Singapore’s goal to become a regional tech hub seems on track, partly thanks to tech giants like Facebook, Amazon and Alibaba entering the country’s market. The recent expansion of major tech companies, namely Grab, Sea Ltd, Tencent, Bytedance, and Zoom Video Communications, has also contributed to a thriving tech sector.
However, while the city-state’s tech scene is booming, the Singapore employment scene is faced with a severe talent crunch. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated tech companies’ growth and has similarly pushed non-tech companies to rapidly undergo digital transformations to survive.
The insufficient local supply of either tech graduates or skilled professionals compared to the strong demand is slowing down expansion and development plans. What is more, hiring international talent is currently hindered by the unpredictability of travel restrictions. The island’s increasing tech talent shortage is a cause for concern, as job and recruitment websites see up to 500 new tech vacancies posted each week.
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The Communications Ministry reported that there were almost 10,000 tech-related job postings on a government-run careers portal in mid-September, with another 6,800 jobs and traineeships likely to be created by June 2021 through industry partnerships. With so many companies looking to recruit, the country’s tech talent pool is truly under significant strain.
A mere question of Geography and Maths
In addition to tech giants growing their workforce and non-tech firms going digital, Singapore’s focus on becoming a Smart Nation has also increased the demand in relevant areas, like data analytics and cybersecurity.
The surge in tech-related vacancies is intensified further by the emerging hybrid roles complementing the employees’ core skill sets in most sectors. Employers are increasingly looking for staff with supplementary skills, such as data analysis (54%), project management skills (52%), digital marketing (35%), and basic IT support (31%).
The competition for tech talent now stems from various sectors and industries, while qualified human resources remain limited.
Being a small island nation of 5.8 million people, Singapore’s labour market is tight, and its ability to quickly match the growing demand in the skills and experience necessary for the tech industry remains in question.
According to Vivian Balakrishnan, the Minister in charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, Singapore’s Information & Communications Technology (ICT) sector currently employs around 200,000 people and will require another 60,000 over the next three years. With the country’s educational system producing meagre 2,800 ICT graduates per year, the local ICT workforce will account for 8,400 grads in the next three years, leaving a 51,600 shortfall. The simple mathematics shows that at some point, the country will run out of talent. In an attempt to loosen workforce curbs, Singapore is exploring several solutions.
Attracting a foreign workforce
Singapore’s Economic Development Board (EDB) recently launched a new work visa for top-tier tech executives to help bridge the skills shortage by attracting foreign talent.
Although the initiative is getting healthy interest from global tech companies, it has strict criteria and a 500-participant limit.
Meanwhile, overseas hiring is hampered due to border closures and tighter foreign worker policies, thus aggravating the shortage situation.
Nurturing existing and future talent
Thousands of people are being re-trained via government-supported initiatives, such as TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) and Professional Conversion Programmes (PCP).
Mid-career switches towards the tech sector are encouraged, with the government providing support for Singaporeans to take up temporary assignments and traineeships during the economic recession period.
Contributing to local staff training, several companies have launched relevant programmes, such as Citibank’s multifunctional skills-based training course, certified by the Institute of Banking and Finance Singapore (IBF). The National University of Singapore’s School of Computing is collaborating with Standard Chartered Bank to build a talent pipeline within Informatics and Technology. The Nanyang Technological University (NTU) has partnered with Facebook to train local engineering undergraduates and postgraduates for specialised positions in data centres.
Razer Fintech and DXC Technology have also undertaken training and orientation initiatives, while Sea offers attractive internship programmes with potential full-time offers within its Research and Development department.
As admissions in IT courses in Singapore colleges have surged by 17% over the past three years, in an attempt to secure fresh talent as early as possible tech firms are increasingly starting their recruitment process with job fairs at local universities and polytechnics, including the Singapore University of Technology and Design.
The rise of the digital era has initiated a tremendous amount of change and has irreversibly reshaped industries. Jobs that are now in-demand did not even exist up till a decade ago. The current tech talent crisis proves that, contrary to people’s fears, technology is not replacing humans, but is instead a key propelling factor in creating jobs.
With an eye towards the future, Singapore is exploring sustainable solutions to the talent crunch and to supplement long-term goals. From upskilling the existing workforce to nurturing young talent, digital transformation is supporting several generations, and the future of the Singapore employment scene might soon look brighter.