Singapore

Huge shortage of infocomm professionals in Singapore: Vivian Balakrishnan

Minister says S'poreans must be prepared to train and reskill to secure the jobs

Jobs are available for Singaporeans in the infocomm space over the next three years, with the Republic facing a huge shortage of professionals, said Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

Singaporeans can secure these well-paying jobs if they are prepared to train and reskill, Mr Balakrishnan, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, told The Straits Times.

He said digitalisation and disruption had already taken root when the current crisis struck. Covid-19 accelerated these trends.

While Singapore's immediate priority was to save jobs, that was not enough because "jobs are going to change", he added.

That is why the bulk of the Covid-19 support measures, totalling almost $100 billion in the four Budget announcements, focused on getting companies to re-engineer their processes and workers to learn new skills "so that they are ready for the new opportunities when the crisis recedes".

Citing the infocomm space, he said it currently employed around 200,000 professionals in Singapore and would require another 60,000 over the next three years.

But the education system was producing only 2,800 infocomm graduates each year.

This is why the Government is also encouraging mid-career switches, he said.

SUBSIDISING OPPORTUNITIES

Dr Balakrishnan said the Government was looking into subsidising opportunities for Singaporeans to take up temporary assignments, attachments and traineeships during this down period, while waiting for permanent jobs to open up.

It also wanted training institutions to step up and employers to change their mindsets.

"We should not have to apologise that we are tilting the playing field in favour of our own citizens," said Dr Balakrishnan.

"We may need foreigners to supplement us or to help us expand the overall pie, but the core and the bulk of the opportunities must come to our people."

Even currently, Dr Balakrishnan said, there was a shortage of engineers and it was not a matter of paper qualifications.

More broadly speaking, Dr Balakrishnan said he saw job opportunities springing up in what he called "high-tech, high-touch and high-art" areas.

"If you're a programmer, a UX (user experience) designer or an expert in Python, artificial intelligence and machine learning... or better still, you create robots, you have no shortage of jobs," he said.

DEMAND

There would also continue to be a demand for workers in the "high-touch" areas that required face-to-face interactions with other human beings - such as the healthcare, education and social services sectors.

Nor did he see machines taking over "high art" jobs such as painting, writing, video recording, directing, scripting, and sound and light engineering.

But he was less sanguine about sectors such as F&B and retail. "The answer to when (they) will recover depends on when we will be rid of Covid-19...You speak to doctors. Nobody is in a position to give you that warranty yet."

Employment