By Zainal Sapari
The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) has identified seven key strategies to drive Singapore’s engine of economic growth. Without doubt, every government agency and relevant stakeholder will be in full gear to implement these strategies. How can our Malay/Muslim students, workers and business owners prepare ourselves to come on board the various recommendations found in the CFE report?
In my opinion, a key competency that our Malay/Muslim community needs to develop and strengthen to follow through with the recommended strategies is our networking at the individual and business levels.
We are living in a world that thrives on connectivity – among people from all walks of life. And networking is that tool that allows us to make connections and build enduring, mutually beneficial relationships. The lack of strong networks is an Achilles’ heel that impedes the ability of our Malay/Muslim community as a whole to progress forward into the future economy.
Building one’s networks should begin in school. Effective networking goes beyond merely information exchange between two persons; it requires laying a foundation to establish sound relationships and connections with people. And these people are those who will often become our friends and close community of professionals as we advance through our careers. Malay/Muslim students can expand their networks by getting actively involved in grassroots activities, volunteer causes, interest groups and other social groupings with people of diverse races, nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds.
Organisations such as the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) have youth wings like Young NTUC and nEbO that have many platforms for youths to build up their contacts and sharpen their social and leadership skills. Malay/Muslim students can also join the People’s Association Youth Executive Committees, which will allow them to enrich their social circle, beyond friendships formed in the school environment.
In addition, parents and schools must support their children in participating in overseas exchange programmes to nurture cross-cultural experiences with international students. This exposure will also open doors to various levels of learning, and once again, allow for new networking possibilities with international friends.
When this culture is seeded in our youths, looking out for networking opportunities will become second nature as they transition to working life. I say this because networking is also equally important for workers and professionals to realise the full impact from the key strategies identified by the CFE. Through networking in the professional environment, one can have a better appreciation of the CFE report and learn the dynamics within a specific industry in the report’s context. It will enable one to get “plugged-in” to changes in their industry and create ripple effects to one’s advantage, perhaps opening doors to new career opportunities.
Networking among Malay/Muslim workers and professionals is an area for improvement. Let’s face it. The current reality is that the participation of Malay/Muslim workers and professionals in seminars and workshops, and their membership take-up in professional organisations is barely noticeable. In my view, these can certainly be enhanced.
There are many avenues within our society where the Malay/Muslim community can deepen their networks. Unions, professional organisations, interest groups, trade seminars and conferences are some to name. Or for a good start to move out of your comfort zone, I encourage you to simply attend grassroots events within your neighbourhood.
Recently, NTUC has been actively encouraging professionals, managers and executives (PMEs) to participate in its various talks and seminars. These platforms help participants keep abreast of the developments in the multiple fields and allow them to network with fellow workers and professionals. In fact, being part of NTUC or the professional bodies’ networks could open the doors for better training support as many of these organisations are involved in the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs), and would help their members stay relevant in terms of skills and knowledge.
NTUC is also strategically involved in all the sectoral ITM committees to provide inputs on their development and to gather feedback from its networks. There is a conscious effort to ensure that the respective ITMs’ recommendations are relevant in enabling the workforce’s acquisition of new skills in the various sectors.
In tandem, our union leaders are also working closely with our members and employers to explain the rationale and intent of the ITMs. More importantly, they work with employers to leverage government support for training to ensure the workers can start equipping themselves with job skills identified in the sectoral ITMs.
Every businessman knows the importance of robust networks. How strong is the network in the Malay/Muslim business community? A common feedback that I receive is that it is not as strong compared to the other business communities. The CFE recommended key strategies for businesses to ramp up innovation as a key to staying relevant and competitive. Malay businesses with high-growth potential can receive more targeted support, including access to networks, mentors, technology and financing, to scale-up and venture abroad.
Achieving all these can be easier if the networks in our Malay business community are strengthened. This calls for every Malay business owner to be an active member of the Malay community network and provide support to one another. Veteran and established Malay business leaders must come forward to spearhead the efforts with good leadership so that our Malay/Muslim business community can be on par with other business associations.
Networking will provide the most productive, most proficient and most sustainable strategy to keep the Malay/Muslim business community abreast of the various initiatives taken to implement the strategies identified by the CFE. And we need to step up and embrace this strategy as one community.
This article was first published on Berita Mediacorp on 20 February 2017.