Singapore — Dr Vivian Balakrishnan hopes Singaporeans overseas with expert digital skills will want to return home and help build the country’s Smart Nation endeavours.

In an interview as part of the CNA Leadership Summit 2020 broadcast on Tuesday night (Oct 27), Dr Balakrishnan, the Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, made these remarks, adding that at the same time initiatives are being made to shore up local talents.

He said that there are “hundreds” of overseas Singaporean tech talents in the US, China and South-east Asia, saying at the interview: “So the first thing is wherever possible, bring our people back home … The second source is (to) grow our own people.”

Dr Balakrishnan, who is also Foreign Minister, said that the number of local tech talents have increased, based on the trebling of enrollees in related courses in institutions of higher learning over the past few years, but added their number may be insufficient, and therefore foreign talent has been needful thus far.

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“So the third element has been (to) carefully and judiciously … complement our own local work force by bringing in people from overseas who … truly have the skills that we need, who complement us, who have the networks, who have that extra ideas and verve to help us with the start-up scene in order to grow a bigger ecosystem.”

CNA Digital’s Chief Editor Jaime Ho asked the minister about the talent needed to ensure that the vision for the Smart Nation comes to pass.

Dr Balakrishnan said: “When I meet a Singaporean overseas, my first pitch to them is there are … lots of opportunities in Singapore for you to do meaningful work.

“I hope you will consider the Government, you will consider the local companies and you will consider the multinational digital companies … All the tech giants are here and in fact, it’s no secret (that) more and more of them are coming here.”

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In addition, the minister noted that it was good that three significant factors were in place when the Covid-19 pandemic occurred — “the infrastructure, the talent and digital inclusion” — as this made work from home (WFH) arrangements, as well as home-based learning (HBL) for young people, readily available.

The Government was also able to distribute face masks and provide information in an organised way due to the country’s strong broadband and wireless connectivity.

After Sars, Dr Balakrishnan said: “We were in a sense much more prepared than many other places have been”, although there were still “gaps exposed”,  especially in disseminating accurate information.

“In fact, the issue was not just publicising accurate information but also dealing with the fact that there are so many competing narratives. Getting above that pebble noise was a challenge,” he said.

“It illustrated that we need to explain, re-explain, reassure, and I think what was helpful in our case was that we were able to do so in an open and timely fashion.”

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He also tackled Singapore’s move from being digital consumers into digital producers, which is necessary for the future.

“In order for Singapore to find that niche for the future, we do need to be able to make, to create, to innovate, to synthesise or in digital speak, they will say to mesh,” hence the need for sufficient tech talent.

“That requires people with the ability to create, to make, to fix, to find new insights and offer new services. This is, I believe, crucial for our future.” /TISG

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