HR & EDUCATION | , Singapore
Wong Su-Yen

Singapore's competitive advantage


Singapore has long recognised the importance of developing its strongest natural resource: talent. Our city-state ranked highest in attracting and retaining talent in Asia in the 2017 Global Talent Competitive Index compiled by INSEAD. The report focused on talent and technology, and the findings show that countries which are mindful of how technology transforms society and organisations are able to best compete for talent.

In fact, Singapore took the number 2 spot in the ranking, just behind Switzerland. Now is not the time to be closing doors; rather cooperation between systems such as government, organisations, and education is essential to remain competitive.

Every day, news streams share updates about fractures in the world – between communities, within countries, within long established unions and between partners. Conscious of this ever-deepening split, it is important to to take the opposing viewpoint. Rather than look at the world through a lens of us versus them, we are taking an inclusive outlook: us and them.

This inclusive mind-set covers more than just the talent development ecosystem we belong to. It is important that leaders across industries adopt this ‘us and them’ mind-set in their teams and with colleagues; this can expand to looking at competitors as partners, thinking about automation or artificial intelligence (AI) as an enabler, and turning perceived threats into an opportunity to disrupt or innovate company strategy.

The next time you have a chunk of time on your commute, before dinner, or on your morning walk, think about your company’s business model and ask yourself, “How can we evolve?” How can you create synergies, rather than shutter your company against change? In an already fractured environment, it is not just about competing, but shifting the focus toward partnering.

And as we move towards this digital future, life-long learning will be the norm. It will be the individual’s responsibility to embrace a non-linear career path; to acquire digital know-how; and to cultivate future-proof foundational skills like relationship building, presentation skills and critical thinking skills. This applies to everyone from senior executives to millennials just entering the workforce.

McKinsey estimates that 60% of all occupations have – on average – 30% of activities that are automatable. Therefore, they suggest that the skills of the future will be working closely with machines, and understanding how systems work.

This does not mean that workers need to become experts in coding or statistics, notes McKinsey Global Institute Director, James Mayika. Rather, the skill that needs to be acquired is understanding processes. Whilst looking at advice targeted at university students may seem unconventional, it is safe to assume that mid-career workers and senior executives will be expected to understand and work within a similar environment.

Existing in an uncertain environment can be uncomfortable. The result is that many communities and countries – from Asia to the west—are finding ways to restrict access and close borders, both literal and figurative.

This mind-set directly contrasts with what the world is moving towards: work and life balance enabled by technology, robotics complementing (not replacing) human workers, and diverse and inclusive practices. It no longer has to be one or the other. 

Let us take the lens of incorporating many viewpoints and many perspectives as we reflect on strategy and people practices, and as we prepare talent to compete and play in this continually changing world. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Wong Su-Yen

Wong Su-Yen

Su-Yen Wong is Chief Executive Officer of the Human Capital Leadership Institute, which was established by the Ministry of Manpower, the Singapore Economic Development Board and the Singapore Management University to develop global leaders with a strong understanding of leading in Asia, as well as to build Asian leaders with the ability to lead on the global stage.

She is Non-Executive Chairman of the Board of Nera Telecommunications, a global telecom and IT solutions provider that operates in Asia, Middle East, Europe and Africa listed on the Singapore Exchange Mainboard.

Concurrently, she is an Independent Director at MediaCorp, Singapore’s leading media company; at NTUC First Campus which is the largest provider of childcare services in Singapore; and at Yoma Strategic Holdings.

Previously she was Chairman (Singapore) for Marsh & McLennan Companies, and Managing Director, Southeast Asia at Mercer. Prior to that she was Asia Managing Partner for the Communications, Information & Entertainment practice at Oliver Wyman.

She brings over twenty years' experience in business strategy, organization transformation, human capital and leadership development. She has been based in various cities across Asia since 1997, and has worked with leading organizations across North America and Asia in a broad range of industries including high-tech, financial services, oil and gas, retail, consumer goods, and the public sector.

Su-Yen is an active member of the Singapore Institute of Directors, Women Corporate Directors, and the Young Presidents' Organization. She holds a B.A. (summa cum laude) in music and computer science from Linfield College and an M.B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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