Future scenarios for Singapore

What will Singapore’s socio-economic landscape be like in 2026? How will the three issues of longevity, innovation and skills affect that future? In August and September 2016, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy’s Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) brought together around 100 people from different sectors in a series of scenario-planning workshops to discuss Singapore’s future in the year 2026. Participants were divided into three groups to discuss and debate three key themes that will shape our future. Each group was led by an IPS expert.

The themes were:

  • Longevity (led by Senior Research Fellow Christopher Gee)

What infrastructural, fiscal and social changes are needed to devise a whole-of-society approach for successful ageing?

  • Innovation (led by Senior Research Fellow Faizal Bin Yahya)

How can innovation and technological breakthroughs take place and be translated into thriving new businesses?

  • Skills (led by Research Fellow Teng Siao See)

Given technological disruption and economic volatility, what skills are needed for a future-ready workforce and what new types of industries and work will emerge?

In their three groups, the participants came up with the driving forces of change, possible scenarios around those driving forces and strategies that will help Singaporeans respond to the trends, opportunities and uncertainties that might emerge in these areas in the next decade. Their findings and ideas were compiled into the Action Plan Singapore – Year 2026: Doing Singapore Differently report.

Here, we reproduce the summary of the discussion on Innovation, which contains ideas on how Singaporeans can actively engage in unlocking new opportunities and developing all sorts of commercial and social organisations to positively shape the country and Asia. These should generate economic but also other non-tangible intrinsic returns.

Strategies

Strategy 1: Fire-up new models of value creation

Strategy 1 focuses on harnessing the power of disruptive business models and their associated technologies and services to positively impact economic and social development. We have used the term “new models of value creation” to refer collectively to disruptive business models, the effects of which are already visible in the market and society. (There is a similar but separate strategy that tackles the issue of the rise of AI and the impact that is likely to unfold only in the medium to long-term, after the 10 year time horizon that this project is bound by.)

As new models of value creation continue to displace traditional businesses, industries and jobs, it will be at the cost of re-skilling and facilitating the re-employment of at-risk and displaced individuals. Also, regulatory inertia by government or consumer bodies may mean there is an inconsistent quality of service and a lack of minimum standards across different platforms of value-creation. On the positive side, these new value models open fresh pathways for entrepreneurship and business success. The strategy proposes the introduction of a Stay Ahead Scheme that improves workers’ skills and core competencies to address the immediate downsides of this development. It also emphasises the need to develop industry standards that would strengthen trust in these products and services. These will make the new products and services attractive to customers and ensure that such new business models travel well, regionally and globally. The timelines and specific goals of the strategy are set out below:

By the end of 2018, a comprehensive crossindustry review will have identified the positive and negative impact of new models of value creation, and appropriate cross-sectoral policies to optimise the upside and mitigate the downside will have been introduced. Half of the workers displaced will have been re-trained and reemployed within six months through the Stay Ahead Scheme.

As part of the strategy, help is given to Singapore’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to try out new models of value creation. Current and new cross-industry regulations needed to foster a competitive and innovative growth environment for SMEs within Singapore and in the region will have been tried out. There is a 10% increase in the number of Singapore SMEs that have regional offices. SMEs’ contribution to the gross national project (GNP) has also increased.

New quality rating scales and guidelines have been introduced to provide consumers with standardised information to guide their choices. These are applied to the traditional social services sector too. A government social service rating agency will provide clients with standardised information about the social and healthcare services that these new social service providers offer. Voucher systems issued by the government will be used to access social and healthcare services provided by this wider range of entities.

By the end of 2022, Singapore SMEs that venture overseas generate an even larger share of the national income. This is based on a 25% increase in those that have regional offices.Three-quarters of the workers displaced by the new technologies and business models will be retrained and re-employed within six months, keeping the national unemployment rate under 4%.

The systems of quality rating scales and guidelines that started to emerge by 2018 now provide open access to accurate and relevant information on the pricing and quality of the new products and services including those in the social and healthcare sectors. Three-quarters of citizens are deemed to be eligible for vouchers, receive them and exercise their choice from the wide range of providers.

By the end of 2026, a regional standard of regulation of new products and services arising from these new technologies and business models that can be applied across ASEAN has been ratified. SME involvement in regional business will have risen and overall GNP share contributed by SMEs will have risen too. As many as 95% of workers displaced by these new models of value creation will be re-trained and re-employed within six months. All eligible citizens will be allocated social service and healthcare vouchers and there will be comprehensive systems that provide as well as rate public services for needy individuals and social groups.

