We can take a leaf from the French programme. And indeed, when we designed this programme, we did look at the rest of the programmes that other countries are promoting, because it is a competition. We make no bones about this. It is a competition to see who can best develop their talent and who can help their local talent work with multinational talents to build globally competitive teams. If we can do that well, I am quite sure that we will continue to be top amongst the league of nations or economies who are the most competitive in the globe.
16. For the young people here, you have great responsibilities. We look to you, not just to do well for yourself. We look to you to also inspire your generation to all come on-board. My dream has always been that every Singaporean growing up will have the chance to challenge themselves beyond the shores of Singapore. That we will grow up never fearing the competition of the world, because we will rise to the occasion. Many people have asked me, “Is it difficult to go overseas?” It is difficult and it has its challenges but it is not impossible. Everyone who has gone overseas will come back and tell us that they will never miss this opportunity if given the chance again. That yes, the only easy day was yesterday but they have all overcome it, learnt from it and become better people. For all those who have gone before, I think you will agree with me.
17. But I have one other challenge for all those who have gone before. I myself was sent overseas when I was in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). But there was one difference between your exposure and mine. You have an end time, you knew that your programme will be of a finite duration. When I was sent to Indonesia, I was given a one-way ticket. SAF will call me when they need me back. That is an important distinction, and I want our students to remember this. If I tell you that you are going overseas only for seven days or a month, you will probably bring enough instant noodles to survive for that duration. If we tell you that we are giving you a ticket, and we will call you back when we need you, you will learn much faster, you will learn much deeper. Because you know you need to live and survive. But that is truly the challenge; to go overseas, live there, understand the culture, understand the social system, understand the intricacies of how other societies work and how they are similar or different from us. That is real in-depth knowledge. Once you have done that, the benefits will last a lifetime. I had the privilege to spend two years in Indonesia. I had the privilege to visit every province of Indonesia less two. Today, I can say that I know Indonesia slightly better than the average person. Today, it has put us in good stead in managing our bilateral relations with Indonesia, understanding their markets and so forth. And I carry that with me for the rest of my life.
18. Was it tough? Yes it was tough. I was sent there one month after my first child was born. I became a weekend father but it was not impossible. We are often more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for. But the experiences that you will take away from your internship, be it three weeks, three months, or three years, will be invaluable to you, your company and our country. I hope that your success will inspire more from your generation to continue this onward journey to bring back something different for Singapore.
19. With that, I wish you all the very best, as all of you have a great responsibility to take Singapore to greater heights.