Ong Ye Kung at Singapore Summit (Photo - TodayOnline)

In an interview with Bloomberg last Wed (19 Sep), Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said Singapore needs to bring in foreign talent in areas including software programming while the country re-balances its education system to meet future demands.

A key issue is whether Singapore has a critical mass of workers to make itself a vibrant economy that will attract investments and encourage enterprise, he said. Singapore will maintain little restriction on foreign labor for high-end jobs while keeping a quota system for lower-skilled industries including construction.

“Talent is very short everywhere in the world – AI talent, software programmers,” Minister Ong said. “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.”

Minister Ong’s comment did not go well with many netizens, who asked why the government cannot train more Singaporeans to do these high-end jobs in the first place.

Indeed, figures from NUS, supposedly Singapore’s premier university to train top local talents only produces a handful of IT fresh graduates per year in the School of Computing for the past 10 years:

2016/17 401
2015/16 375
2014/15 369
2013/14 330
2012/13 349
2011/12 373
2010/11 326
2009/10 359
2008/09 378
2007/08 339

Also, note that IT field actually covers many sub-areas. The course that teaches AI is computer science. And out of, for example, the 401 fresh graduates from NUS School of Computing in 2016/17 batch, only 235 graduated with a computer science degree. The rest were from other sub-areas like information systems.

Infocomm sector already dominated by foreigners

Popular financial blogger Leong Sze Hian wrote on his blog last Sat (22 Sep) sharing that majority of manpower in Singapore’s infocomm sector could already have been dominated by foreigners.

He based his assertion on an ST article last Nov (‘Infocomm media to create jobs, pump up economy‘) reporting that Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said the infocomm sector already employs 194,000 people:

Singapore’s embrace of the infocomm media (ICM) industry will not only create thousands of jobs, but also open new frontiers for the businesses that take advantage of trends like artificial intelligence.

Unveiling the ICM Industry Transformation Map yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim let some numbers speak for themselves: By 2020, the sector that already employs 194,000 people will create another 16,000 jobs. Of these, 13,000 are expected to be professional, managerial, executive and technician (PMET) roles.

But according to the Singapore Yearbook of Manpower Statistics 2018, there were 88,700 local residents (Singaporeans and PRs) employed in the infocomm sector as at Jun last year:

Hence, based on the 194,000 total employment figure in the infocomm sector provided by Yaacob, that means there would be about 105,300 (or 54%) non-resident foreigners already employed in the infocomm sector.

And yet, instead of aggressively training our local Singaporeans to take on high-end software programming jobs like AI, Education Minister Ong prefers to continue bringing in more “foreign talent” into infocomm sector as a priority – a sector which is already crowded with “foreign talents”.


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