Singapore has always been a hub for innovation and progress. They are among the first to adopt new technologies and utilise it efficiently. However, the fact that Singapore is now facing a potential shortage on skilled labour is a testament to just how fast technology is progressing.
The city-state is a major producer of products ranging from aircraft engines to medical equipment and oil rigs, and top firms such as Rolls-Royce and German industrial conglomerate Siemens have operations there.
The Singaporean workforce is well-educated to match the demanding job requirements. However, due to the size of their population as well as the blinding pace of technological advancement, the recruitment pool for labour skilled in tech such as AI, robotics or 3D printing remains relatively low. This combined with the governments efforts to curb foreign hiring may lead to a bumpy road in the near future.
Insurance broker, Aon, recently identified failure to innovate as being the number one risk factor for Singaporean SMEs. The unfortunate irony of the situation now is that the skilled labour issue that Singapore faces now.
AFP reports that government authorities are working closely with businesses to set-up and find workers, but speedy technological changes in industries are making things hard for the government which is used to planning ahead.
“Ten years ago, policymakers could plan with greater certainty. The age of disruptive technology is creating a lot more uncertainty”, said Song Seng Wun, a regional economist with CIMB Private Banking.
In a recent report, the ministry of manpower said that one in three job openings in 2018 was left unfilled for at least six months and among the reasons employers gave was “lack of candidates with the necessary specialised skills”.
Traditionally, Singapore has welcomed foreign workers to help bolster sectors ranging from construction to investment banking. This allowed them to plug skills shortages in respective industries as well as do jobs that locals shun. Approximately 40 per cent of the city state’s 5.6 million inhabitants consists of foreigners.
However, animosity has been growing among the local population at the large number of foreigners in the city. Locals residents are beginning to blame the foreigners for overcrowding issues as well as pushing up the costs of living in an already rather expensive city.
The government has responded by making it more difficult to hire and making companies prioritise local recruitment. This includes moves such as giving priority to Singaporeans, accepting applications for certain higher-skilled jobs only from locals before opening them up to foreigners.