Opinions

New S’pore Tech Pass To Woo Foreign Talent – Here’s How We Can Step Up To Groom Locals Instead

It was announced last week that the Singapore government is introducing a new tech pass to attract highly-skilled tech professionals from overseas to boost the tech sector here.

Called Tech.Pass, it will be given to “top-tier tech talent” and experts looking to start businesses, lead corporate teams or teach here.

As Singapore pushes towards being a Smart Nation and tech giants set up their regional bases here, we need more tech talent.

Among us, most of the software developers and IT support engineers here actually hail from other countries such as India, China and Vietnam.

This begs the question: why do we have to look overseas for tech talent, instead of hiring locals?

S’pore Faces A Tech Talent Crunch

Singapore’s tech scene is booming, and that’s great news for us. The bad news is that tech talent on the island may not be enough to supply a surge in vacancies.

Since young, we have been given the choice to study what we want and forge our own career paths.

Kids who want to pursue computing have the options to enroll in computer science diploma and degree programmes available in Singapore institutions.

Coding schools have always existed and we have unprecedented access to online resources to pick up those skills.

School of Computer Science and Engineering
School of Computer Science and Engineering Undergraduate’s Overseas Entrepreneurship Programme at NTU / Image Credit: NTU

For one, National University of Singapore’s Overseas College Programme offers internships at San Francisco’s Silicon Valley, home to many start-ups and global tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google.

Moreover, tech leaders such as Bill Gates of Microsoft and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have been highly revered in the world, including Singapore.

Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates
Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates / Image Credit: Geekwire

However, the Singapore education system is only producing 2,800 Information and Communications Technology (ICT) graduates annually.

Singapore’s tech sector currently employs about 200,000 people, and will require another 60,000 in the next three years, according to Smart Nation minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

That leaves a 51,600 shortfall, with only 8,400 grads produced over three years.

“If you’re a programmer, a UX designer or an expert in Python, artificial intelligence, and machine learning…or better still, you create robots, you have no shortage of jobs,” revealed Balakrishnan.

But still, the take up rate is low and we have a lack of tech talent here (except at GovTech). Why is this so?

Why So Few S’poreans Want To Study Tech?

SIT Graduates
Image Credit: SIT

As a Singaporean, I have been brought up with the thinking that we should study and work in business management or medical science in order to excel in life. My peers would agree with that.

For one, my parents did not know what tech is nor the importance of it.

Furthermore, so many students go through their entire time in school without being exposed to computer science — a rapidly growing field of study that is an important key to opening doors to jobs at tech giants like Google, Apple and Facebook.

We were not exposed to the terms of computer science, coding or hackathons. It was an obscure territory that we were uncomfortable trekking into.

Hackathon
Image Credit: TechCrunch

However, according to Payscale Singapore, an early career Software Engineer with 1-4 years of experience earns an average total compensation of S$53,466 based on 859 salaries.

A mid-career Software Engineer with 5-9 years of experience earns an average total compensation of S$65,116 based on 395 salaries.

All in all, the salaries are quite good but a lack of exposure, support from families and friends as well mentorship could have made it an unpopular career.

If some of us had known that tech was going to be a booming industry, we might have studied it.

For one, tech is “boyish and boring”, said the secondary school-going sister of my colleague at Vulcan Post. She wants to be a doctor instead.

This shows us that much persuasion is needed to coax the younger generation to know that tech is not “just for boys”.

S’pore Needs To Step Up Its Game To Nurture Local Tech Talent

Tech workers
Image Credit: Asean Today

Balakrishnan says the Singapore government is trying to tackle tech talent shortages by “encouraging mid-career switches” and persuading “thousands of people willing to learn to come into this sector.”

We have mid-career advance programmes such as TeSA by IMDA that provide opportunities for Singaporeans aged 40 and above to be reskilled or upskilled while holding a tech job role.

Local tech giant Sea Limited (Sea) and IMDA have also signed a memorandum of intent to hire and train 500 Singaporeans in areas such as Product Management, Software Engineering and User Experience Design.

Local gaming hardware giant Razer’s financial arm Razer Fintech hosted an innovative hackathon to attract Singaporean fresh grads who are interested to explore the financial technology (fintech) space in the county.

There are also various tech scholarships being offered by the major institutions such as NUS, NTU, SIT and SUTD and also our media authority IMDA.

These initiatives are great but more have to be done — from increasing awareness to educating on the importance of tech for a digital economy.

Prioritise Tech Education

It was announced last year that all upper primary students will attend coding classes, in a bid to nurture tech talent from young.

The 10-hour enrichment programme has been piloted this year at some schools for pupils after their PSLE exams, and will be rolled out to all primary schools by this year.

Ong Ye Kung
Image Credit: Ong Ye Kung’s Facebook page

This initiative is beneficial, but not enough. 10 hours of coding will only teach you the basic HTML skills, help you take baby steps but nowhere near to being a programmer.

Moreover, students here have many subjects to handle, on top of the assigned homework by each subject teacher and after-school tuition classes. Extra coding classes just can’t fit into an already-bursting timetable.

Schools and parents need to acknowledge that the future of work is digital and all jobs will eventually require basic tech competencies. As a result, tech education needs to be prioritised in school.

It would also help if there are incentives for Singaporeans to study tech as their major, such as exclusive internships or more attractive perks at tech companies.

Yes, attracting fast-growing tech companies and established tech talent to enter Singapore and anchor themselves here is indeed important.

It will also create more opportunities for local tech talent to work in globally competitive teams alongside top tech talent from all over the world as they bring their capital, networks and know-how to the country’s tech ecosystem.

However, I’m sure that more Singaporeans would be keen to take up tech as a career if more opportunities are dangled in front of them.

We can also decrease competition with the likes of France and Thailand to attract skilled tech professionals into our ecosystem, when we groom local tech talent.

Featured Image Credit: Campaign Asia

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