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Singapore faces a talent crisis as tech giants grow

Singapore: At least three recruiters contact Singapore software engineer Xiao Yuzhuang every day with job offers.

Demand for Xiao’s skills has increased since he graduated in 2014 with a computer engineering degree, but now he shrugs off offers, having recently joined owner of TikTok Bytedance after several years with Grab in Southeast Asia.

“It’s not like I want to change jobs frequently,” said Xiao.

Singapore aims to become a regional technology hub, but faces a severe talent crisis as more companies enter, according to interviews with more than a dozen recruiters, companies and workers.

Chinese Tencent, Bitdance, US-based Zoom Video Communications, and unicorn Grab and Sea Ltd. are among the companies expanding in Singapore, fueling a war on tech talent in the city-state, with the unemployment rate reaching its highest level in 16 years due to Recession Caused By Coronavirus.

“Some member firms have expanded their operations … and are looking to hire more data scientists, and more programmers,” said Lee Hsien Hsien, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.

“So demand is very strong but supply is relatively weak, which then slows down some of the expansion plans.”

As many as 500 new tech jobs are posted each week on job sites, according to NodeFlair, which helps recruit for Bytedance and Sea’s e-commerce company Shopee.

Government Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in June that the information communications sector would need another 60,000 professionals over the next three years.

In response to a Reuters query about the number, the Communications Ministry said in mid-September that there were nearly 10,000 technology-related jobs on the government-run jobs portal and another 6,800 jobs and training grants would be created by June 2021 through industrial partnerships.

Some talent seekers said border restrictions due to the coronavirus and tight foreign worker policies are delaying employment abroad, exacerbating the shortage. Some tech professionals can request pay increases of up to 30% when switching jobs.

“It’s not sustainable,” said Daljit Sall of recruitment firm Randstad, who expects salaries to equalize once borders reopen and as the talent pool develops.

The government has retrained thousands of people with technical skills while enrollment in IT courses at Singapore colleges has increased by 17% over the past three years to around 7,600 for the 2020 academic year.

Small island

Singapore, an Asian base for many multinational corporations and banks, has had a tight job market for years, and the country of 5.7 million people does not have the ability to keep up with technical skills and quickly experience the industry’s needs.

“There are a lot of tech companies coming in and it’s a small island,” said Ragulan Pathi, head of Asia Pacific at Zoom, which plans to employ hundreds of engineers.

“Simple math means that at some point your talent will run out,” Pathhe said, adding that Singapore’s program to allocate visas to foreign workers was practical.

For now, the employment crisis doesn’t seem to be putting off anyone. She said the Economic Development Board (EDB) is getting strong interest from global technology companies keen to expand their operations.

“We continually strive to ensure that companies that have set up here have access to a strong Singaporean workforce complemented by a diversified foreign workforce,” said managing director Chng Kai Fong.

The Economic Development Board has various programs to fill the skills shortage including one that helps technology companies bring in talent from abroad and a new work visa for first-class technology executives.

Recruiters said the work visa, which was launched this month, has raised many inquiries. But it is limited to 500 participants and has strict criteria.

Firms are looking for ways to transact. Shopping Rewards platform ShopBack is redistributing the workload of existing engineers to fulfill new orders.

There is a 250-person Fintech engineering team of Nium in India. CEO Brajit Nano said its team of 13 product managers is multiplying in Singapore.

Singapore’s open economy has been hit hard by the pandemic, airlines and tourism in particular, and he thanks former Singapore airline host, Alloysius Lee, for having decided to study data analytics.

Lee, 32, said, “I feel lucky … I’ve spent the last few years learning and acquiring a new skill.”

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