SiTF urged to help tech companies develop ICM manpower capability

The Singapore infocomm Technology Industry has been urged to mobilise industry to develop ICM manpower capability.  

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister of Communications and Information also called on SiTF which has some of the best tech business minds to step forward as mentors as well as to help tech SMEs to group together to identify skills they need.

Dr. Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information, shared on plans for developing quality infocomm media talent.

Government can provide the funding, he said, but industry must pull together too to support the government’s efforts in manpower development, he said at the CXO breakfast meeting held on April 22 at the Suntec Convention Centre.

Over the next three years, the government has set aside $120 million for manpower development. One new programme is the tech skills accelerator which is an integrated approach to identifying ICT skills and then matching jobs to employer needs. Industry partners like DBS Bank and Singtel are already part of this programme.

The accelerator’s curriculum will emphasis skills upgrading and re-skilling to improve the employability of ICT professionals.“The focus is greater recognition of skills mastery. I want to encourage everyone to look beyond academic qualifications,” said the Minister.   

The event was well received and attended by about 100 senior executives.

Work on drawing up a framework for the accelerator is still on-going and he would like to get industry feedback to find out how it can best be set up. 

“IDA will conduct an industry briefing in May to provide more info and identify ways to work with industry to make this tech skills accelerator a success.”

Mentoring is another way SiTF can assist in manpower development, he noted.

“SiTF has the most successful tech minds who should be mentoring new talent. These are exciting times and we need more Singaporeans to take up opportunities that will emerge over the next few years.”

Dr Yaacob spent about 60 minutes in a dialogue with about the 100  SiTF members who attended the breakfast meeting. Members focussed on manpower availability, ICT salaries and how tech SMEs can compete here and overseas.

Responding to a question on whether Singapore has enough graduates to meet the expected 30,000 ICT jobs in the next three years, Dr Yaacob said the first thing is to reduce the leakage of ICT trained professionals to other sectors.

Currently, the leakage is about 30 per cent, he said. To reduce the leakage, ICT jobs must be made more exciting. Internships and outreach programmes to schools, universities, polytechnics and Institute of Technical Education must be organised to  show bright young minds the exciting opportunities in this sector. 

Dialogue session with Minister Yaacob Ibrahim

Employers like the newly formed Govtech Agency and the Cyber Security Agency (CSA) will have exciting new jobs that tackle Smart Nation type of projects while the CSA will look at protecting and defending Singapore’s digital borders and assets, said the Minister.

“Then we want to do conversions, that is take science and engineering graduates and convert them to ICT professionals. We will put them through immersive programmes for three to six months to train them in ICT skills. At the end of the training, there will be jobs waiting for them.”

Meanwhile, company led training will continue because current ICT professionals must also go through upgrading courses so that they do not get bored and leave the industry, added the Minister.

With all these efforts, Dr Yaacob noted that the reality is that not all ICT jobs here can be filled by Singapoeans.  About 27% of ICT employment are foreigners, he said, adding that “there needs to be a judicious mix of foreign and local workers”.

“We want to build a strong Singaporean core. But if a company sees business opportunities and he needs skills which can’t be obtained locally, then it has to source from outside.” 

If the skill is available locally, then companies and employers must take a long term view of investing in the young and build the capability so that in one to two years, they can develop to become experts. 

The Minister also re-assured SiTF members that although the Government will be hiring ICT professionals for the public sector like GTA and CSA, “it will not suffocate industry”. 

Ms Jacqueline Poh, CEO of GTA and who was present at the breakfast meeting, added that the public sector has no ability to have infinite increase in the number of engineers it hires. 

Ms. Jacqueline Poh, CEO of Government Technology Agency, addressed the audience on government agency’s requirement of ICT manpower.

“We’re constrained by manpower framework. The Ministry of Manpower caps the manpower that the Government is allowed to take in. For every person we bring in, it is carefully managed,” she said. 

There is not a huge expansion for ICT recruitment without consideration for the rest of the economy, she added. 

On a question of how SMEs can send people for training in the proposed tech skills accelerator, Dr Yaacob said that SiTF can take the lead by identifying the different skills needs by tech SMEs. Then they can group together SMEs who need the same skills and then discuss with Government the funding needed for this training.

A pertinent issue on pay of ICT professionals also arose during the dialogue session. During the Budget debate, the Government said that a fresh ICT graduate earned about $4,300 a month but SMEs at the breakfast meeting said they cannot afford to pay this salary. 

Dr Yaacob said the nature of ICT work is complex and demanding and so commands a premium. Increasingly, it is also becoming  skill base rather than qualification base. 

The market will have to set the salary range. But most importantly the ICT sector will be one of the fastest growing, and so the tech employers will have the opportunity to set salaries. 

He urged the industry to look at the different skills that are needed. Cybersecurity is growing, he said, but experts are in short supply. So experts are earning higher salaries. 

“I think the salaries are sustainable because we will have many smart nation applications. Smart nation will be a life time type of project,  not only one time,” he added. 

Asked for three wishes he wanted for the ICM industry, he said he wanted the industry to be innovative, more entrepreneurial and that employers would “balance our interest that everything grows” and that Singapore must protect and develop its Singapore core. 

Concluding his talkand dialogue sessions, he highlighted that the entire transformation of Singapore’s  economy is a partnership between SiTF and itself. 

“I’ve been in this sector for 5-6 years which is exciting because ICM sector is growing with the country. Smart nation is just taking off, it’s so exciting. 

“If I  were to live my life again, I would be an IT engineer not structural engineer,” said Dr Yaacob. 

Minister Yaacob with our sponsors and VIP guests (From left to right: Mr Andrew Chow, Organising Chairman, CXO Breakfast Talk & Councillor, SiTF; Ms Claudia Tan, Head, Public Sector, NCS Singapore Pte Ltd; Mr Takeshi Kazami, President & CEO, NTT Communications, NTT Singapore Pte Ltd; Ms Jacqueline Poh, Managing Director, Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore – IDA; Ms Shirley Wong, Chairman of SiTF)

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