Keynote address at Singapore Corporate Awards 2023
Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower, The Grand Ballroom, The Ritz Carlton, Millenia Singapore
Ladies and gentlemen
1. Good evening.
Thank you for having me here at the 2023 Singapore Corporate Awards.
2. My warmest and heartiest congratulations to all award winners who have showcased exemplary corporate governance practices.
3. Corporate leaders today face a multitude of challenges.
a. Corporate leaders have to pursue business growth, measure up to shareholders’ expectation fend off market competition, and tackle emerging challenges.
b. These include manpower constraints, cybersecurity threats, geopolitical contestation and climate change.
c. And of course, looking out for the well-being of your most important resource, your employees.
4. How can businesses stay on top of these challenges?
a. Having robust corporate governance, which fosters an environment where decisions are made with accountability and responsibility, is a necessary condition for successful business performance and sustainable growth.
b. It may not be the only secret recipe to success, it will put you on the journey, which of course is contingent on many other factors, as well as some serendipity.
c. But a company which is seen to fare poorly in corporate governance will not be able to sustain stakeholders’ confidence.
5. For Singapore, good corporate governance is central to our competitiveness as a business hub and critical to investors’ continued confidence. We have done well so far.
a. The ASEAN Corporate Governance Scorecard published in end-2022 showed that corporate governance practices among Singapore companies improved in 2021, in spite of disruptions caused by the global pandemic.
b. The Singapore Governance and Transparency Index scores for 2023 released last month also showed improvement in corporate governance scores among companies listed on the Singapore Exchange.
c. These reflect the ongoing efforts by companies to promote good corporate governance practices.
d. However, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels or be complacent.
6. Today, in the presence of corporate giants, may I humbly suggest three key areas for corporate leaders to consider concentrating on in strengthening corporate governance.
7. The first focal point is sustainability. Companies must strategise and navigate the shift towards a greener future.
a. Climate change is an existential challenge for Singapore. As an island state, we are vulnerable to slight changes in global temperature, which can affect sea levels, and compromise our food and water security.
b. With increased volatility in the global energy market, Singapore and our companies would need to diversify and decarbonise our energy supply.
8. Around the world, countries have made ambitious commitments towards addressing climate change.
a. China has committed to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. Australia and the US are targeting to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
b. Singapore must also actively participate in sustainability efforts as a responsible global citizen. We have raised our climate ambition, with the aim of achieving net zero emissions by or around mid-century.
9. Ladies and gentlemen, the journey towards sustainability requires the commitment of both the Government and businesses
a. The Government will support businesses to become more energy efficient and to reduce their carbon footprint, through schemes such as the Energy Efficiency Fund and the Energy Efficiency Grant.
b. Companies will also have to set out your own internal roadmaps towards achieving your own sustainability targets.
c. Sustainability disclosures will be critical as many savvy investors will be watching and investing carefully.
d. Banks may also calibrate access to financing according to businesses’ carbon footprint.
10. Second, to embrace transformation, and harness the new opportunities it brings for your businesses and workers.
11. Technology has advanced at an unprecedented pace, and the pace of change is accelerating, and likewise, the pace of disruption. While it has tremendous potential to disrupt companies and put them into obsolescence, it also has tremendous potential to deliver productivity gains and innovation. I think it is who dares, win.
a. ChatGPT is an example of how previously unimaginable possibilities can be realised in record time.
b. Consider its unprecedented rate of adoption. It took just two months to gain 100 million users.
c. This is testament to the accelerating pace of transformation.
12. The Government has been looking at the potential of artificial intelligence in transforming industries, empowering our workers, and delivering public services more efficiently and effectively.
13. We encourage employers to similarly embrace new technologies to improve efficiency.
a. The Job Transformation Maps published so far provides detailed insights on the impact of technology and automation on jobs in each sector.
b. It is evident that all businesses, regardless of sector, will be left behind if they do not progress with the times.
c. Government schemes such as the Productivity Solutions Grant for Job Redesign are available to support companies in business and workforce transformation, by redesigning jobs to better attract and retain workers.
d. To complement the adoption of new technologies, companies will also need workers to upgrade themselves to stay relevant.
