SINGAPORE – The 5Cs of the Singaporean dream once went as follows: cash, car, credit card, condominium and country club membership.

But these aspirations no longer resonate with younger Singaporeans today, noted Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat during a speech in which he suggested three new Cs to shape the country’s future.

These are: creating more value for society; caring about the environment and wider community; and charting the way forward.

“Aspirations evolve, and your generation have your own aspirations,” Mr Heng told students at the Singapore University of Technology and Design’s (SUTD’s) Ministerial Forum on Friday (April 16).

“You have grown up in a different phase of Singapore’s growth and development, and you will have been exposed, much more, to global cultures and influences, and to social media.”

While the fundamental aspirations – a good career, strong relationships with family and friends and the opportunity to start families of their own – remain important, the minister acknowledged that many young people also have a strong desire to drive change and make an impact.

The hybrid event was one of Mr Heng’s first public speeches since last week’s announcement that he would step aside as leader of the People’s Action Party’s fourth-generation team.

He was relaxed but often became animated, and made an uncharacteristic decision to veer off his prepared speech at several points to speak warmly of the university’s role in equipping students to solve the challenges of the future. His speech was followed by a closed-door dialogue with students.

In his address, Mr Heng noted that there is great global concern that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a “lost generation” of young people, with some observers even describing this group as “triple losers” of the crisis.

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In many countries, their education has been affected due to prolonged school closures, while youth unemployment has grown, accelerating dissatisfaction and unrest. Many governments are also piling on debt in fiscal stimulus efforts, which could crimp their capacity to invest in the future.

But Singapore is in a better position and its young people will not become a lost generation, Mr Heng said.

The country has largely kept its schools open and transited well to home-based learning, with extra efforts made to ensure children from lower-income families do not fall behind.

Although unemployment has risen, Singapore has managed to mitigate the impact such that the problem is not worse than it was during the 2008 global financial crisis. Graduating cohorts from institutes of higher learning have done relatively well, with most finding jobs or traineeships within six months of graduation, the minister noted.

And social cohesion and trust have also remained strong, with many young people stepping forward to help the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

“I know many of you are concerned that Covid has closed off some doors,” Mr Heng said. “Some overseas opportunities have to be deferred, or some industries that you are interested in might have fewer opportunities at the moment. But remember, for every door closed, a new door opens.”

He urged students to keep an open mind to new opportunities, given how the pandemic has accelerated structural trends such as digitalisation and green growth.


DPM Heng Swee Keat noted how aspirations have changed with each successive generation. PHOTO: MCI

In the speech, Mr Heng noted how aspirations have changed with each successive generation.

People had practical dreams in his time – to find jobs and feed their families. Later on, in a “natural logical progression”, the 5Cs captured the essence of people’s material aspirations, he said.

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But these no longer resonate with younger people today. “With our heavy investments in, for example, public transport infrastructure, manyhave told me that it is now better to go car-lite and that it is better for the environment,” Mr Heng said. “And with the rise of e-payments, many do not even own credit cards or wallets, when all you need is a mobile phone and a system that is linked to the various e-payment modes.”

What would the new three Cs mean? For one thing, it would mean creating value for society through innovation and enterprise, and not just in the economic arena, the minister said.

He recounted how young people used to be described as the “strawberry generation”, in what he described as an unfair caricature. “Many of you are dynamic and enterprising, pursuing your passion, starting your own ventures, and not afraid to try new things,” Mr Heng said, stressing that this spirit of innovation will be increasingly important in the post-coronavirus world.

It is also encouraging that many young people want to have a society where no one is left behind, and are passionate about protecting the environment, he added.

He also highlighted how collective participation will be needed as Singapore charts its way forward, especially since divisions are deepening in societies around the world.

“This work is never done – I hope that your generation continues to forge a way forward, even as you have open and frank discussions about issues you care about.”

Rather than a lost generation, Singapore will see a generation of trailblazers emerge from the crisis, Mr Heng added. “You are the future of our nation. And it is in your hands that the next chapter of our nation’s history will be written.”

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