Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (17 November) night that he hoped the newly-launched work pass can help Singapore attract “highly accomplished” tech individuals as the country needs more of such talent.

While delivering a keynote speech at the Singapore Tech Forum 2020, PM Lee noted that the Tech.Pass, which was launched last week by the Economic Development Board, focuses on “the movers and shakers of the tech world”.

Although the local tech talent pool is growing, but Singapore has to still bring in mid-to-senior levels professionals from foreign countries in order to build world-class teams, grow the industry as well as handle urgent issues, Mr Lee said.

He went on to acknowledge that there are possibility of growing sense of competition and discomfort among the locals due to large numbers of foreigners in the industry, and noted that Singaporeans have to be assured that they are treated fairly.

They must also know that companies are only bringing in foreign professionals who are experienced and experts in the line, and are people Singaporeans can learn from, PM Lee said.

“It requires both sides to work at it. The non-Singaporeans have to make the effort to fit in, both at work and socially, when they are in Singapore.

“And the Singaporeans on their part have to be able to understand that this is how new jobs and more jobs will be created in Singapore, and have to feel assured that they will be fairly treated and not be discriminated against,” he said.

Describing the individuals that Tech.Pass will be targeting, Mr Lee said that these individuals can play different roles at home – like founder, investor, employee, consultant and academic – and is able to contribute to multiple parts of the ecosystem by using their capital, networks and knowledge.

Unlike the Employment Pass which is tied to a certain job or employer, the new work pass “will be personal to the holder”, offering them the flexibility to move between roles and employers, he noted.

“This will be something I hope to make people sit up and take notice, and will help us to attract talent to Singapore,” PM Lee stated.

From January next year, five hundred of such passes will be made available.

Talent is important to develop Singapore’s technology ecosystem

PM Lee noted in his speech that talent is crucial in developing Singapore’s technology ecosystem.

The government is constructing its own IT engineering capabilities via the Government Technology Agency of Singapore (GovTech), as well as developing the whole tech eco-system and digital industry.

“Many major tech companies are now based here and they are doing engineering work, not just sales and marketing,” he said, pointing out tech companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon as examples.

He added that this allowed the creation of a vibrant industry cluster and good jobs for Singaporeans.

“So the pieces are all gradually coming into place but the key thing which makes it all work is talent. We need more tech talent to grow the industry and to tackle the urgent problems that we have and that tech can help us to solve,” PM Lee stated.

Technology in country’s COVID-19 response

In the speech, Mr Lee also talked about the role of technology in Singapore’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Prime Minister said that technology has been “a crucial part” of this journey. He explained that infotech has helped Singapore handle the pandemic in many ways, which include tracking the status, well-being and location of large numbers of cases; collecting and analysing COVID-19 data for locating hotspots, patterns and trends; as well as ensuring individuals’ compliance with stay-home notices.

When it comes to contact tracing, technology has allowed the development of different solutions like Bluetooth-based tool TraceTogether, national check-in system SafeEntry and databases like VISION, which combines existing databases to speed up contact tracing and issue quarantine orders promptly.

This is different compared to a “manual and labour-intensive business” of contact tracing done during the SARS outbreak in 2003, said PM Lee.

However, Mr Lee acknowledged that the country’s COVID-19 response “was not flawless” and many blind spots were identified.

For example, not all the government’s IT systems were using up-to-date techniques such as APIs or cloud systems, and working seamlessly together. Therefore, new products like VISION had to be created “in a hurry”.

“(They are) more than minimum viable products, but they are far from polished versions and still work in progress. But they showed we had some in-house capability… Most importantly through building them, we learned … the importance of ‘Ops-tech’,” he said.

“That means the operations have to be enmeshed with the technology requirements right from the start and the tech people have to be involved early and have to work closely with the (operations) people to understand the operating conditions, to understand the requirements (and) to be able to meet the requirements.”

Going forward, PM Lee pointed out that technology is a “command function” in a vast number of government activities, ranging from healthcare to public housing.

He added, “Without tech, you are stuck”.

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