As part of the opening address at Tech in Asia’s 11th annual conference, Dr. Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State Ministry of Communications & Information, talked about why tech talent and innovation matters for Singapore’s digital economy.
He first noted that rapid changes that are currently happening at the back of a pandemic, including deepening geopolitical tensions, new economic disruptions and shifting work trends.
Focusing on the theme of ‘built to last’, Dr. Janil questioned what it really takes for Singapore to remain relevant in an ever-changing climate, and went on to cite some fundamental building blocks for adaptability that will be vital for us to thrive in the digital future.
“It starts with a secure, resilient digital infrastructure that connects seamlessly and has interoperability as a fundamental expectation. This is a significant role for the state to make sure that this happens,” stressed Dr. Janil.
He also pointed out that the government has to ensure that Singapore’s business rules are “pro business” — that we lay the foundations for a vibrant digital economy interdependent within, and across, our borders.
However, none of this is going to happen unless Singapore has a highly-skilled workforce, equipped with industry-relevant skillsets for jobs of the future, as well as competitive enterprises that can innovate and seize new opportunities being incentivised to do so, rather than lock in the status quo.
With these factors in consideration, Singapore will become not only resilient and adaptive to the change happening around us, but potentially also be the drivers of change with a lasting impact.
Continued investment in digital infrastructure
“In Singapore, we will continue to invest early in digital infrastructure, ensuring that our people and our companies are well-positioned to benefit early — from whichever disruptive change, digitalisation, and the use of technology to transform our lives and economy,” shared Dr. Janil.
For one, it has invested early in 5G networks. In fact, local telcos are on track to achieve a nationwide coverage by 2025 through standalone networks, not just piggybacked on the existing legacy infrastructure.
The government and its partners have been working to develop use-cases across many sectors that take advantage of 5G’s high speeds and low latencies, creating new opportunities as a result of that early investment in the infrastructure.
Similarly, Singapore will continue to invest in its broadband infrastructure, and it intends to deliver 10 times faster the current access speeds.
“The latest technology is helpful in sprinting ahead of competition, [but] it is of no relevance if it is not trusted. As we invest in our digital infrastructure to grow that digital economy, we have to ensure that the infrastructure is secure and resilient,” he said.
“Instead of viewing security and resilience as costs, we … encourage people to think of them as enablers of the digital economy. A more secure and digital infrastructure that is resilient will enable us to engage with each other — with competitors, collaborators, partners — with greater confidence and trust. And this greater security and resilience will enable us to move faster and go further.”
He went on to cite examples of how increasing numbers of businesses are taking advantage of cloud platforms. The value proposition from cost, technical agility and commoditisation is clear, but the cybersecurity of the cloud is increasingly becoming more important.
“We have tried to provide clarity on the levels of security by different cloud service providers by rolling out the multi-tier cloud security standard from government to give businesses a framework for assurance that their data and systems that are hosted on the cloud are adequately protected, within a framework that is easily explainable and interoperate with other sets of governance frameworks.”
Meeting the demand for tech talents
There’s indeed a lot that Singapore can do in terms of infrastructure and build systems that shore up trust and resilience.
While we make use of innovative technology, Singapore must also continually invest in its people.
“As the digital economy in Singapore has grown, so has the demand for tech talents. Digitalisation has created many exciting job opportunities for fresh graduates and mid-career workers,” said Dr Janil.
“We need to continue to provide opportunities for training and learning to groom the next wave of talent to make sure that there are people capable of seizing the opportunities that we create, and powering the companies that will take advantage of these opportunities.”
As such, the government has been working with industry partners to train Singaporeans to take on emerging roles in technology.
One of its flagship schemes is called the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA), which was designed to meet industries’ immediate needs. Since 2016, it has placed and trained more than 12,000 individuals directly into “good tech jobs”, and trained another 160,000 who are already in jobs with the next wave of tech skills.
It also curates programmes for many groups, from different backgrounds and different educational qualifications.
In fact, a new TeSA scheme has been launched for ITE (Institute of Technical Education) and polytechnic graduates. This new programme brings companies together with training providers, ITEs and polytechnics, through internships, apprenticeships and work-study programmes.
Over the next three years, ITE and polytechnic students and graduates will benefit from more than 1,000 job openings created by the companies on this partnership alliance.
“We hope and welcome more firms to join us in this effort to grow our local tech talent pipeline, curating these opportunities for students — helping them develop their skills and understanding the market right at the start of their career and plugging them into the best opportunities,” said Dr. Janil.
While he acknowledges that they will “move around” and seek opportunities within the tech space, giving them this boost at the start will help Singapore build up its tech talent pipeline over the medium term.
Local companies have a part to play in driving tech innovation
Dr. Janil pointed out that local enterprises are critical in driving the innovation in Singapore. As such, the government will continue to support local tech companies to grow not just within Singapore, but also beyond.
One example is Pulsifi, a Singapore-based HR tech firm that was founded in 2016. It is a people data platform that accurately predicts candidates’ job performance and work potential fit with work style values, helping to reduce up to 70 per cent of man hours required for talent acquisition and data management.
Pulsifi has benefited from one of the government’s enterprise development grants and has gone on to win numerous awards. Most recently, it managed to secure a global contract with Nestlé Group.
Besides grants, the government also provides support in accelerating the growth of promising Singapore-based tech companies through programmes such as IMDA Accreditation@SG, in which companies are essentially accredited as a solution provider.
One example is Hubble, which tapped on accreditation networks to become one of the solution providers for the local construction sector. It managed to raise S$11 million in January 2022 during their Series B funding, and has since expanded their headcount in Singapore.
“We encourage young startups with innovative solutions to use these approaches that we have — funding, accreditation programmes — to find your first reference customer, and we welcome developed tech SMEs to further their business ventures through these programmes.”
A vibrant tech ecosystem is key for these ideas to find their way out into this world. This is where another IMDA programme called SPARK, which supports Singapore-based startups, comes into the picture.
It connects growing companies with community partners — including global consulting firms, law firms, integrated communications firms, product design firms and tech giants Meta and Google — providing expertise to grow our talent and tech ecosystem to support community use cases.
Concluding his speech, Dr. Janil emphasised three fundamentals that Singapore is focusing on for its digital economy — investing in digital infrastructure, especially in emerging and new technologies; investing in people, especially in developing the local talent pipeline; and investing in its ability to grow and develop a vibrant tech community through partnership programmes.
“These efforts will lay the foundation for Singapore to become a leading and tech and innovation hub. The aspects of our work will last are the communities that we build, the talented people that we bring along on the journey, and the partnerships that we create — these will lead to future excellence and innovation,” he summed up.
Featured Image Credit: Screenshot of TIA Conference 2022