This year’s May Day Rally was sobering say to least. If you listened to PM Lee’s speech carefully, it basically sounded like a wakeup call.

 If we are not hungry enough, someone’s gonna steal our lunches. To this, some netizens have jumped to the conclusion that he was simply talking about local workers being not hungry enough, and therefore only have themselves to blame for losing their rice bowl to the foreign workers.

 That is a myopic view of things.

 The government of the day has to think big and long-term. In other words, the government is not just looking at how to save the individuals’ rice bowls at a tactical level, but in the longer run, they are also looking at SINGAPORE losing our rice bowl to other countries.

Each time we think of how we can explore new businesses, new industries, to continue to make Singapore relevant to the world, and in turn create jobs in Singapore, we know that hot on our tails are countries which are hungry for more. Don’t be surprised that our moves are watched very closely. They will learn, and they will adapt what we have to outdo us. And they will not be shy about it.

 A good example is this – Last November, we saw news of Malacca eyeing a slice of Singapore’s shipping and port business, with investments pumped in from China. We have prided ourselves as the best port in the world. Can this be sustained with someone eyeing our pie? Will they be swankier, more high-tech, and more importantly, CHEAPER than us?

Singaporeans are well-travelled. Have you seen the hunger of the foreign workers working as retail assistants in European malls and restaurants? They are cheap, efficient and professional, and therefore putting the locals out of business. Have you seen the airports in some of these countries? Dubai, Shanghai, even the new airport in Phuket are looking to be as good as, if not better than Changi.  

In the face of the competition from others, and with an economy of mixed outlook (I shall not dwell on the mixed signals sent by the Trump Administration), we see the Singapore government trying to do more to make sure we keep up and keep the Singapore Inc afloat:

  • Firstly, keeping relations warm with everyone out there. There is a sense that those who are our friends yesterday may not be our friendstomorrow. What are you going to do about it? Make as many friends as possible, it seems. And so the bilateral visits, participation in ASEAN and other platforms continue.  
  • Secondly, taking a macro view of jobs. The newly announced Future Economy Council, inheriting the recommendations from the Committee of Future Economy is tasked to do that. The only advantage we have as a small nation is that we have the advantage of being small enough to be nimble, and to adjust, adapt and move along with times quickly. That is only if we all want to.

 Let’s dwell on the second point. Put simply, some industries are reaching sunset, while some are on the rise. Initiatives like SkillsFuture, Adapt and Grow and whatever extra push that the government is giving to help workers move from a sunset industry to a new/upcoming industry will only work if we change our mindsets.

There are jobs during Singapore’s fledging days which are no longer available today, and those were days that were not so long ago:

          Factories with lines to manufacture furniture, household appliances

          Typists (basically you do nothing by use a typewriter to transform handwritten notes into typed sheets)

          Bus conductors (separate from the drivers in those days)

 Where have all these people gone? The typists would have had to upgrade themselves and expanded their scope to do clerical work that require not just their 10 fingers, but to also acquire and use knowledge to remain useful to their companies. Bus conductors were gone when machines were used for the coins, and then the introduction of cashless transactions (aka the old bus cards and then now EZLINK cards), they too had to figure out what next.  

Technology will replace the use of people to some extent, then what do we do next?

Mindset shifts.

Rather than sitting around demanding that your ministers do something for you, the question is, how can I help myself?

Those chasing us are hungry for success, because they have starved long enough. Our generation has not yet have to starve, because we were on an exponential rise. Yet no country in the world can boast that it can keep the charts on the rise infinitely. Singapore is no different.

 It is time now to at least try to imagine that starvation in order to bring out that hunger. Always have a backup plan. Otherwise, we will only be left in tears when the lunch is stolen from under your noses.

It is the job of the government to watch out for our rice bowls, but when the alarm bells are ringing, that it will be taken soon, what do we do next? The government has promised to hunt for new rice bowls for us. Singaporeans therefore need to keep up our end of this deal, that we will have to put in effort to be hungry enough and good enough for that new ricebowl, and hopefully, we will all last through another decade without starvation.

 This May Day’s message was not the most optimistic, but I really rather this, than a government pretending that all is okay. It is not, and we have to stop sitting around complaining, and start adapting before the rice bowl breaks.

(Jobs, Jobs Jobs – The focus of May Day Rally 2017)