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Speech by MOS Alvin Tan during Ministry of Trade and Industry's Committee of Supply Debate

Speech by MOS Alvin Tan during Ministry of Trade and Industry's Committee of Supply Debate

“Transform through Technology” 

1.     Mr Chairman, Minister Chan Chun Sing spoke about digital acceleration and how it is affecting businesses, workers and consumers. With COVID-19, tech adoption is no longer an option, but an imperative. Indeed, we have observed two major transformation trends.  

2.     First, the global tech landscape has transformed. It has become quicker, more dynamic and more competitive. Before COVID-19 hit, 80 of the world’s top 100 tech companies were already operating in Singapore. Despite the pandemic, we have attracted even more tech-driven companies to Singapore due to our sustained leadership in the digital field, strong intellectual property regime, digital connectivity and support for innovation.  

3.     For example, we announced in October that Hyundai Motor Company is constructing an innovation centre here to pilot new advanced manufacturing models using artificial intelligence, big data and other technologies. Such investments will boost Singapore’s mobility ecosystem and grow adjacent industries. But such investments are by no means guaranteed and we must secure our position in this highly competitive environment. We simply must, as Mr Lee Kuan Yew reminded us, stay relevant to the world.   

Transform Through Tech  

4.     The second transformation is that more local companies have used tech to transform. Businesses that are thriving in this new world have transformed by using digital solutions to access new markets even without a physical presence.  

5.     In the spirit of SG Together, our Government is helping businesses digitally transform. Initiatives such as Grow Digital, as part of ESG’s and IMDA’s SMEs Go Digital programme, help businesses reach global audiences through ecommerce platforms. I hope to see even more businesses tap on such initiatives to transform themselves.  

6.     Tech can transform firms, but it can also catalyse sector transformation. It can help struggling industries like our tourism sector pivot and prepare for recovery, but also uplift high growth industries like agri-food tech. 

High-growth Industries

7.     This is because sectors such as agriculture and retail have successfully used tech to grow and create new opportunities.   

8.     With agri-food tech,  we can now produce food more efficiently and strengthen our food supply resilience. This helps us overcome our challenges as a resourceconstrained country, where land and environmental factors make it challenging for our agriculture sector to thrive.   

9.     Sophie’s Bionutrients, a Singapore-based company, is the first agri-food tech startup to grow alternative protein from microalgae in a matter of days, using a fraction of space. It won the 2019 Liveability Challenge, and will launch its first urban protein production facility here, and scale up in Asia. Companies such as Sophie’s Bionutrients highlight the vast opportunities that businesses can seize by using tech.  

10.     Mr Don Wee asked about our plans to help SMEs venture into the agri-food tech business. Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Food Agency have schemes to support agri-food tech businesses and catalyse private sector financing from setup to scale up. These include ESG’s Enterprise Financing Scheme and SFA’s Agri-Food Cluster Transformation Fund.   

11.     To encourage early-stage equity investments into Singapore-based agri-food tech startups, ESG collaborated with SEEDS Capital to appoint seven co-investment partners. We expect this to translate into more than S$90 million worth of investments. Shiok Meats, a local alternative protein startup, which raised S$17.3 million in Series A funding, is an example of the companies that could benefit.  

12.     As we grow this industry, new exciting jobs will be created for Singaporeans. When I visited the Marine Aquaculture Centre on St John’s Island, I met with Ong Jingyi from Republic Polytechnic. She is an Aquaculture specialist at Allegro Aqua. Young and passionate Singaporeans like Jingyi can look forward to exciting careers in our fast-growing agri-food tech industry.  

13.     Tech is a useful tool to help businesses grow, secure new opportunities and survive during COVID-19. This is especially so for our tourism sector, which is struggling.

Tourism

14.     With ongoing travel restrictions, our tourism sector continues to face difficulties. Mr Saktiandi Supaat and Mr Derrick Goh asked about how we are helping our tourism sector recover.  

15.     In 2020, we have supported over 7,000 tourism businesses to retain locals through our Jobs Support Scheme. We will extend the JSS by six months to support our tourism sector as DPM Heng had shared. Tourism firms will receive 30% support for wages paid from April to June 2021, and 10% support for wages paid from July to September 2021.

16.     We will also extend the waiver of license fees for hotels, travel agents and tourist guides to December 2021.  

17.     As international visitor arrivals will likely remain weak this year, domestic demand is critical to support our tourism businesses, which is a point that Prof Hoon Hian Teck made earlier. One such measure to catalyse domestic demand is our  SingapoRediscovers campaign and vouchers scheme, which will continue to encourage Singaporeans to explore our diverse offerings and support our local tourism businesses. We are closely monitoring feedback about the SRV scheme and exploring ways to further improve it.  

18.     COVID-19 has changed the tourism landscape and travel norms. Beyond current challenges and looking ahead, how can we help our tourism sector transform and build resilience against future disruptions? Here’s what we are doing.  

19.     Last February, we set up the Tourism Recovery Action Task Force, comprising tourism leaders from Government and industry, to identify opportunities and co-create recovery plans to ensure that our tourism sector is well-placed when borders reopen.  

20.     To support our MICE sector, we set up the Alliance for Action on Enabling Safe and Innovative Visitor Experiences which worked closely with Government and industry to develop a prototype for safe tradeshows and exhibitions.  

