[SINGAPORE] The government recognises that the ongoing economic transformation is a difficult transition for many to navigate, especially the smaller businesses out there.
Companies, however, will get all the assistance they need to get through this period, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck in Parliament yesterday.
"We are committed to providing strong support for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) during this transition," he said on the first day of the debate on President Tony Tan Keng Yam's recent address to the House.
Mr Teo spoke of how the government would try to make its schemes and programmes both accessible and inclusive.
It will also facilitate collaboration with large organisations to help SMEs gain experience, improve their quality of goods and services, and develop a track record, he said.
On the issue of manpower, which Mr Teo recognised was a "fundamental constraint" for Singapore, he noted that it was not possible to grow the country's workforce indefinitely.
SMEs, therefore, need to adapt and push for higher productivity in order to bring about sustainable and quality growth.
While many companies have been successful on that front, the government will continue to help SMEs boost their productivity, said Mr Teo.
More than half of the $2 billion National Productivity Fund has already been committed to date, with much of this going to SMEs.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry has also set aside over $300 million for the next three years to support SMEs in restructuring.
Beyond funding, the government will continue to ensure that government schemes are accessible, simplify grants and application procedures, and expand the network of SME centres, said Mr Teo.
With SMEs employing 70 per cent of the country's workforce, these companies have a crucial role to play in the government's effort to prepare Singaporeans for specialist, managerial and leadership roles in the economy.
"SMEs need well- trained and talented Singaporeans in their companies. They need motivated Singaporean workers who can find meaning in their work, and will help take our SMEs to the next level," said Mr Teo, adding that the government would help SMEs to be "employers of choice".
While the government will work with trade associations and business chambers to match graduating students to SMEs, he said that the companies themselves must ensure they are attractive employers.
They have to put in place good compensation packages, have good human resource practices and plan a rewarding career path for their staff, said Mr Teo.
On its part, the government was ready to support SMEs by helping them to access the required expertise and revamp their approach to talent management.
Given the small size of Singapore's economy, he made the point that businesses here should serve not just the domestic market but the rest of the world as well.
SMEs, said Mr Teo, should ride on the growth of Asia, as well as the continued recovery in the United States and Europe, to seize growth opportunities.
The government will also expand its network of free trade and investment guarantee agreements to help businesses export and invest overseas.
"This is critical because Singapore is small and many of our businesses need to serve the international market to grow and thrive," said Mr Teo.