‘We are not returning to a pre-COVID world’

We must start ‘recovery’ work now and can’t wait for the crisis to ‘blow over’, says Singapore minister

‘We are not returning to a pre-COVID world’

Singapore minister Chan Chun Sing shared a sobering “painful truth” about the COVID-19 crisis: “We are not returning to a pre-COVID world”.

“I know that some are still hoping for a quick recovery, and a return to the familiarity of the ‘old normal’,” Chan said in a recent press conference. “[But] recovery will be some time yet and the recovery is not likely to be smooth. We can expect recurring waves of infection and disruption.”

Recovery will be uneven across sectors, he added — some businesses will progressively recover, while others will be “permanently changed”. In the coming months, Chan expects retrenchments to rise and some companies will be forced to close.

“It will be a difficult time for our people and businesses,” he said. “Companies must treat workers fairly, with dignity and respect.”

The government promises to help people to take on new jobs with new skills, urging employers to preserve “the Singapore core” for skills and capabilities.

READ MORE: COVID-19: HR's role in managing the 'next wave' of infections

His comments follow the government’s economic forecast for 2020, which “essentially means the growth generated over the past two to three years will be negated”.

Many have warned about the dire state of the economy, but the latest report showed that “recovery” work has to start now. Chan urged leaders to begin the necessary work now.

“We have to start now to build a new economy, and to create more job opportunities for our people,” he said. “We cannot wait for COVID to blow over.

“The faster we adapt and change, the faster our recovery. Conversely, the slower we adapt and change, others will overtake us, and the opportunities will bypass us.”

READ MORE: How will a second wave affect business recovery?

COVID-19’s impact on jobs
Chan highlighted several areas where the crisis has changed the business world. One of which being the nature of jobs.

“COVID has shown companies and workers that remote working is possible,” he said. “Over the years, we have successfully created many jobs here, especially PMET jobs for Singaporeans, by having many headquarters and factories locate here.

“With remote work, more global job opportunities for our workers will come. But it also means that other workers, in other countries, can do our jobs from their homes.”

He believes that the ease of remote working arrangements means workers need not be moved or based in a specific geography to serve the market. He predicted that this will affect many PMETs, especially for jobs that can be done virtually, or through automation and AI.

Recovery plans
He then shared the government’s plans to support economic recovery.

First, “open” Singapore for business, safely and sustainably. They will abide with some guidelines including:

  • Stay open while isolating the impacted clusters quickly and tightly
  • Do it progressively and systematically, to know which are the high-risk areas
  • Learn from the experience of others
  • Manage the risks from different activities proportionately and put in place tighter measures for higher-risk activities

“Above all, if we each exercise social responsibility, we can permit more activities with less risk,” he said.

READ MORE: Will COVID-19 drastically change the way we work?

Second, the government will help businesses and workers “make sense of” and adjust to the new world — according to their varying needs. Chan pointed out how the government will support three types of businesses in Singapore.

1. Companies ‘with opportunities’
These firms either continue to do well because of opportunities from the COVID-19 crisis, or have existing ventures from before.

"We will give a boost and help these firms grow,” he said. “Because as they grow, they will create more jobs and opportunities for our workers.”

Examples of firms that fall under this category include those in ICT, biopharma, supply chains and precision engineering sectors.

The government aims to continue to create a more attractive environment for new businesses to start in these sectors and for businesses to sustain longterm investments in Singapore.

2. Companies ‘suffering’ a drop in demand now but will eventually recover
“We will preserve their core capabilities in the meantime and help them emerge stronger,” Chan said.

Companies in this category have typically received cash flow support in the form of government schemes like Jobs Support Scheme and rental relief.

“Over time, we should re-direct the support towards helping them generate fresh revenue and become more cost efficient,” he said.

READ MORE: How recession will impact HR strategy

3. Companies in industries that have ‘permanently changed’
“This is the most difficult part,” he said. “We will help them reinvent themselves, pivot into new markets and new products.

“Some businesses are already acting now. They know the old days will not return.”

Examples of firms in this category include those in mass market tourism, MICE and social entertainment companies.

Lastly, the government promises to fully support businesses throughout the recovery process by establishing the right, conducive economic conditions.

“We do not have all the answers yet, and the ground realities are fast evolving, often without precedence but we know that staying still is not an option,” he said.

“We must walk this new path together. Everyone must chip in, including with ideas and suggestions, for we are in uncharted waters.

“We must work together with our people to help them understand the need for changes and implement them smoothly.”

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