News

Manufacturing remains integral amid changes in economy: EDB

The Straits Times by AW CHENG WEI

For all the increasingly sophisticated directions the economy is taking, manufacturing remains an integral part of the mix, according to the managing director of the Economic Development Board (EDB).

Mr Chng Kai Fong told The Straits Times in an interview marking his first year in the role last month that manufacturing strengthens Singapore's mature economy by adding diversity and complexity.

The skills it requires also allow displaced workers from other sectors to make the switch to working in factories or plants relatively easily.

Manufacturing accounts for about 20 per cent of the economy and 14 per cent of jobs here, said Mr Chng, who joined the EDB in October 2017.

He said Singapore went into manufacturing in the early days because it was a quick way to feed a hungry but unskilled workforce. And as that workforce becomes increasingly sophisticated and the economy more complex, manufacturing provides a source of jobs that can absorb shocks in case other sectors, such as services, meet with challenges.

"Now that our workforce is more sophisticated, (manufacturing) is still important because (it) provides that base load (of jobs)... in good times or bad times," Mr Chng said.

Many of the skills needed for manufacturing can be picked up easily by workers, unlike in other sectors, he said.

"It is not so easy, frankly, to do a PCP (professional conversion programme)," he added, referring to the Workforce Singapore scheme that helps mid-career professionals, managers, executives and technicians reskill for new jobs.

That is because jobs in other sectors may have an emphasis on skills that are less well-defined, such as human networking, he said.

CHANGING FOCUS

We deliberately focused much more on what kind of jobs and the value of the jobs we bring in, rather than just the pure number (of jobs).

MR CHNG KAI FONG, managing director of the Economic Development Board.

Jobs in manufacturing, however, can be based on tangible skills. "We have very successful stories of people converting from services... they got displaced, and then moved to manufacturing to become a plant or line manager," he said.

The EDB is focused on bringing in higher-quality jobs as it steers the economy towards advanced manufacturing, Mr Chng said.

As a result, a smaller number of new jobs may be created even as the amount of foreign investment here will remain similar to that in recent years.

Mr Chng noted: "We don't feel the pressure in creating so many jobs any more because our labour force growth is not really good."

Creating more jobs than the workforce can absorb may cause the economy to overheat, he said. "We deliberately focused much more on what kind of jobs and the value of the jobs we bring in, rather than just the pure number (of jobs)."

The EDB noted early last year that new jobs generated that year would be in areas such as advanced manufacturing. Then, Mr Chng had said: "Even as we create fewer jobs, more Singaporeans take up these jobs and they are better-quality jobs."

Last month, he said: "If we can actually skill up our own workers to take advantage of... advanced manufacturing, that's quite key."

Singapore attracted $9.4 billion in fixed-asset investment in 2017, within the EDB's forecast of $8 billion to $10 billion.