14. I have been hearing concerns from businesses about manpower constraints, challenges with retention and the need for better access to foreign workers.
a. However, COVID-19 has been a pertinent reminder that we cannot indefinitely grow our foreign workforce, as there are inherent risks with overreliance.
b. At the same time, reservation wages abroad are going up, this translates to reduced attractiveness of taking on jobs in Singapore.
15. To better meet manpower needs amidst transformation, one way that businesses can augment their workforce is to support upskilling and development of their employees to optimise potential for growth. And to support our initiative, which we call, building the career health of employees.
a. Like family doctors in healthcare, employers can be the first point of contact, offering primary care to help your workers develop themselves.
b. From my experience working in a clinic, people will switch out if they find that their doctor does not sufficiently care.
c. So, businesses which seek to reduce attrition and improve employee engagement must provide clear career development opportunities.
16. The Government will support you. The Government has implemented a suite of initiatives to support businesses to invest in your own workforce.
a. For example, Workforce Singapore’s Career Conversion Programmes and SkillsFuture Singapore’s Enhanced Training Support for SMEs offer salary support and subsidies for employers to redeploy and train their workers.
b. We are looking to step up efforts in this area by equipping employers with new capabilities and insights.
c. But ultimately, you as employers are responsible for attracting, developing and retaining their employees.
Caring for well-being
17. Last but not least, caring for the well-being of every single one of your workers is paramount.
a. Workers who are engaged and motivated will be more productive.
b. They can also make optimised decisions in the best interest of the company.
18. Our jobs are a fundamental aspect of our lives as well as our identities.
a. The vast majority of us spend a significant part of our lives at work.
b. If you think about the numbers of hours you are awake, other than on weekends and when you are on holidays, you actually spend most of your waking hours in the company of your colleagues. Last year, the average employed resident in Singapore worked about 42.2 hours1 out of the 168 hours in a week, or about 25% of the time!
c. So, it is important that companies make work environments a safe space for your workers, both physically and mentally, and be very inclusive towards those from different walks of life.
19. Workplace safety and health considerations, I hope, will become a priority of the top leadership.
a. Corporate leaders have influence over budgets, strategic priorities and timelines.
b. Your decisions and direction will determine whether safety and health considerations are embedded within the company’s operations, and whether good practices are implemented on the ground.
20. Beyond physical health, mental health is also a pressing topic which has been in the spotlight since COVID-19.
a. The Tripartite Advisory on Mental Well-being at Workplaces was launched in 2020 to support mental well-being of employees and provide resources for employers and employees.
b. As part of the Interagency Taskforce on Mental Health and Well-being, the Government is also exploring other ideas to strengthen support for mental well-being at the workplace.
i. These include trained mental health champions, raising awareness and adoption of mental well-being resources and, most importantly, reducing stigma.
c. The success of these efforts will depend on businesses’ commitment to the cause.
21. To cater to the varied needs of our workforce, businesses can also support the well-being of employees by implementing flexible work arrangements.
a. This will help your employees to better juggle their work and personal commitments.
b. As a result, we can build a more inclusive workplace where caregivers and seniors can continue working or re-enter the workforce.
c. Employers will also be able to tap on a wider pool of talent.
22. So if you think about it, a successful business must not just generate profits, it has to also positively impact all your stakeholders, your employees, your shareholders, your board of directors, vendors and customers. Only when we think about how profits can be shared equitably among stakeholders, can the business be sustainable.
23. Let us collectively uphold corporate governance standards to maintain Singapore’s reputation as a trusted business hub.
24. I thank the Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants, Singapore Institute of Directors and The Business Times for your longstanding efforts to promote good corporate governance.
25. Heartiest congratulations to the winners of the Singapore Corporate Awards for your outstanding contributions!
26. Have a wonderful evening ahead.