SINGAPORE'S wholesale industry is shifting gear to create a vibrant ecosystem with clear targets, its own digital marketplaces and robust talent pipeline.
The Wholesale Trade Industry Transformation Map (ITM) - the eighth to be launched so far out of a total of 23 - will help companies digitalise to enhance global growth and productivity, and aims to create 10,000 new jobs by 2020.
The customised industry-level restructuring blueprint also aims to achieve real value-add compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.3-3.5 per cent between 2016 and 2020 and a real productivity CAGR of 2.5-2.6 per cent for the same period.
To support the wholesale trade's ITM which kicked off on Wednesday, four memoranda of understanding (MOUs) were signed at International Enterprise (IE) Singapore's "Digitalisation of Trade - New Mindsets, New Skillsets". The MOUs focused on a trade digitalisation project and new training programmes to equip talent with the right skillsets for the industry.
Wholesale trade accounted for 12 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product in 2016. It comprises over 34,000 firms and employs more than 325,000, accounting for 9 per cent of Singapore's workforce in 2016.
At the ITM launch, Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said: "Technological advancements such as block chain technologies and data analytics will transform the way global trade is conducted in areas such as cross-border trade financing.
He said the B2B e-commerce market is projected to reach US$6.7 trillion by 2020 riding on improved digital connectivity and the emergence of new platforms. "Innovation cycles are becoming shorter, and enterprises must continually adapt and connect to emerging networks to stay ahead of the curve."
Mr Iswaran noted that 30 per cent of Asia's commodities trade is financed out of Singapore, driven by close to 80 per cent of the world's top commodity companies which operate here. But he noted that Singapore needs to take proactive steps to further reinforce its trading hub status.
The government, he said, will work with industry players and trade associations to build Singapore's own digital marketplaces and attract global platform players into Singapore.
"These marketplaces will allow companies to pool resources and complement their product offerings to sharpen their competitiveness, which will be particularly beneficial to SMEs (small and medium enterprises). These platforms will enhance companies' ability to immediately expand market reach and improve productivity."
For example, the National Trade Platform (NTP) is a one-stop trade information platform that enables digital data exchange between all key trade and logistics stakeholders.
In the pipeline is the Asean Digital Trade Facilitation Platform developed by the Singapore Logistics Association (SLA), which links SLA with other Asean logistics associations.
The platform will allow companies to benefit from customs clearance through a single window, allowing wholesale traders within the region to move goods across borders in a more efficient and cost-effective manner.
When the platform is ready in the fourth quarter of 2017, it looks to bring onboard about 500 local freight forwarders and shippers as well as to collaborate with logistics players in Asean countries like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
Notably, Global eTrade Services (GeTS) Global and IBM are collaborating to develop cross-border cognitive supply chain solution for the trade community. It will connect 350,000 trading partners on IBM's supply chain business network to 18 customs nodes globally for automated customs declaration.
Training programmes are also in place for entry-level graduates and mid-career professionals.
Ngee Ann Polytechnic is preparing to launch Singapore's first wholesale trade-related diploma - International Trade and Business Diploma - in April 2018 and is expecting to take in 120 students for its first cohort.
Singapore University of Social Sciences (formerly known as UniSIM) has introduced a new curriculum in International Trade, which provides an alternative pathway for PMETs to enter the sector through part-time degrees and continuing education and training.
Singapore Management University (SMU) has a Professional Conversion Programme (PCP) for international trade executives to equip mid-career professionals through a "Place and Train" model.
Since it started in 2016, 65 mid-career professionals have found employment in trading companies. SMU aims to place 100 PMETs every year.
IE Singapore is also working with the Singapore Business Federation to develop a PCP - Southeast Asia Ready Talent to place local PMETs into a market immersion training programme designed and driven by private enterprises.
Said Mr Iswaran: "Through the programme, we hope to nurture a pipeline of local talent, with the in-market knowledge to support companies' internationalisation efforts into the region."
In the face of digital disruption, where suppliers can bypass middlemen or wholesale traders and connect with customers directly, mobile phones distributor Raduga has been able to remain relevant.
Raduga's head of marketing and business development April Lim said: "Our business model has transitioned such that we are going so much in-country that we have become indispensable because of the services that we provide, not only to our retail points, but also to our manufacturers, to our principals, in that we can give them insights into what our last mile retailers are requesting for.
"And we have visibility over consumer demands and how they differ from region to region and this gives us the ability to be accurate in planning - what kind of products we want to be launching in which countries - so we get to provide our principals with insights and we are also more accurate in identifying upcoming trends."