PM frontrunner says Singapore needs foreign tech talent due to ageing population

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Education Minister Ong Ye Kung told international news publication Bloomberg that Singapore needs foreign tech talent, in a recent interview. Ong said that this is necessary due to Singapore’s ageing population and a shortage of high-tech workers.

Citing government figures that show that a quarter of the country will be 65 or older in 2030, Ong said: “A transformation is required. A transformation towards an economy that is more innovation-driven, that is more productivity-driven.”

Ong, who was elected as Member of Parliament in the 2015 General Election three years ago, is one of a small group of ruling party politicians tipped to succeed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and become Singapore’s fourth head of Government.

Along with Ong, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat remain rumoured to be the three frontrunners for the position.

Interest in PM Lee’s successor heated up when the PM repeatedly announced in recent years that he would step down some time after the next general election, which must be held by 15 Jan 2021.

Asserting that Singapore will continue placing little restriction on foreign labour for high-end jobs such as in artificial intelligence, Ong told Bloomberg that the nation will maintain the quota system for lower-skilled industries such as construction.

Ong indicated that the gates for foreign talent in the high-end tech sector is open since Singaporeans might not yet be trained well enough for the sector to take off primarily based on local talent: “Talent is very short everywhere in the world – AI talent, software programmers. We let them in because we require a critical mass for the sector to take off, while we continue to train Singaporeans for those jobs.”

Ong’s views come after business-oriented social network LinkedIn published a report last Thursday, showing talent migration trends in Singapore for tech jobs.

LinkedIn said, “The reality is a global hub requires global talent. While Singapore is committed to upskilling its local workforce, there remains a shortage of technical talent in the market,” and added that Singapore’s Ministry of Manpower (MOM) finds that “a lack of necessary skills and work experience is the biggest hurdle to finding suitable talent, particularly in IT-related roles.”

The social network then published a graph showing talent migration patterns in Singapore. The graph shows what the top five countries foreign talent for five tech jobs come from.

For example, the graph shows that about 20 per cent of foreign talent who became data scientists and cyber security specialists in Singapore are from India:

The release of the report sparked frustrations among Singaporeans who felt that the report showed that most IT jobs in Singapore are held by foreigners.

The backlash was so great that MOM came out to say that the talent migration section of the report has been “misunderstood”:

“The report thus shows which countries this ‘talent migration’ is from. Some people have misunderstood the LinkedIn report as saying that many or even most of the jobs are being held by foreigners.”