Emerging Stronger from the Pandemic

Local enterprises should tap on existing and new support schemes to position their businesses for long-term growth.

Singapore’s economy may appear to be on the mend, but experts believe that the path towards recovery remains uneven at best. While the worst of the pandemic may be over locally, certain sectors such as aviation and hospitality, continue to suffer due to travel restrictions.

According to SBF’s latest National Business Survey (NBS), which was conducted from October to November 2020 and polled 1,075 companies, almost two-thirds of businesses in Singapore have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, with most not expecting to recover fully until at least 2022.

Recognising the challenges ahead, the government unveiled the Emerging Stronger Together Budget this year, which is more targeted in its support by channeling more resources to the businesses that need them most.

Kickstarting overseas ventures

One fallout from the pandemic is the pullback by local companies from international markets. The NBS showed that nearly half (47%) of businesses reported contractions in overseas business activities, while the number of companies with an overseas presence shrank by 7% compared with 2019.

To kickstart their internationalisation efforts, companies can tap on Enterprise Singapore’s (ESG) Market Readiness Assistance scheme, which can defray up to 80% of eligible costs related to expanding abroad.

Beyond funding, the Global Innovation Alliance – a joint initiative between ESG and the Economic Development Board – runs acceleration programmes that help Singapore start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises enter a number of key global markets in Asia, Europe and the United States.

Concurrently, SBF’s GlobalConnect@SBF initiative supports businesses expansion to overseas markets, regardless of the market, industry, or the company’s stage of internationalisation. The programme focuses on ASEAN, frontier and emerging markets, free trade agreement (FTA) education and outreach, as well as Asia regional infrastructure opportunities.

Accelerating the digitalisation journey

One silver lining from the pandemic is its role in driving many companies to adopt digitalisation as part of their transformation plans. According to NBS, over eight in 10 reported having accelerated digital transformation by an average of two years, with four in 10 of these companies increasing their IT budgets.

In his Budget 2021 speech in February, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat urged mature enterprises of all sizes to invest in new and emerging technologies to sharpen their competitiveness. To help such companies achieve these objectives, DPM Heng announced a new Emerging Technology Programme, which will co-fund the costs of trials and adoption of frontier technologies such as 5G, artificial intelligence and trust technologies.

As the apex chamber in Singapore, SBF’s Digitalisation Committee has also partnered with the Infocomm Media Development Authority to engage trade associations, business chambers and businesses to help enable digital adoption and drive digital transformation among Singapore businesses.

Future-proofing the workforce

Another key area of concern for businesses is workforce reskilling. With Singapore’s ongoing transition to a digital, innovation-driven economy, workers will need to acquire new capabilities and relevant skills to remain productive and employable.

Against this backdrop, the government continued to provide substantial support to the jobs market in Budget 2021. These measures aim to create new jobs and to upgrade the skillsets of the local workforce.

Employers have welcomed such measures. According to the NBS, an overwhelming 88% of respondents found initiatives such as the Jobs Support Scheme, which provides employers with wage support to defray manpower costs, to be most useful during COVID-19.

The SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, which was launched in May last year to provide training opportunities for Singaporeans to gain new skills and transition to new careers, is another key government initiative to boost employability.

Two schemes under the package – the SGUnited Skills Programme and SGUnited Mid-Career Pathways Programme – aim to boost the employability of jobseekers who are unable to obtain permanent jobs, by helping them acquire industry experience and expand their professional networks. A third scheme, the Jobs Growth Incentive, provides companies with salary support to expand local hiring, with an emphasis on mature workers.

As the Programme Manager for both the SGUnited Traineeships and Mid-Career Pathways Programmes, SBF will continue to help onboard interested host organisations to bring in new fresh graduates and mid-career individuals to support their business needs.

With the jobs situation still weak, the government allocated a further $5.4 billion to SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, on top of the $3 billion initially allocated, in Budget 2021. The funds will be used to support the hiring of 200,000 Singaporeans this year and provide up to 35,000 traineeship and training opportunities.

As Singapore and the global economy emerge from the pandemic, local businesses should adopt a positive mindset change, explore opportunities, and take advantage of available schemes to pivot their businesses to new growth areas.