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Governments must prepare workers for future via skills training: PM Lee


Antalya, Turkey

EVEN as governments work to address the immediate challenge of slow growth, they must also prepare workers for the future and avoid structural mismatches developing in the workforce, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the world's most influential leaders on Sunday, at the Group of 20 (G-20) Summit in Antalya.

This is especially since technology is impacting jobs and industries faster than ever, making skills training a particularly urgent task - even though it may be a longer-term issue to contend with.

Mr Lee made this point during the event's first working session, which focused on inclusive growth, employment, and investment strategies.

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He is in Turkey attending the two-day G-20 Summit - the annual meeting of the world's biggest developed and emerging economies.

While not a member country, Singapore has been invited to the G-20 proceedings in recent years, given its leading role in the Global Governance Group. Also known as the 3G, the group represents the interests of small- and medium-sized states, including Brunei, Finland, Panama, and Senegal.

In his remarks to G-20 leaders, Mr Lee shared more about Singapore's SkillsFuture initiative, which stemmed from the need to have a deliberate strategy to drive skills, innovation, and productivity in tandem.

He acknowledged that the endeavour will "take years to bear fruit", and that a mindset shift will have to happen - for employers and society to value persons for their skills and contributions, and to make self-improvement and upgrading a way of life for every citizen.

Apart from taking part in the first day of the G-20 Summit, Mr Lee also met Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for a bilateral meeting - their first meeting since the latter took office.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Mr Lee's meeting with Mr Turnbull underscores the close and long-standing relations between Australia and Singapore, which were recently elevated with the signing of a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

The leaders were pleased that a review of the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement is underway, and both expressed keen interest to visit each other in the near future.

Later in the day, Mr Lee also met with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and re-affirmed the warm bilateral ties between the two countries.

These marked Mr Lee's second and third bilateral meetings since arriving in Antalya on Saturday; he had then met Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and thanked him for inviting Singapore to the G-20 Summit and its proceedings.

The two leaders had witnessed the signing of the Turkey-Singapore Free Trade Agreement, which, when in force after ratification within two years, will eliminate tariffs for Singapore's exports to Turkey on 80 per cent of all tariff lines.

On Sunday evening, leaders will attended a working dinner that will focus on the global challenges of the refugee crisis and terrorism. The latter topic has taken on new urgency at the G-20 Summit, after the bloodshed in Paris pushed the fight against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants to the top of the agenda.

At the beginning of the first working session, participants engaged in a minute of silence for victims of the Paris attacks.