Learning from German and Swiss Associations and Enterprises

SGTech’s Chairman Mr Wong Wai Meng shares his reflections on his Europe study trip with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat earlier this year. Wai Meng also previously shared with SGTech his vision and focus areas for the association, as well as the challenges and opportunities our industry would face in the coming years.

Can Singapore’s tech industry be as vibrant and robust as our European counterparts? What does the tech industry in Europe do differently to Singapore, that allows them to be world-leading?

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to join DPM Heng Swee Keat on a study trip to Switzerland and Germany. The trip allowed me to see how the Swiss and German industry bodies and their member companies approach innovation by integrating hardware and software capabilities, multiply knowledge through sharing, and nurture skilled talent through apprenticeship. I believe the insights from the trip could help SGTech in sharpening our initiatives and expand our support for our members and Singapore’s tech industry.

(SGTech's Chairman Mr Wong Wai Meng (1st row, 2nd from right), visited Bühler Group's Cubic Innovation Campus with Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (1st row, 4th from left) , and the other representatives from the various TACs as part the Singapore delegation to Europe earlier this year. - Photo Credits: DPM Heng Swee Keat's Facebook Page)

Integrated Approach to Innovation by Combining Hardware and Software

Many Swiss and German manufacturing companies combine hardware making and software development in building their product lines. Just as a drone company needs engineers to make the unmanned devices, it also needs software developers to programme the navigation instructions.

ABB Group, one of the biggest robotics and automation companies in the world, is headquartered in Switzerland. ABB produces robots for semiconductor manufacturing. At the same time, ABB also supplies the software required to operate these robots. They have been successful in blending hardware making and software development. Notably, that this combination of hardware coupled with software is found in many of the top manufacturing and entrepreneurship labs that we visited.

On the other hand, this approach is less common in Singapore. Many companies, particularly the SMEs, focus solely on either being a hardware maker or software developer. We have yet to adopt a culture where organisations can combine hardware making and software development and approach innovation from that perspective. There is an opportunity for our companies to grow by inculcating this mindset and building such capabilities.

In the coming months, SGTech will be collaborating with other associations to support our local SMEs in their digital transformation journey. One example is the Singapore Manufacturing Alliance, where SGTech, together with Singapore Business Federation, Singapore Manufacturing Federation (SMF), Singapore Precision Engineering & Technology Association (SPETA), and Singapore Industrial Automation Association (SIAA), would work closely with Enterprise Singapore, to focus on uplifting the manufacturing sector. I am confident that our members can bring their expertise and solutions to support the innovation efforts across different verticals, creating a positive impact on the local economy.

(The Singapore delegation was invited to tour ABB Group's facilities for the developing and manufacturing of power semiconductors - Photo Credits: DPM Heng Swee Keat's Facebook Page)


Multiplying Knowledge through Sharing

Just like in Singapore, SMEs make up a large portion of the manufacturing industry in Germany and Switzerland. Large companies, like ABB, frequently work together with the educational and research institutions to share knowledge with the SMEs. The SMEs benefit when the large companies and institutions share on their experiences in productivity solutions, as well as their digital transformation journey. The industry takes it upon themselves to ensure that the local tech ecosystem is collectively healthy and progressive.

In Singapore, we should also galvanise the industry “leaders” to give back to the industry and help one another. While the “big boys” can help uplift our local tech SMEs by sharing their experiences, we should not limit that the help should come only from large companies. For example, SGTech is organising a workshop to help our members prepare their submissions to have their solutions pre-approved for the SMEs Go Digital scheme. Members who have successfully had their solutions approved – regardless of their size, these members are leaders in their own right – will share their learnings to help others who are going through the process for the first time. 

Creating a Pipeline of Talent through Apprenticeship for the Youth

Both Switzerland and Germany use apprenticeship to build up a ready talent pool for companies to harness. Selected youths who complete their secondary school education are offered structured on-the-job training in engineering and other related technical skills at educational institutions, sponsored by the companies. After completing the training, these apprentices are mostly hired as full-time employees by the sponsoring organisations.

These apprentices are valued and sought after, as they are trained in the specific skill sets required by the companies. The structured training programmes are curated and continuously refined by key industry bodies made up of member companies who are also offering the apprentice programmes. The member companies have a say in the highly structured course, giving their inputs to the courseware by setting standards and training guidelines.

I believe this apprenticeship model is feasible in Singapore too, where the youth can choose the skills that they wish to grow into. It is a valuable way for our young to get hands-on, in-depth engineering and technical skills together with formal education. 

(Mr Nicolas Bürer (1st from left), Managing Director of digitalswitzerland, an association that  promotes Swiss-made innovation internationally, together with the Singapore delegation. - Photo Credits: DPM Heng Swee Keat's Facebook Page)

I believe that SGTech can emulate some of the successful practices from our European counterparts and adapt them to suit our situations in Singapore. How the Swiss and German tech industry takes the lead in setting standards and defining and securing the resources that they need to thrive can serve as an inspiration to us. In Singapore, we as an industry can also step up and be more proactive in helping ourselves, and by extension, helping other industry sectors.

Published Dec 2019