Singapore must ‘steal other people’s lunches’ to stay ahead of competition

Singapore must ‘steal other people’s lunches’ to stay ahead of competition
PM Lee Hsien Loong and eight union leaders had a discussion on their industries’ prospects, where the jobs are, the challenges and how they were helping their employees adapt to the restructuring and new job opportunities. Photo: MCI
Published: 11:30 PM, April 30, 2017
Updated: 11:46 PM, April 30, 2017

SINGAPORE — Amid growing competition, and workers hungry to learn in places like Chengdu and even further away such as Russia, Singapore must not only protect its lunch but steal other people’s lunches, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged.

In this regard, youths in Singapore must especially be on their toes, he said in a discussion with union leaders about the future of jobs in Singapore held recently at Mediacorp.

For example, even as Singapore’s port industry has bounced back from tough times in recent years and is looking for ways to ramp up productivity and stay ahead, it must keep an eye out for new competitors like Malaysia’s Port of Tanjung Pelepas and Port Klang.

Meanwhile, countries like China have plenty of land to cater for factories and a huge workforce to tap, said Mr Toh Hock Poh, secretary for financial affairs at the NTUC Central Committee and president of the Metal Industries Workers’ Union. In a recent visit to Chengdu, they saw two smart factories that were fully automated, with workers being able to collect and analyse real-time data to ensure that the production process is smooth.

As for the factory technicians, who oversee about 15 to 18 machines, their main job is not to operate the machines but to troubleshoot whenever there are breakdowns or defects.

Predictive maintenance is also done, with workers able to predict when certain parts need to be replaced or repaired, said Mr Toh.

Additionally, the Chinese workers were eager to learn, upgrade and retrain in other jobs whenever production processes are changed, such as by going to an e-learning centre to complete modules in their free time.

Stressing that Singapore’s firms, too, must head in this direction,

Mr Lee said: “You cannot have such huge firms in Singapore, but you need to be able to be as flexible, as spry and adaptable.”

Likewise, citing a teacher training project in Moscow, Singapore Teachers’ Union president Mike Thiruman said the students were “very eager to learn”, pick up concepts quickly and apply them.

He said: “The spirit is very strong, and it’s deeply inherent, and you can see them moving, wanting to move and say that we want to be the best.”

Singaporeans, especially the youth, should embody this sprit as they venture into a new world, ripe with new opportunities and challenges, said Mr Lee.

However, Ms Zuhaina Ahmad, a career guide at the NTUC Youth Career Network, said she has spoken to a few young Singaporeans “who feel that they’re in an era where they’re entitled or privileged to what the Government is giving”.

“If you study up to a degree level, this is what you’re entitled to. Not all of them are like that, but I think we need to manage their expectations as well,” she said.

Mr Lee said in reply: “It’s something that we have to work on, always. You must always want to do better, but you cannot always want to hope for the sky, and that’s the challenge. Because if you’re not hungry, you wouldn’t try, but if you’re unrealistic, you’d be disappointed.”