SINGAPORE'S economic situation today is different from that 50 years ago but people still have the same hopes for a better future for themselves and their children - an aim the Government will continue to underpin, said Minister for Trade of Industry Lim Hng Kiang.

"We will continue to invest in equipping our people with a strong foundation in the academic, technical and professional domains, so that they are able to seize opportunities," said Mr Lim, who was speaking at last night's National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School's Eminent Business Alumni Awards.

But he noted that the necessary upgrading of the economy comes with growing pains, which Singaporeans must be prepared for.

He noted that as the country shifted focus over the years from low-value-added manufacturing activities - factories producing garments and toys - to higher-value activities, Singaporeans in the past experienced such pains.

"Workers (were) retrenched. Many had to pick up new skills as their old jobs disappeared and new jobs surfaced, requiring different skills," said Mr Lim.

At the same time, new industries such as the biomedical sciences emerged, itself contributing nearly 17,000 jobs and $23.7 billion to the economy last year.

Mr Lim said that just as older citizens had to adapt to new sectors and jobs displacing existing ones, today's young generation must also be prepared to pick up new skills swiftly. "Companies will come and go. As the life cycles of our industries shorten, workers at all levels will need to keep learning and upgrading themselves, whether to adapt to changes or to seize opportunities as they emerge."

In tertiary education, four autonomous universities, five polytechnics and three Institute of Technical Education (ITE) colleges share the core objective of equipping students with relevant skills, noted Mr Lim.

He said that as the economy restructures, creating new niches and jobs, it is important that these institutions continually refresh their programmes to ensure that the skills remain relevant. The Government is also supporting lifelong learning efforts through further investment in continuing education and training - two dedicated campuses were built this year and will together train 50,000 workers a year.

Yesterday, 10 alumni of the NUS Business School received a range of awards.

One of the senior alumni awards was conferred on Alexandra Health System group chief executive Liak Teng Lit, who earned his Master of Business Administration and Bachelor of Science (Pharmacy) from NUS. He noted: "My formal education served as a good baseline... A person keeps on learning from there, as our jobs keep evolving."