The impact of digital transformation on Singapore's workforce

Singapore is facing a rapid change in how consumers, businesses and industries engage with technology, in part because of the impact of continuous technological innovation, as well as local government plans such as the Smart Nation initiative. The Smart Nation initiative is an effort by the Singapore government and the different Singaporean economies to come together and utilize technology to the fullest with the aim of improving the lives of citizens, creating more opportunities, and building stronger communities. The manufacturing and business landscape is evolving rapidly because of the increasing penetration of IT, mobile (8.22 million mobile connections) and digitisation advances in Singapore society. This is also an effort by the government to solidify Singapore’s regional status as an ICT (Information and Communications Technology) and innovation hub. This positioning will not only attract new businesses from overseas, but will also encourage local organisations to see the importance of weaving technology into their organisation’s ecosystem. It also means that businesses of all sizes will need to maintain their competitive advantage by continuously refreshing their employees’ ICT knowledge and skills.

A recent survey revealed that Singapore is ranked number 1 on the World’s Most Tech-Ready Countries. In addition, as the Singapore government introduces innovations that positively impact the daily lives of citizens, including the further adoption of mobile and contactless payments, the introduction of new ways to pay for public transport such as the EZ-Monzee initiative, mobile access to personal and financial information, and various DIY initiatives, employees need to continuously upgrade their ICT skills to remain relevant in the Smart Nation.

This need applies not only to employees but also to companies that are directly involved in technology or communications, but to a majority of SMEs, MNCs and professionals across a wide variety of sectors as ICT plays an increasingly significant role in today’s business success and profit margin. The line between a tech company and a firm that relies on technology is increasingly blurred in Singapore as foundation for Smart Nation is being implemented.

What is happening in Singapore?

In order to attract more global players from all sectors the government is implementing new initiative to make Singapore more virtually connected. For example in 2015, the government  launched S$2.2 billion worth of ICT tenders in digital, data and web services, and IT infrastructure. The government is also investing and promoting cloud computing in order to make work in Singapore more efficient.

As a follow-up, the Singapore government made many research and development initiatives that are geared towards innovations with key area focal points. For instance in 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that the government has allocated S$19 billion to support Singapore's R&D efforts over the next five years. The Research Innovation Enterprise 2020 Plan (RIE2020) aims to bridge the gap between research and solutions. The funding will help address the national challenges, support innovation and encourage companies to adopt emerging technologies. As a part of this initiative, the Singapore government has decided to name Jurong as an innovation district. This innovation district will serve as a hub for start-ups, incubators and accelerators. In addition, the government is concentrating on Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering, Health and Biomedical Sciences, Services and Digital Economy and Urban Solutions and Sustainability as key industries to support. Advancements in the four sectors will ensure that Singapore gains the technological capabilities to further raise productivity and positively impact daily life.

The government has initiated many child-centred programs as well, these initiatives are geared towards making children more accepting and ready for the smart nation. For example, Code@SG. The initiative is geared towards promoting coding and computational skills amongst children at an early age, so that it becomes Singapore’s national capability. The goal will be achieved by working together with relevant stakeholders and introducing the skillsets via infocomm clubs, competitions, and enrichment programmes.

Singapore government is laying down strong ICT foundations that will enable professionals from different background to come together and push the Singapore economy forward. The initiatives to equip everyone even children with ICT skills would help attain the goal of positioning Singapore as IT hub and world’s first Smart Nation.

How can ICT professionals gain an edge in the new Singapore Market?

With the Singapore government introducing so many new research and innovation programmes as a part of the Smart Nation initiative, it is vital to acquire and polish skills, not only for professional growth, but also to better assess how emerging technologies can benefit and continue to benefit organizations and businesses across sectors and sizes.

According to recent research done by Canvas, a learning management system, only 9.5 percent of current and former students in Singapore are equipped with the skills needed for the workplace. That means the remainder are ill-equipped with the necessary technical knowledge needed to be competitive in the workforce. It is important to note that if someone wants to advance their career, they have to look beyond traditional course work. They have to constantly look at opportunities to keep polishing their skills to not only do their job well, but to stay on top of current workplace demands. This opens the door to leveraging new skill sets to advance one’s career.

There are multiple ICT organizations that have industry recognized seminars, workshops, Special Interest Groups (SIGs) and certification courses that are aimed to help Singapore professionals gain an edge in the market. These ICT initiatives are also aimed towards connecting likeminded people from all sectors of the Singapore economy. As the Singapore government implements its Smart Nation plans, employees will need the following key skills and knowledge to gain an edge in the ever-changing digital economy:

  • Fundamental understanding of Business Analytics and Big Data, and how they will advance businesses and industries in Singapore.
  • Strong understanding of all aspects of quality such as principles, practices, concepts, assurance, leadership, planning, and even models.
  • Deep knowledge regarding best practices related to cyber security and how it acts as the core fundamental of the Smart Nation initiative.
  • Diverse skill sets that are able to manage the threats and opportunities faced by organisations.

Conclusion: Current government initiatives aim to not only revolutionise businesses, but also the overall quality of life in Singapore. It is also important to recognise the impact of the S$ 19 billion being invested in ICT. The idea of weaving technology into every aspect of Singapore life will help organisations accept that technology is no longer restricted to one industry. Today, IT is everywhere. Employees and organizations who seek to succeed in the ICT driven Smart Nation will have to upgrade skills in order to reap the benefits of the technologically driven economy. In order to make the upgrading skills more accessible the government has many initiatives, such as Life Long Learning, Tech Skill Accelerator, Skills Future and Workforce Skills Qualifications that encourage Singaporeans to be more proactive in their ongoing training and education, and help employees in every industry gain insightful tech skills. Acquiring and polishing new tech skills because of the ever evolving digitally driven business landscape will not only help employees remain relevant in the years to come, but will help make the dream of a Smart Nation come true.

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