"Tackling New Challenges with Belief and Determination"
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. Good afternoon. Congratulations to our five EDB scholarship recipients today. I would also like to congratulate your parents, teachers and principals who have nurtured, supported and guided you over the years.
SG50 – Celebrating Singapore's Economic Journey
2. When Singapore became independent fifty years ago, our future was uncertain. But our belief in our own future and our determination to make Singapore succeed was strong. Our region was fraught with turmoil. We had no natural resources, a small domestic market, and limited capital. Unemployment was at 10%. The withdrawal of British forces, which accounted for more than 20% of our GDP, and employed around 40,000 people was potentially a serious blow to both our economy and our security. The top priority was to create as many jobs as possible for a young and growing Singaporean population, very few of whom had gone beyond secondary school education.
3. Our founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and then-Finance Minister, Dr Goh Keng Swee, took the bold, and at the time, unconventional, step to attract foreign investment, champion industrialisation and export-driven growth. They established the Singapore Economic Development Board in 1961, to spearhead this strategy. EDB's first Chairman, Dr Hon Sui Sen and his pioneering team worked hard to attract investments – starting with labour-intensive factories making garments, assembling transistor radios and manufacturing toys and wigs. Over time, as we built up our manpower capabilities and earned the confidence of investors, we progressed up the technology and capital ladder to create higher value and better paying jobs. The efforts of EDB's pioneers paid off. Unemployment declined significantly to 3.6% by 1978. Today, Singapore's unemployment is about 2%.
4. We forged strong partnerships with key companies in our early years. They believed in our vision, leadership, and promise to work with them to support the success of their investments in Singapore. And we delivered. This strong partnership model continues to be as relevant today. Many of our partners have grown with Singapore, demonstrating their trust and commitment by using Singapore as their base for the Asia Pacific region, and in some cases, for the global market. They have located key business, innovation and capability development centres here. In doing so, they create many good and meaningful jobs for Singaporeans, and help Singapore continue to grow and flourish.
The Next 50 Years – Building a Vibrant Economic Future, Creating Multiple Pathways of Success for Singaporeans
5. Today, our challenges – our regional environment, the quality and growth of our workforce – are quite the opposite, but no less challenging than those we faced 50 years ago. We have a much stronger foundation now, and this gives us a solid platform to face and overcome these challenges. But we have to adjust our economic strategies to create an even more vibrant economic future for Singapore and Singaporeans.
6. First, we are fortunate that the Asia-Pacific has been generally stable, free from armed conflict for a generation. While we had succeeded in our early years by creating an oasis in the middle of a turbulent region, many countries are growing rapidly and thriving, moving up the value chain, catching up in terms of capability and development. In effect, pursuing the same development strategies we had pursued and achieving success.
7. We are now in the centre of an ocean of opportunities. China and India are among the fastest growing economies in the world, with large and growing middle class populations. The ASEAN Economic Community, which will be established by the end of this year, will offer a competitive and compelling regional market of over 600 million people. We now need to differentiate ourselves from other regional competitors, and create new value propositions.
8. We need to move up the value chain so that we can seize the new opportunities. Consumer-oriented firms will be keen to gain compelling consumer insights; create new products and services to meet growing regional needs; and hire people with the right skills, knowledge and industry experience to expand their business in the region. EDB will continue to work with companies so that they can leverage on Singapore's proximity to these markets, our research and development capabilities, industry networks, and our highly skilled and educated workforce to innovate and capitalise on these opportunities.
9. However, while the region has been focussed on cooperation and development, stability can turn overnight into crisis. Territorial disputes, heightened nationalism, extremism and terrorism, financial instability or sudden political changes can quickly turn into a crisis. Our plans must therefore be resilient across a range of scenarios. Fortunately, Singapore itself has remained an oasis of stability and consistency which is a valuable asset.
10. Second, while we faced a baby boom and high unemployment 50 years ago, our baby boomers are now reaching retirement age, and our citizen workforce will soon start to shrink. Our population then was short of skills. But we now need to find the right opportunities for increasingly better-educated Singaporeans to innovate and create, and to have good jobs. Our economy needs to grow and thrive, by raising productivity and lowering reliance on unskilled foreign labour.
11. For example, in our manufacturing and service industries, Singapore will capitalise on new technologies like Additive Manufacturing, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to seed new businesses, innovatively apply automation, and drive greater productivity. We will forge new capabilities, and strengthen our global competitiveness as an Advanced Manufacturing Hub in Asia. At the same time, we will seek to attract more companies to set up their regional or global headquarters in Singapore, and to carry out high value-added activities here, such as design innovation, R&D, product and solution development.
12. We will also help Singaporeans to build deep expertise and skills to seize these new opportunities and to do well in their chosen fields. The SkillsFuture initiative, announced earlier this year, will support Singaporeans in continual learning, as they progress in their careers.
13. EDB officers play an important role in SkillsFuture by helping to build industry and skill clusters that allow job growth and new value-add. EDB officers help broker training partnerships between companies and academic institutions in key growth sectors. For example, EDB, the Workforce Development Agency, and Temasek Polytechnic established a program to train 150 locals with ITE, Polytechnic or University qualifications in specialist skills in biologics manufacturing over a five-year period. These trainees will undergo up to 18-months of on-the-job training with global pharmaceutical firms like Lonza and Novartis.
EDB – Developing Leaders to Enable the Future
14. The challenges of today are no less exciting than those of yesteryear. And we have to tackle them with the same belief and determination to succeed, just like our pioneer EDB officers. Today's EDB officers play a key role to help steer Singapore's economy forward, capturing good opportunities in our new phase of development. You attract new investments, transform existing industries and businesses, and work with companies to build new partnerships with Singapore. You create exciting career opportunities at all levels in different industries, and offer Singaporeans multiple pathways to success.
15. As our founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, and I quote, "To overcome the unexpected challenges in a fast-changing world, the gung-ho 'can-do' spirit that has animated the EDB from its earliest days must be kept alive." To do so, EDB must continually identify and groom officers who can envision a vibrant and inclusive economic future and work hard to make it a reality, for the benefit of Singapore and Singaporeans.
16. To our new scholars, you are joining an organisation with a rich legacy. More than 500 EDB scholars have played a key role in Singapore's economic development, and improved the lives of Singaporeans. Many have gone on to other parts of the Public Service, including leadership roles in other agencies. I hope that you will seize the many development opportunities, equip yourself with the necessary skills and global outlook, and play your part to further Singapore's economic development.
17. I wish our five EDB scholars all the best, and look forward to your contributions to help make Singapore's next 50 years even better. Thank you.
 Source: Ministry of Trade and Industry (http://www.mti.gov.sg/MTIInsights/Pages/1965-%E2%80%93-1978.aspx)
 Source: MTI
 Lee, K.Y. (2002). Foreword. In B.S. Koh (Ed.), Heart work (P.3). Singapore: Singapore Economic Development Board and EDB Society.