In Focus

Flawed innovation system dents Singapore's preparation for automation

It trailed behind South Korea and Germany in terms of automation readiness.

Singapore’s flawed support for innovation is getting in the way of its readiness for the automation, The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) revealed.

According to its Automation Readiness Index, Singapore ranked third with a score of 87.2, trailing behind Germany (89.6) and South Korea (91.3). The scores were based on how well the countries fared in the categories of innovation, education, and their labour market.

Singapore was recognised for its experiments in continuous education and labour market policy. “The country offers adults credit towards training courses through 'individual learning accounts', and encourages firms to invest more in lower paid workers,” EIU said.

However, it was revealed that its innovation environment is slightly less developed, placing it fifth in the category, but still well above average.

EIU revealed that South Korea, unlike Singapore, invests heavily in innovation, spending more as a percentage of its GDP than any other country in the index. In 2016, South Korea allotted 4.23% of its GDP to R&D, whilst Singapore only spent 2.2%.

Singapore ranked third in the education category. “Creating an institutional framework to support lifelong learning is one challenge, and several countries have made a good start in tackling it. Index high scorers in this area include Singapore,” EIU’s report revealed.

“An experiment underway in Singapore seeks to meet this challenge by providing citizens credits with which to finance study during the course of their lives,” EIU said. It cited a part of the SkillsFuture initiative, wherein every citizen 25 years old and above is eligible to receive a credit of $500 (US$370) to establish an “individual learning account” to pay for courses at any of 500 government-sponsored training providers.

However, even if the initiative attracts international attention, experts warn that it may not generate the desired results. “Even if it does, the lessons may not be applicable elsewhere,” EIU said.

Singapore nearly scored a perfect in 100 in all the subcategories for measuring its labour market, but targeted retraining proved to be its weakness. It scored 50 out of 100 and ranked 11th in the subcategory.

Singapore is amongst the countries that have difficulties in managing workplace transitions to AI and hiring robotics specialists.

It fell out of the top 10 countries with the largest annual supply of industrial robots. In 2016, China had 87,000 robots, South Korea had 41,400, whilst Japan had 38,600. Singapore only had 2,600, similar to India and Thailand.

However, it still shared the top position along with Germany and South Korea in the labour market category. “The top three earn high scores in nearly every labour market policy indicator, including in government support and encouragement of workplace retraining, as well as approaches to vocational training,” EIU explained.

The Automation Readiness Index, which measured the performance of 25 countries, was created by EIU and sponsored by ABB.

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