KPMG joins calls for flexible policies to help firms go digital

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Professional services firm lays out its recommendations for Budget 2018

Professional services company KPMG has joined a growing chorus calling for more flexible manpower policies to help companies go digital.

Its Budget recommendations include a suggestion to allow companies to hire more foreigners - especially in fast-growing sectors such as cyber security and data analytics.

These come amid mounting concerns about a shortage of tech talent here, even as companies are urged to ramp up their digital transformation efforts.

KPMG said manpower policies can be tweaked to meet the needs of companies keen on investing in digital technologies.

The Employment Pass framework could be relaxed to encourage companies to bring in foreign talent with key skills, such as cyber security experts.

Companies should also get tax incentives for training locals in these skills, KPMG said.

There have been similar calls from the Singapore Business Federation. Its chairman Teo Siong Seng and chief executive Ho Meng Kit said last week that having the right tech talent is essential to helping companies transform, but it will take time to build up such a pool here.

"Some of this manpower will have to be foreign. We should do a detailed study on skills shortages, and... there should be flexibility... to bring in (foreign manpower) to train locals in a particular skill," Mr Ho said.

KPMG's proposals for the Budget - which will be delivered on Feb 19 - also include calls for tax incentive schemes to be enhanced and extended to encourage businesses to digitise as well as invest in research and development (R&D).

If these tax incentives are not beefed up, Singapore could become one of the least attractive countries in the world to undertake R&D after the popular Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) Scheme expires this year, KPMG noted.

"We are not asking for the PIC to be extended," said KPMG head of tax Chiu Wu Hong, adding that it is instead calling for a more targeted approach.

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said many smaller companies remain reluctant to invest in costly R&D.

This is an issue especially for most SMEs, which focus mainly on the domestic market.

Said Mr Wee: "It is only through internationalisation that companies can tap into a bigger trade pie. Companies have to think of themselves as regional or global enterprises."

Expanding overseas could also help companies manage costs, he said.