Human Capital and Development Policies

With recommendations from the Winsemius report, development policies stemmed from certain ideals, ranging from openness to foreign investors to liberal labour policies. Export industrialisation and foreign investmentoriented policies were aimed at providing local employment opportunities, where foreign investors would transfer their expertises and equip the local labour force with relevant skillsets.19 A transferability of relevant skill- sets to the local labour force maintained an edge over non-local labour and sustained the attractive proposition for global investors. Both these ideals were the bedrock for Singapore’s human capital development in meeting investors’ demand and fulfilling market conditions through up-skilling and re-skilling. When Singapore experienced a labour shortage from 1973 to 1984 as a result of economic restructuring, human capital development took priority in the form of education, training of trainers, industrial training towards skill-intensive jobs, as well as schemes for the improvement of working conditions and productivity (Tan 2015). Further benefiting Singapore was the international budget allocated from the UN, which was wisely invested in education, industrial development, and urban planning, thereby providing the groundwork for international programmes through which selected Singapore scholars could go on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (UNDP Global Centre for Public Service Excellence 2015).20

The focus on labour employability is also evident at the national level, where early leaders were tasked to implement economic and social development policies, with employment and the labour force’s well-being as guiding primary goals (Tan 2015).21 To produce the desired outcomes, comparative advantages were identified which led to simple policy recommendations with progressive changes to adapt to dynamic conditions. Significant policy initiatives for Singapore’s human capital have been attributed to:22

  • (i) A switch from low-wage, import-substitution to high-wage, export- oriented industrialisation that was considered not to be the norm during that period;
  • (ii) Adopt best practices from the Japanese (who were the regional leaders),23 and the Westerners (USA and United Kingdom), but localise to Singapore’s conditions—resulting in hybrid developments with continuous innovation.

During the early stages of Singapore’s development, from the 1960s to 1980s, job creation, FDI, and learning from developed economies, such as Europe and the USA, were critical. There was a subsequent shift to new markets such as China and India in the late 1980s and the early millennium.

The new objective was to utilise the knowledge gleaned from the developed economies and to apply this expertise to emerging economies in China and India. As labour becomes more mobile, Singapore’s strategic location and proximity to ASEAN states makes it an obvious choice to promote its labour force in the region. Singapore has been offering its expertise on economic and social matters, and has provided humanitarian assistance to the regional states. This is a clear demonstration of Singapore’s strong relationships and maturity, and further illustrates the region’s evolution and adaptation. The progression of human capital in Singapore is summarised in Table 10.1, as follows.

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