SINGAPORE - Companies need to design jobs with the employee in mind, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

Mr Heng, who was giving the keynote address at the Singapore National Employers Federation (SNEF) forum on Thursday (Jan 14), said that companies must cultivate a culture of innovation to get ahead, and this starts not with a massive R&D budget but with maximising the strengths of their people.

He stressed the importance of tapping the idealism of the millenial workforce, the new generation of employees born in the 1990s, for the future economy.

"They have grown up in a first-world Singapore, and many see jobs as more than a way to pay their bills, as a purpose or a life mission."

He said that, in the face of slowing workforce growth, programmes such as the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn scheme are designed to help companies redesign jobs to maximise workers' opportunities.

Earn and Learn programmes attach fresh graduates to firms where they can gain relevant hands-on experience while furthering their studies.

"Not surprisingly, students look towards organisations that have plans to develop them," said Mr Heng. "They do not want dead-end jobs."

He added, however: "Even organisations that conscientiously train and develop people may be at risk if their business models do not keep up with change.

"While it is important to train staff on managing current tasks well, it is equally important for employers to think of developing capabilities to innovate and adapt business models to changing trends. People development and corporate development need to go hand in hand."

More than 700 chief executives, senior management representatives and human resource professionals attended the SNEF BeyondSG50 forum, held at the Capitol Theatre to discuss how companies can prepare themselves for the future economy.