Q&A: Constant need to adapt skills even as digitalisation brings jobs to infocomm sector

May 2nd, 2017 | by Alfred Siew
Q&A: Constant need to adapt skills even as digitalisation brings jobs to infocomm sector

Khoong Hock Yun, assistant chief executive for development at IMDA. PHOTO: Twitter

Singapore has always been impatient, nervously looking out for the next wave that could float its boats or drown the tiny red dot in the oceans surrounding it.

This swim-or-sink attitude has never been clearer than in recent years, as it faces the same issues many developed nations face, after stunning growth in the past 50 years.

With digital transformation top of the agenda across various industries, the country’s government is encouraging people to get their hands dirty in coding and programming, to get back into an infocomm industry that had seen both boom and bust in the past 20 years.

Khoong Hock Yun, the assistant chief executive for development at the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) believes that infocomm technology (ICT) talent will always be in demand, despite the cyclical nature of the economy.

However, getting to a level where one can ride the ups and downs in an ever-changing industry means constantly re-skilling and up-skilling, he adds. And that’s after years of honing one’s skills at a job, instead of expecting a fast advance in a smooth career.

In this month’s Q&A, he tells Techgoondu of the various schemes that Singaporeans can tap on to enter the industry and stay relevant, as the country seeks to take advantage of the opportunities that disruption brings, instead of being a victim of it.

(Note: The responses have been edited for clarity and house style)

Q: Many companies, especially SMEs, have offshored their development because they find local graduates hard to employ because of their higher wage demands and general impatience to move on from the “grunt” work of coding or programming. Is there a way to change this?

In the fast-paced world that we live in today where pervasive digitisation and technological advances bring about disruption, we need to have a mindset change in order to transform challenges we face into opportunities and possibilities.

While we understand the constant push for advancement, local graduates should understand that in an increasingly hyper-connected world, work flows to those with relevant skills, those who can add real business value, and yet charges a competitive price for the value added.

In more developed countries, people spend eight to 10 years as an individual contributor before they are eligible to be a manager.

Therefore people may want to consider it valuable in the long run to spend adequate time to hone one’s technical skills. Mundane tasks or sometimes ‘grunt work’ can be seen in the light of more practice to become more skillful, and/or step to build up to the next skill level. Only when we are more skillful can we be tasked to work on more complex challenges.

There is a need for continual skills acquisition in school and in the workplace. We need to assess candidate suitability beyond qualifications. Coding or programming work experience is essential for an entry level development role as it forms the basis and foundation for taking on higher level roles.

Employees need to be kept informed of their career progression pathways, and companies can use the National Infocomm Competency Framework as a guide to do so. At the same time, companies also need to ensure that the remuneration offered is competitive in order to recruit and retain a quality workforce.

Furthermore, we need to encourage the mind-set change of embracing lifelong learning, re-skilling and up-skilling – in both employers and employees.

Q: In the 2000s, Singapore identified project management, rather than technical skills such as coding, as the way forward. How has this contributed to the shortage of ICT skills in the sector?

Technical skills have always been an emphasis, with support provided by the government to build up technical skills and competencies. However, increased efforts would be made in in-demand areas, such as project management, in the early 2000s.

Over the recent few years, the global economy has shifted towards an increasing trend of digitisation, causing an exponential increase in demand for ICT professionals and technical specialists, and contributing to a shortage of ICT professionals.

Hence, the government has stepped up training efforts with support programmes for fresh and mid-career professionals under the TechSkills Accelerator.

Q: ICT is a sector where “hot” skills change so fast. What needs to change to get new graduates and mid-career professionals always ready for the next big requirement?

Fresh and mid-career professionals need to continuously update both domain knowledge and tech skills to stay relevant. Under the TechSkills Accelerator, there are modular and mostly certifiable skills courses under CITREP+ for a broad-based approach to skills development, so that individuals can upskill or deepen their knowledge in various skills of choice to fill gaps.

There is also a targeted approach with companies, coding schools, continuing education and training partners and other organisational partners under programmes like the Company-Led Training Programme, Tech Immersion and Placement Programme, Earn and Learn Programme, and Professional Conversion Programme to provide eligible individuals various pathways to join the infocomm profession, up-skill and re-skill themselves.

Q: Singapore has always pivoted fast to the latest trends, whether it is financial services or startup ecosystems. Should people jumping into the ICT sector now worry that their skills may one day be out of demand when the buzz is over?

The digitalisation of the economy, society and government is happening all over the world. Singapore is moving into a digital economy and technology is pushing the frontiers of innovation across every sector.

Even companies like Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, which are traditionally considered as financial institutions, have stepped out to identify themselves as technology companies.

Technology is here to stay, and there will be constant changes so ICT professionals should continuously seek to upgrade their skills and pick up new skills to stay relevant. We are probably still only at the start of this trend. Much needs to be done.


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