SINGAPORE: Singapore needs more technological talent and the recently announced working document is expected to help the country attract people who are “very good” in the field, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (November 17) night.
Lee, who gave a keynote speech at the Tech Forum 2020 in Singapore, said that the Economic Development Committee launched last week by Tech.Pass is “the driving force and drivers of the technology world”.
He described these as individuals who typically play different roles at the same time – creative, investor, employee, consultant and academic – and can contribute to their capital, networks and knowledge in various parts of the ecosystem.
Unlike the Employment Pass, which is tied to a particular job or employer, the new work passage will “be a personal holder,” giving you the flexibility to move between roles and employers, he added.
Five hundred season tickets will be available from January 2021 when applications open.
“It will be something I hope people will sit down and warn and it will help us attract talent to Singapore,” the prime minister said.
READ: Singapore launches new gateway for experts in foreign technology industry; applications open in January
Mr Lee, who delivered his speech via a live Facebook post, said talent is key as Singapore develops its technology ecosystem.
The country already has an environment that supports science and technology, with a technology-literate population and good infrastructure, such as a nationwide high-speed broadband network.
The government is building its IT engineering capabilities through the Singapore Government Technology Agency (GovTech) as it develops the technology ecosystem and digital industry.
“A lot of the big tech companies today are here and they’re doing engineering work, not just sales and marketing,” he said, referring to technology giants like Google, Facebook and Amazon. This has created a vibrant industrial cluster and good jobs for Singaporeans, he added.
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“So the pieces are slowly getting into place, but the key to all of that is the talent that works,” Mr. Lee said.
“We need more technology talent to grow the industry and address the urgent problems we have and that technology can help us solve it.”
The Prime Minister noted that there is a growing pool of talent in local universities and polytechnics. Companies also bring in foreign talent, including experienced professionals from intermediate and senior levels that Singapore does not have.
But he acknowledged the social problems that can arise when there are “many foreign professionals” in an industry. In particular, Singaporeans in the same field feel competition and discomfort.
Such concerns also tend to “rise to the surface” in economic downturns when people are worried about jobs, he added.
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That’s not the only thing in Singapore, but the country recognizes these issues “harshly” and makes efforts to address them, Mr. Lee said.
“It requires both sides to work on that. Non-Singaporeans need to make an effort to adapt when they are in Singapore, both at work and socially.
“And Singaporeans need to understand for themselves that this will create new and more jobs in Singapore, and they need to make sure that they are treated fairly and that they are not discriminated against,” he said.
In addition, Singapore needs to see that technology companies attract experience and expertise, as well as build industry and capacity.
“Our people need to learn from them, innovate themselves and eventually build our talent pool,” he added.
“And that’s how our policies work. That’s how we work with our Singapore work passes. ”
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SINGAPORE VALUE PROPOSAL
Mr. Lee was asked about Singapore’s proposed value proposition for talent around the world in a series of question-and-answer sessions after his speech.
The moderator – Ms. Karen Tay, director of Smart Nation in the prime minister’s office – has named several factors that talent takes into account when deciding on a job, a city’s opportunities and livability, as well as a city’s culture and company.
Some have said that Singapore may be different from other major technology centers in terms of its socio-political culture, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) issues, as well as a workplace culture that remains hierarchical.
In his response, Mr Lee noted that Singapore faces a number of challenges, such as accelerating the governance system in terms of engineering, organizational and social difficulties.
Meanwhile, many tech companies are growing and doing engineering work here. “Really, the reduction is a chicken and egg problem. If there is more talent, then they can do more engineering work, but they want to do it in Singapore, ”he said.
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When it comes to workplace culture, Lee said that depends on individual companies. Existing organizations may find it difficult to change, although some have created “skunk works” groups to develop new work styles, he said. These teams typically operate outside of the company’s regular procedures to help them develop new ideas and products.
Singapore wants to develop new organizations with “fresh cultures” and these are up and running.
Looking at other cultural aspects, he said Singapore was called a “cultural desert” but has become a vibrant city for art, music, dance and theater.
Mr. Lee also noted that Singapore has been open to the LGBTQ community.
“We welcome them, we really appreciate their contributions,” he said. “And there’s no reason if you’re a member of this community, you shouldn’t join Singapore.”
He pointed out that although Singapore is not a “very liberal” social norm in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, there are differences in the United States as well.
In multi-racial and multi-religious Southeast Asia, issues such as homosexuality “will be sensitive for a long time to come,” but attitudes “are not fixed in stone.” The younger generation, for example, has more liberal views than the older ones.
“So these things are changing but we need to give them time to change and I think it’s not unreasonable to force them, because there’s going to be a push back and you’re going to end up with polarization,” Mr. Lee said.
TECH CRUCIAL IN SINGAPORE’S ANSWER COVID-19
In his keynote address, the Prime Minister also touched on the role of technology in the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Singapore’s situation is “stable” as it now has “better defenses” in testing, contact tracing and safe distance measures. These have allowed for the gradual recovery of economic and social activities, including some foreign travel, as it awaits confirmation of a safe and effective vaccine.
Mr. Lee’s technology has been a “crucial part” of this trip.
On the one hand, biomedical science has played an important role in studying the genome of the new coronavirus, understanding disease patterns and trends, and developing tests and treatments.
Infotechnology has also been instrumental in a number of ways. These include monitoring the status, well-being, and location of a large number of cases, collecting and analyzing COVID-19 data to locate hot spots, patterns, and trends, as well as ensuring compliance with home stay notices.
In terms of contact tracing, the technology allowed the development of several solutions, such as the Bluetooth TraceTogether tool, national check-in systems like SafeEntry and VISION, which integrates existing databases to speed up contact tracing and issue quarantine orders immediately.
Lee said contracting was a “manual and labor-intensive business” in 2003 at the outbreak of SARS.
But Singapore’s response was “no mistake” and many blind spots were found.
For example, not all government IT systems used up-to-date techniques such as APIs or cloud systems and worked together.
“And when the cases multiply, all of those delays and inefficiencies change,” Mr. Lee said.
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As a result, new products like VISION had to be developed “in a hurry”.
“(They’re more than minimal viable products), but they’re far from smoothed versions and still working. But they showed that we had the ability at home … Most importantly we learned by building them … the importance of ‘ops-tech’,” he said.
“This means that operations must be linked to technology requirements from the beginning and that technology people must be involved early and (with operations) work with people to understand operating conditions, understand requirements (and) meet requirements.”
Going beyond COVID-19, technology is a “command function” in many government activities, from health to public housing, Mr. Lee said, adding, “Without technology, you’re stuck.”
Senior leaders will need to understand that technology is key to their “function in Singapore’s governance and public administration”.
More technology needs to be understood and recognized, and there should be sufficient public service leaders who can provide technical leadership in complex engineering projects from a social and political perspective, the prime minister added.
RCEP “MAIN STEP FORWARD”
Among other issues raised in the question-and-answer segment, Mr. Lee was asked how the newly signed Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP) will affect Singapore’s technology scene and opportunities for start-ups.
Launched in 2012, RCEP is a 10-member trade agreement between the ASEAN bloc, along with China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Named the world’s largest trade agreement, it was signed over the weekend after eight years of discussing details.
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In his response, Mr. Lee said that RCEP is “a major step forward in Asian economic cooperation.”
For Singapore, it is also a “significant improvement” that will benefit the “full range of traders” including the IT, manufacturing and services industries.