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S’pore policies ‘evolve to cope with ageing, growth’

President shares ways of dealing with change at Swiss dinner

YASMINE YAHYA on 09 May 2014

The Straits Times


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THE way Singapore deals with the complex challenges of an ageing population, rising living costs and upgrading workplace skills formed the centrepiece of a keynote address by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at a dinner in Switzerland on Wednesday night.


Dr Tan told an audience of global intellectuals and executives from firms such as Xerox, UBS, BMW and Microsoft that policies developed in Singapore over 50 years or so are enabling the country to deal with rapid changes.


He noted that globalisation and technology have reduced prices, widened choices and increased consumption, but they have, in turn, driven wages down in many countries and displaced workers whose jobs have disappeared.


Governments now must ensure that workforces have skills that match business needs, but “this is increasingly difficult because globalisation and technological advancements have substantially shortened the life span of skills and increased the rates of skills obsolescence”, he said.


Dr Tan was addressing a dinner for the Circle of Benefactors, which finances and participates in the three-day St Gallen Symposium, held in the town of the same name an hour’s drive outside Zurich.


Dr Tan told the gathering of about 200 people at St Gallen University: “We are at a major inflexion point that requires substantial resources to not only prepare the younger generations for the future but also to upgrade existing workforces.”


At the same time, safety nets must be in place for workers who may be structurally dislocated, while incentives are needed to encourage them to keep learning.


Dr Tan outlined how Singapore helps workers meet many of the challenges of this increasingly competitive environment.


He cited the heavily subsidised programmes designed to upgrade workers’ skills, while the Workfare Income Supplement boosts pay and the Central Provident Fund system targets retirement.


“Singapore has evolved its policies over the past 50 years based on a strong social compact that allowed trade-offs to be made between different stakeholder groups for the country to progress, and this will continue to be critical to Singapore’s ability to ensure that growth continues to be inclusive and beneficial to current and future generations.”


The chairman of the St Gallen Foundation, Mr Peter Voser, said Switzerland could take a leaf out of Singapore’s book as it is dealing with similar issues too.

“I think Switzerland can learn a lot (from Singapore) on how to bridge from the young to the old and from the old to the young,” Mr Voser told the media on the sidelines of the dinner.


“We could also learn about how to take the burden away from families who have to look after children and elderly people as health costs are going up.”


A separate conference on Monday heard about Singapore’s strategies for attracting and retaining talent in the civil service, said Dr Gillian Koh, a senior research fellow from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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