21.     The Singapore FinTech Festival X SWITCH event is an example of how the sector has adjusted to seize opportunities amidst COVID-19. When I visited, I saw firsthand how its organisers, SingEx and the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (SACEOS) pivoted to a hybrid event. Instead of setting up chairs and screens at Singapore Expo like they used to, they had to set up digital networks, large-scale zoom conferences, and real-time dashboarding. I met with Si Choon Hoe, a 65-year-old senior executive at SingEx who picked up these skills, and shared his wealth of experience with younger colleagues. The event was a success, attracting participants from over 160 countries.  

22.     Through STB’s ‘SingapoReimagine’ initiative, we are working with our tourism stakeholders to spark ideas and shape the future of tourism, by positioning Singapore as an attractive and safe destination.

23.     We will also open Tcube this year – a platform for tourism stakeholders to meet and test new solutions.  

Capability and Talent Development  

24.     Tech is key in the transformation process, but at its core, is talent. People. The two transformation trends I talked about are only possible because Singapore remains a trusted and well-connected hub where talent can grow and thrive. Talent that can help us nurture a vibrant and competitive tech ecosystem that can hold our own against the world, and help Singapore remain relevant.   

25.     Mr Abdul Samad asked about job opportunities and required skills arising from investments and business trends. Increased production and consumption of digital services has fueled the demand for tech talent in Singapore.

26.     Based on LinkedIn’s Jobs on the Rise Report, the demand for data science, cybersecurity and specialised engineering talent in Singapore has surged. Microsoft estimates that there would be 149 million new tech roles globally by 2025.  

27.     Talent is scarce and global competition is fierce. Korn Ferry estimates that the world will be short of 4.3 million tech workers by 2030. Other countries are also in the hunt for talent. Countries such as France, China and Malaysia have enhanced or launched visa programmes to attract tech professionals to their shores.  

28.     So what must we do? We need to continue ensuring Singapore’s global attractiveness, and work with companies to attract and develop the talent they need, both globally and locally.   

29.     We must and will also grow our local timbre. Second Minister Tan See Leng spoke about building talent and leaders in SMEs locally. In the rapidly evolving tech sector, we are equipping our workforce with emerging skills to seize growth opportunities.  

30.     Ms Jessica Tan and Ms Foo Mee Har asked about our plans to grow our local tech talent pipeline. Our Government, Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) and the private sector all play important roles in this regard.   

31.     The TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) programme equips individuals with indemand skills in emerging tech and helps our companies upskill existing workers and hire professionals. MCI will share more about TeSA at their COS.

32.     Our IHLs are also training aspiring talents to take on ICT roles. Over the next three years, our IHLs will generate around 20,000 local tech talent, supplemented by at least 6,250 from WSG’s and IMDA’s place-and-train programmes in functions such as Software Engineering and Cybersecurity. These are jobs that the LinkedIn and Microsoft reports show to be in hot demand.  

33.     The private sector is also playing its part. Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) such as SGTech has set up the ‘Stronger Together, Aiding Recovery’ (STAR) fund to help members deepen the digital capabilities of their workforce.   

34.     Mr Chairman, globally competitive teams have diverse and cosmopolitan workforces, with a mix of talents from different shores. Minister Chan spoke about how Singapore must remain open to talent if we are to compete and secure our position globally. This is even more critical in the tech sector.   

35.     We must attract global talent to complement our local workforce and fill skill shortages. This is part of our strategy to develop a strong base of tech companies and talent to ensure that Singapore is competitive globally. This will also create more opportunities for locals to work in globally competitive teams and dynamic teams, alongside top tech talent from all over the world, as I did and as some members of this house, including Ms Janet  Ang at IBM and Ms Jessica Tan at Microsoft.   

36.     One way to ensure that top talent joins Team Singapore, is through Tech.Pass. Tech.Pass allows high-achieving, top-tier global talent to contribute to our economy in multiple ways as a founder, employee, consultant and academic. This puts Singapore in a competitive position in the global race to attract highly skilled technology professionals in critical fields. To Ms Foo Mee Har’s question, we have seen keen interest in the scheme since applications opened in mid-January.   

37.     Beyond tech roles, demand for other key skills has also expanded. Businesses that have experienced a surge in demand for their products and services have expanded their engineering, production and business development capabilities. Sectors, such as Advanced Manufacturing, continue to see strong demand for automation engineers and design engineers, and skillsets such as programming and 3D modelling.   

38.     We have initiatives to help jobseekers gain these required skills. Singaporeans can also gain hands-on experience through industry-relevant training. For example, under the Attach-and-Train Programme for Robotics Engineers, Singaporeans can learn robotics and automation technologies through on-the-job training attachments at host companies.

39.     Mr Abdul Samad will be pleased to know that our Government works with tripartite partners, including the Labour Movement, training providers and the industry, to develop such schemes and upskill Singaporeans to progress with Singapore’s growth.   

40.     Mr Chairman, we are in the middle of the most challenging pandemic and recession that our world has faced. We cannot afford to let up. We must seize the opportunities that are available to us. We must remain open, not closed to the world. As the world transforms, so must we, ahead of the world and relevant to the world.

41.     In this transformation, the Government will stand shoulder to shoulder with our businesses and our people. We will and must ensure that Singapore continues to be a global centre for business, innovation and talent, where local and global talent can live, work and play. In my maiden Parliament speech, I likened Singapore to the Starship Enterprise - diverse in talent, always exploring new frontiers, boldly going where no one has gone before, and breaking through the crisis before us.

42.     But we cannot be a global node without transforming our local businesses. In that vein, MOS Yen Ling will next elaborate on the support for our local enterprises as they undergo their own transformation journey.

 

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