“Low-skilled workers are most certainly vulnerable – not just because of competition from abroad but also from smart machines and software” (Stand Up for the Benefits of Trade, The Straits Times Editorial).
With the country’s heavy reliance on trade and migration flows, that Singapore needs globalisation is without question. Yet even as the world is moving away from it – with both major-party presidential nominees in the United States, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, now opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and pandering to popular politics (ST, Sept. 28) – many in Singapore remain oblivious to our reliance on and the global resistance to globalisation. Even more take the status quo for granted while assuming, even though post-crisis recovery has been sluggish, that growth will continue.
Look no further than the growth projections for Singapore this year. Warning that the economy will be in for a tough period for a few years, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam added that growth “will probably end up somewhere in the lower end of the one to two per cent range”, that Singapore “cannot keep growing by increasing manpower, [and has] to get productivity up” (ST, Sept. 29). Competitive advantages in the twin pillars of high-value manufacturing and services are also eroding, and the constant references to the SkillsFuture movement for lifelong learning and the Committee for Future Economy for restructuring will not be adequate.
Two trends should follow. First, the government has recognised that low-skilled and low-income Singaporeans are the ones who will experience the inevitable ramifications of globalisation, and they would therefore need short-term unemployment assistance and long-term skills development. It may be tempting to dismiss the concerns of the disenfranchised as ignorance, but unaddressed anxieties may result in disillusionment.
Second, in addition to the responsibilities of the government, Singaporeans in general must develop a greater sense of urgency. Reaffirming the country’s vulnerability will be a good start, though in the future – where more workers will have to transition between careers, re-training and re-learning in the process – we will also have to shed our complacency. In this vein the onus is on us as workers to stay ahead of the curve and to remain relevant, or risk being left behind by the world.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.