There should be clarity in tracking the progress of the new Tech.Pass scheme announced by the Government to attract foreign talent to help develop Singapore’s tech and digital ecosystem, said Progress Singapore Party’s (PSP) assistant secretary-general Francis Yuen in an article on the party website on Sunday (22 November).

Noting reports that say these FTs will be highly skilled individuals brought in by companies investing in Singapore or individuals who want to build a start-up here, or even FTs working for companies already operating here, this pass is different to the Employment Pass or Special Pass as it is tied to the individual, not the company. This allows them flexibility to take on different jobs or serve as advisors and/or directors on boards of companies.

In the article, Mr Yuen said, “While we do not wish to prejudge the effectiveness of this initiative, it is important that the implementation of such a scheme is transparent and executed in accordance with its intent.”

As such, they stress the need for “clarity” in tracking the progress of the scheme, especially given the general unhappiness among locals over the PMET employment situation right now.

The article notes, “…they [locals] must be convinced that they will not be side-lined especially if there is little transparency on how these schemes pan out and the process involved in bringing another category of foreign talent onto our shores.”

Mr Yuen then asked, “Since the basis of this initiative is to attract genuine talents that we lack, the obvious question beckons, “How do we ensure that we also groom our own at the same time?”

Acknowledging Singapore’s universities and institutions being highly ranked globally, he highlights the importance of these institutions being “primed to generate our own pool of such talents”.

“This can only be done if there is a coordinated effort encompassing identification and prioritisation of programs, systematic training, and R&D, ongoing incentives, and support,” he explained.

He pointed to the recent incident of a failed attempt at raising the course fees of a Master in Technology programme as poignant reminder of the weakness in the local education system of taking a holistic approach in the broader sense of grooming local talent.

He then went on to say that the term “high tech industries” which is what this new Tech-Pass is supposed to support and help grow is “nebulous and wide-ranging”. What is needed, he said, is a new roadmap to guide the type of talent that the country needs with a more focused approach on building the industries that are necessary. He adds that this is crucial and urgent as the country enters the next phrase of its post-COVID economic development.

Though conceding that this will take time, Mr Yuen stressed that existing local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) require this support right now. On this point, he suggests the need to explore “bold ideas”.

He elucidated, “If the scheme aims to encourage foreign tech talents to invest in startups, why not take a step further to encourage such talents with entrepreneurial and tech skills to invest in our local companies to help them upgrade and move up and branch out to the region?”

Describing them as “tech entrepartners” for SMEs, the politician suggests that Temasek or other government-sponsored investment funds can play a role in investing with these foreign tech entrepartners thus boosting promising companies among local SMEs.

“It can make a significant impact in nurturing our SMEs as the backbone of our economy,” he said.

“If we play it right, our SMEs will not only survive the storm but can instead grow and keep jobs as well as develop our core through partnering with these ‘foreign tech entrepartners’. It will be a win-win for all and certainly an important value-add to our economy,” he added.

Moving a step further, Mr Yuen also suggests the adoption of a ‘push and pull’ strategy to help achieve this proposal. That is to create a partnership scheme to attract the right talents for this tech entrepartners initiatives while simultaneously seeking out prospective targets from places like Silicon Valley to join the scheme.

“We must also allow free play of entrepreneurship between our local companies and prospective ‘foreign tech entrepartners’,” urged Mr Yuen, adding that the Government should only be involved in facilitating these partnerships and mitigating risks via direct investment.

“Singapore needs a clear road map to steer our economy and tackle new challenges as well as to leverage on opportunities of the new normal,” said Mr Yuen.

“Once we have decided on which specific industries or businesses to help build, we can use the same approach to bring genuine talents to be the catalyst for our SMEs to address both our short-term and longer-term needs.”

The article ended by stressing the importance of doubling up efforts to nurture Singapore’s local talents and build up a core that can serve as long term pillars of the new normal.

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