Strategy 2: Build a people-friendly AI world

How AI and AI-related technologies will disrupt the traditional structure of the economy and society is still unclear even to experts. This strategy addresses how the benefits of AI technologies to Singaporeans can be maximised while the potential downsides can be minimised. The timeline and specific goals of the strategy are set out below:

By the end of 2018, a study titled “Building a People-Friendly AI World,” reporting on the positive and negative impact of AI, and on which jobs and skills are at risk of being disrupted by AI will have been completed. The study will suggest how the positive impact can be accentuated and negative impact mitigated. It will propose the supporting legislative framework, education and training that will be needed to take advantage of AI. This is based on a broad consensus among key stakeholders and views garnered from public consultation. This will prompt programmes to promote AI-literacy and the adoption of AI by SMEs.

The study will propose a framework to support displaced workers which includes systems for welfare support for a limited duration, greater subsidies for re-skilling programmes, and improved jobs-to-company skills-matching platforms. This reactive approach will be complemented by a proactive approach where the government and key stakeholders have created an AI development roadmap which anticipates the changes in jobs and skills and provides “pioneer credit” to firms that incentivises them to adopt suitable workerfriendly AI innovations.

By the end of 2022, 50% of SMEs in sectors such as healthcare, hospitality, and manufacturing will have adopted AI-augmented jobs. There will be increased participation in the SkillsFuture programmes of the day.

By the end of 2026, the increase in the proportion of SMEs adopting AI-augmented jobs will increase from 50% to 70%. By this time, programmes, policies and strategies to accentuate the positive impact of AI and mitigate its negative impact will have been successfully implemented.

Strategy 3: Innovation takes a village

There are three major challenges to Singapore remaining globally competitive. First, Singapore’s small population and land constraints; second, the challenges and opportunities provided by a rapidly-developing ASEAN and the third, the unintended consequences of government policy that have to be mitigated. To ensure that innovation adds significantly to economic growth, Singapore needs a critical mass of talent and fostering that is a significant task of the education system. Innovation is also seen as a core service that is exported to the region. The timeline and specific goals of this strategy are set out below.

By 2018, stronger and more effective linkages will have been built among the local start-ups, SMEs and MNCs. This will be through contracting relationships, open innovation platforms and joint ventures that generate pathways to new markets and real revenue.

The government also develops a robust regulatory framework for disruptive technologies across the different industries where these are emerging (a current example would be in the financial world, referred to as “fintech”). It is able to attract an increasing number of overseas start-ups to headquarter in Singapore. Immigration policy is refined to provide adequate skilled personnel for this particular group of start-ups. The number of recognised and well-respected coding, technology and innovation schools in Singapore rises. The education policy is now oriented to producing innovation-oriented graduates as the mainstream curriculum — from kindergarten through to postsecondary and tertiary level institutions — has been re-designed to achieve that. All these help Singapore to be identified as an innovation hub.

By 2022, the strategy will lead to an increase in the percentage of GNP generated by businesses that are less than 10 years old, and in the level of contribution by Singaporean SMEs to GNP.Institutes of higher learning now provide a greater number of tech graduates with relevant skills to take up jobs that use cutting-edge technology. This will allow for higher real median gross wages for a larger pool of local graduates. By this time, 10 Singapore-founded start-ups will have been acquired by global MNCs. There will be deeper collaboration between academics and commercial entities in designing a diverse and flexible education curriculum in Singapore educational institutions.

By 2026, productivity growth drives the rise in Singapore’s GNP in a far more robust way then ever. There will be a maturing innovation market, helped by an increase in the number of university-based technology spin-offs, collaborative projects between universities and corporations, and patents registered. This will create a self-sustaining, selfreinforcing and thriving innovation ecosystem that will attract a critical mass of MNCs, research scientists, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs to the country.

Singaporeans will be encouraged to go overseas to gain regional experience, facilitated especially by more SMEs engaging in business regionally, and an increase in flow of capital investments by Singapore companies overseas. Singapore will be involved in the development of more Smart City projects beyond its shores.


The full report ‘Action Plan Singapore – Year 2026: Doing Singapore Differently’ can be found here.