The Productivity Gambit


Perhaps the only useful nugget out of last night’s “Political Forum on Singapore’s Future”, was that all the participants agreed on the need to increase productivity.

So what do we do about increasing productivity? The 2008 paper from the LKY School of Public Policy  paper says that

“Labour productivity has been on a down trend since 2004. It has declined further in the second quarter of 2008 (-7.5 per cent), after two consecutive quarters of contraction in the previous periods (refer to Exhibit 1 in attachment). This decline is seen across all industries except for wholesale and retail trade (0.5 per cent). The contraction is steepest in manufacturing (-13.0 per cent), followed by hotels and restaurants (-8.5%), business services (-6.4 per cent), financial services (-4.5 per cent), construction (-3.4 per cent), transport and storage (-1.2 per cent), community, social and personal services (-1.1 per cent) and information and communications (-0.1 per cent).”

Yes, the paper is over two years old, but I think it is representative of the situation today.

What can we do to arrest the decline and pull it back up?  Productivity in areas of work that have “countable” outputs from factory floors etc are easier to ramp up – provide training, deploy better equipment, improve processes etc.  But with knowledge sector, it is different. The SPP paper does allude to the a series of six factors attributed to Peter Druker (“Knowledge-Worker Productivity: The Biggest Challenge”, California Management Review, Winter 1991, Volume 41,No. 2, p. 84.). But the paper does not suggest how to apply those in the Singapore context (perhaps in a future update).

So the question remains: how do we increase productivity? We have to first encourage non-conformism in the schools. Look at a kindergarten child (no, not those coming from the PAP-run centers). Those kids are very non-conformist and are constantly challenging and being generally creative.  These kids get into the public school system and the pounding and drilling begins. They lose all of that innovativeness and creativeness in a hurry. By primary 3 or 4, it is all but dead. I have seen it in my two sons. I did try to arrest the decline, and I hope I have succeeded to some extent.

This is an ongoing conversation and endeavour.

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