ZURICH - 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.
Singapore, Switzerland reinforce ties with joint declaration
Singapore and Switzerland have cemented their already friendly ties by signing a "joint declaration of enhanced partnership".
This is an expression of the desire of both countries to strengthen bilateral relations in areas of mutual interest.
The declaration also acknowledges a commitment by both sides to seek opportunities for further dialogue through high-level meetings at regular intervals.
Switzerland is an important economic partner of Singapore's, as well as a source of high value-added investments.
Total foreign direct investment stock from Switzerland is estimated at $31.5 billion as at end-2012, making the country Singapore's seventh largest investor. Switzerland was also Singapore's 23rd largest trading partner last year, with trade totalling $7.3 billion.
Bilateral trade has almost doubled since 2003, when the Republic signed a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Area, of which Switzerland is a member.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Swiss President Didier Burkhalter witnessed the signing of the declaration by the head of the Asia and Pacific division at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Mr Beat Nobs, and Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs deputy secretary Simon Wong.
This article was published on May 9 in The Straits Times.
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