By Rachel Chan
SINGAPORE needs to improve the skills of its workers in all sectors, have more enterprise innovation and restructure its industries in the next five years in order to do well, said Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew yesterday.
He said: "Every worker has to be re-skilled, re-trained and re-educated to achieve higher standards of capabilities."
To achieve this, the Government will continue to support schemes such as the Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience, Continuing Education and Training, and Jobs Re-creation Programme, he said.
The National Trades Union Congress has to work with the Government and employers to get workers to take advantage of these retraining programmes, he said.
Those aged between 45 and 65, who have had fewer schooling opportunities in their youth, should all the more go for retraining, as they have many more years of work ahead of them, said Mr Lee.
He also called on employers to encourage workers to enrol for courses, and to give them time off from work to do so.
He noted that Singapore has done well in the past year despite the recession, and enjoyed higher incomes, better homes and a growing economy over the last five years.
Higher incomes and increased prosperity have pushed up prices of properties, including HDB flats, leading to young people waiting to buy their first HDB flats complaining of high prices.
Singaporeans have to increase their productivity in order to continue to grow and prosper, as the country plans to slow down its intake of foreigners, he said.
The same number of Singaporean workers must "produce more by better training, acquiring higher level of skills, working smarter and making a collective effort as the Japanese do to make their companies succeed", he said.
If Singaporeans fail to do so, there will be fewer jobs, lower salaries and decreasing asset values, said Mr Lee.
By then, even with more new flats available, young Singaporeans - who will face more difficulties at finding jobs - would not be able to afford them.
And instead of complaining about rising housing prices, the values of Housing Board flats would depreciate because of the economic decline.
He said: "Opportunities will diminish for Singapore citizens. We will have a deflating economy, with a series of knock-on effects as prices of all assets, including flats, will go down.
"Demand will lessen, pay will fall and so will the number of jobs and promotions. When this happens, many of our own talents will leave for greener pastures, which will exacerbate the downward spiral and eventually lead to Singapore's decline."
The Government has managed to avoid such dire circumstances so far because it has imported foreign labour, Mr Lee told 1,800 guests and Tanjong Pagar GRC residents at a Chinese New Year celebration dinner yesterday.
The influx of foreign workers might have caused inconveniences such as more crowded trains, buses and public places but, without them, housing and infrastructure projects, including the two new integrated resorts, could not have been built, he said.
So, the Government had decided that "it was better to grow the economy and manage the accompanying social pressures, rather than slow down the economy", he said.
It has taken further steps recently to slow down the intake of foreign workers, and to widen the differentiation between citizens and permanent residents.
The latest move, announced yesterday, involves a sharper fee hike for non-citizens in polytechnics and Institutes of
Last year, more jobs were created for citizens than foreigners. The number of jobs for Singaporeans grew by 43,000, while that for foreigners fell by 4,200.
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