SG Faces Growing AI Talent Shortage

Image credit: iStockphoto/nitsawan

COVID-19 accelerated demand and adoption of cloud and machine learning (ML). The benefits are clear. What is unclear is whether Singapore can offer the talents needed to drive these initiatives, especially as the government clamps down on foreign talent.

In September 2020, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing reportedly said that the country’s foreign worker policies are moving toward “quality rather than quantity.” He said Singapore would bring in foreign talent “in a calibrated manner.”

The statements follow Singapore’s moves to raise the qualifying salary for Employment Passes and S Passes for the second time in a year. Employment Passes are for foreign professionals, managers and executives. S Passes are for mid-skilled employees and require employers to post a job advertisement for at least 28 days.

When NTUC LearningHub (NTUC LHUB) launched its Industry Insights report on cloud computing and ML in Singapore, it showed that the current local talent pool is not enough. The report is based on in-depth interviews with industry experts, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and NTUC LHUB, and a survey of 300 hiring managers across Singapore industries.

The report noted that 89% of Singapore employers are accelerating cloud and ML adoption in their companies due to COVID-19. Employers see both technologies as critical to improving business performance (64%), obtaining business insights from big data (59%), and reducing the workload of mundane or tedious tasks (53%).

Yet, Singapore employers also cited talent as the most considerable hindrance to the adoption, 32% of Singapore employers saying they have an insufficient talent to implement cloud and ML technologies. In-house IT support (64%) is a significant issue. Other reasons include “employees do not have the relevant skill sets” (58%) and “the lack of financial resources” (46%).

As a result, employers are looking inward to overcome this shortage. Fifty-five percent said they upskilled employees who have relevant skill sets/roles, while 44% reskilled those who have entirely different skillsets/roles. Three in five (61%) employers indicated that they are open to hiring individuals with relevant micro-credentials, even if these candidates have no relevant experience or education degrees.

Looking to the future, four in five employers (81%) agree or strongly agree that ML will be the most in-demand artificial intelligence (AI) skill in 2021. Meanwhile, seven out of 10 surveyed (70%) indicated they would be willing to offer a premium for talent with AI and ML skills. 

“While much of the talent demand encompasses technical positions such as data scientists and data engineers, businesses are also looking for staff to pick up practical ML and data science skillsets that can be applied to their existing work. That is why in today’s digital age, most professionals would benefit greatly from picking up some data science skills to enable them to deploy ML applications and use cases in their organization,” said Isa Nasser, head of ICT at NTUC LHUB.  

AWS believes that collaboration between government, business, education, and training organizations will be crucial to alleviate this talent crunch.

“The report reinforces the growing demand for a cloud-skilled workforce in Singapore and the critical need to upskill and reskill local talent,” says Tan Lee Chew, the ASEAN managing director for the worldwide public sector at AWS.

“The collaboration across government, businesses, education and training institutions will be instrumental in helping Singapore employers address these skills gaps. AWS will continue to collaborate with training providers like NTUC LearningHub to make skills training accessible to help Singaporeans, from students to adult learners, to remain relevant today and prepare for the future,” he adds.

Image credit: iStockphoto/nitsawan