Singapore's manpower challenges were topmost on the minds of a group of young executives yesterday at a dialogue with Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing.
Having toured Singapore's port in the morning, Mr Chan and some 70 professionals from youth leaders' group Inspirit reflected on challenges faced by the port as well as Singapore's low productivity growth and reliance on foreign workers.
With the Government tightening the flow of foreign manpower, participant Phua Mei Pin, 35, a journalist, wanted to know how port operators and the maritime industry were coping.
Mr Chan said the going has been "very tough". PSA, for example, has a workforce of 7,000, of which 2,000 are foreigners from non-traditional sources like India and Myanmar.
PSA's regional chief executive for South-east Asia Tan Puay Hin said it was hard to entice Singaporeans into shipping due to the demanding work. "It's hard to find engineers. Even engineers from engineering school don't want to do engineering work."
Singapore's low productivity rate was another concern. Civil servant Sanjay Nanwani, 26, asked what more the Government could do to achieve its productivity growth target of 3 per cent a year. Productivity has declined in each of the last three quarters, despite an ongoing government productivity drive.
Repeating the Government's line that 3 per cent remains a "stretch target", Mr Chan stressed that firms that can raise productivity should continue to do so, even as he acknowledged gains are limited in certain labour-intensive sectors, such as eldercare. He said: "If some of them are hitting below 3 per cent, what it means is that other sectors that can must hit above 3 per cent so we can uplift the whole economy."
Referring to the general strike in Indonesia last week, audit manager Chinnu Palanivelu, 36, asked if Singapore could maintain its harmonious labour relations. Calling the labour-management relations here "unique", Mr Chan said it would be wrong to take them for granted, stressing the need to maintain trust between workers and "guard against complacency".
During the 30-minute dialogue, Mr Chan said another thing which Singapore cannot afford to take for granted is its strategic location. That is no guarantee of success, he said, citing Australian airline Qantas' recent decision to move its Asian hub from Changi Airport to Dubai.
Yesterday's study visit and dialogue was the third by Inspirit since it was set up by the National Youth Council (NYC) and the Singapore National Employers Federation in April. There were two previous excursions to Changi Prison and Bishan train depot.
Also attending the session was Senior Minister of State Lawrence Wong, who will head the new Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth from next month and oversee the NYC.
He said: "That will be one of my priorities when I come in on Nov 1, to continue to build up NYC as a focal point to develop our youth ecosystem."