Foreign talent issue can be 'easily stirred up' but vital for Singapore: Chan Chun Sing

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing. PHOTO: Screengrab from Gov.sg YouTube channel

SINGAPORE — While acknowledging that the recruitment of foreign talent into Singapore is an issue that can be “easily stirred up” because it concerns jobs and the kind of society Singapore wants to build, taking an “inward-looking, protectionist approach” is not the answer, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Monday (2 September).

“We will never stop putting Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do and will continue to develop every Singaporean to their fullest potential so that they can fulfil their aspirations and seize opportunities in Singapore and beyond,” said Chan, who was speaking in Parliament.

He added that there was a need to complement the local pipeline with skilled workers from all around the world to meet “surging demand”.

“If Singapore sits back and does nothing, we will almost certainly be left behind.”

The Minister was responding to a question by Member of Parliament for West Coast Patrick Tay. Tay had asked whether there was a need for the Tech@SG programme which facilitates technology firms in the hiring of foreign talent, in light of current economic conditions and the focus on strengthening the Singaporean Core.

Chan noted that the demand for tech talent is far outstripping the local supply, citing a recent Straits Times report that the demand for technology jobs in the Republic rose by 20 percent in the last 12 months, but there was a shortage of supply.

“Companies have also given our agencies feedback that we lack experienced software engineers and product managers. These are often people that can marry both technical leadership and commercial acumen, manage larger tech teams in the hundreds and thousands, and are highly valued because they are in short supply,” said Chan.

However, with a global shortage of tech talent, competition is intense. Chan cited countries like France and Thailand, which have introduced special visa programmes to attract highly skilled tech professionals.

He stressed, “We have only a small window to build a critical mass of high-end professionals, start-ups and companies. There will only be a few such nodes globally. How we do today will decide whether we make it as a tech hub, or not.”

Simultaneously, the government has been working to widen the local tech talent pool - more than 74,000 training places have been taken up or committed under the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA). This will amount to about one third of Singapore’s ICT professionals across the economy.

Tertiary institutions here offer around 200 full-time tech-related courses today. Chan noted that in academic year 2018, more than 63,000 locals enrolled in these courses, which received about $1.1 billion in government funding.

“Deep tech industries and companies are the linchpin for the future economy. Singapore must develop our tech ecosystem and ride this growth, to create more opportunities for Singaporeans.”

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