The new Tech.Pass announced by the Economic Development Board last week is targeted at the “movers and shakers of the tech world”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his keynote speech at the Singapore Tech Forum 2020.
Noting that the country needs more talent in the field of technology, Mr Lee said that the people he is hoping the new work pass will attract are individuals who can contribute to various aspects of the tech ecosystem via their networks, capital, and knowledge.
He added that this particular pass will be “personal to the holder” unlike the Employment Pass which is tied to a job or employer, not the worker. This will give the individual flexibility to move between roles and employers.
Applications for the Tech.Pass will open in January 2021 with five hundred passes available.
“This will be something I hope to make people sit up and take notice, and will help us to attract talent to Singapore,” said the PM during the speech which was streamed live on Facebook.
Citing tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Google which have offices in Singapore not only doing sales and marketing but also engage in engineering work here, thus creating a lively industry cluster that has created jobs for Singaporeans.
To further develop tech eco-system and digital industry, more talent is needed, said the PM. While there is a pipeline of talent for the industry in local universities and polytechnics, Mr Lee noted that companies will also bring in foreign talent, such as experienced mid- to senior-level professionals, which Singapore currently lacks
However, he also acknowledged in his speech the possible social issues that could arise when there are many foreign talent in a single industry which could stoke a sense of discomfort and competition among the locals.
This is especially so when the economy dips and people are worried about job security. He added that this is an issue faced by other nations as well.
“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,” said Mr Lee.
He also touched on skills transfer, specifically noting that locals should consider this import of talent as a means to build up their own capabilities and the local talent pool.
“And this is how our policies work. This is how we work our work passes in Singapore,” said the premier.
Netizens highlight failure of education system
Netizens, however, seem less optimistic about their job security despite Mr Lee’s assurances.
Progress Singapore Party (PSP)’s Jeffrey Khoo noticed this as well, highlighting that the main gripe appears to be that the education system is not producing the talents needed.
Acknowledging that not much can be done in the short term, he asked: “So the big question is what is being done to ensure that in the long run we have our own talents? Particularly talents described as “professionals at higher levels who are in short supply”.”
“Growing up, I was always reminded that Singapore has no natural resources and our only resource would be our people. Therefore, how well we develop and deploy our only resource is critical for our long term survival,” he added.
On the Facebook page of CNA, many commenters wondered if the need to import foreign talent for the tech industry signals a failing in the local education system.
One person pointed out that the education system is not keeping up with the changing market.
Another person argued while it’s true Singapore needs foreign talents, the education system only exacerbates that as it churns out ‘followers’ instead of ‘leaders’.
Another person argued that the government should focus on upgrading and upskilling local talent or even improve the local tech systems instead of simply bringing in more foreign talent to build the local industry.
On the point of skills transfer, a couple of netizens stressed the need to ensure a transfer of skills from the foreign talent being brought into the local workforce.
On that note, one person suggested maintaining a larger pool of local professionals to ensure transfer of knowledge, similar to what is done in other industries.
On the new work passes itself, one person asked for more details on the criteria list, noting that the term “leading role” is unclear. The user also commented that the criteria now does not help many out-of-job local PMETs (professionals, managers, executives, technicians).