It was reported in the local media on Saturday (4 Feb 2023) that IT graduates from the local universities are having a hard time finding tech jobs.James Looi, a promising Information Technology (IT) graduate from the Singapore Management Univerity (SMU) was good enough to have earned the coveted internships at GovTech, Grab and Shopee.

But five months ahead of his graduation last December, Mr Looi did not get any interviews despite applying for 20 tech jobs.

The only company that granted him interviews was tech company TikTok. Still, after seven rounds of interviews with the company, he was unceremoniously dropped.

Mr Looi said, “I was shocked, disappointed and helpless. I never considered the possibility I would graduate and be unable to find a (tech) job.”

Another graduate, who only gave his name as Mr Tan, was also disappointed. He graduated last December with a digital business degree and applied to several prominent tech companies but did not get any replies.

Mr Tan said, “My first choice would definitely be a career in tech, but the industry would need some time to rebound. I am now looking for jobs in banking and marketing, and hope to get back to tech after one to two years.”

Local graduates like Mr Looi and Mr Tan are among a slew of IT graduates fighting for jobs in the current tech downturn. Many tech companies, including Shopee, Facebook and Twitter, have been laying off people in recent times.

The present slowdown in the tech job market has certainly surprised many IT graduates, who had a 97.8 per cent overall employment rate back in 2021.

How many of IT jobs are taken up by Singaporeans?

According to the data from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), there were 40,900 of the 87,700 resident workers in the Information Technology (IT) industry employed with degrees, earned their degrees outside S’pore, while at the same time, 3,700 of the 40,800 workers in the same industry had a diploma or professional qualifications.

The 46.6 per cent composition of foreign degrees is the highest among the five fields of studies for resident workers listed by MOM in its latest labour report, while the make-up of diploma and professional qualifications from foreign institutes are roughly similar to the other fields of studies.

Provided some Singaporeans do take up foreign degrees themselves, how many of these 40,900 degree-holders are non-native S’poreans?

Also, how many of the 46,800 who earned their degrees in S’pore are non-native Singaporeans?

In this connection, while there is no breakdown of foreign and local students in the respective faculties, there is an estimated 30 per cent of the students in public universities are non-Singaporeans.

I don’t seem to be able to find any data on how many foreign workers are IT workers, in the subject Labour Market Report 2021 (more than 100 pages) as the data is on resident workers (Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs)).

And, of course, as per the usual reporting — there is no breakdown into Singaporeans & PRs.

In this connection, the estimated foreigners and PRs in the total workforce, are 37.7 per cent & 10.7 per cent, respectively (Dec 2022)

Only 8,200 of 105,800 PMETs in the IT industry were aged 55 & above.

In this connection, the median age of IT workers, at 37.0, was the lowest (joint lowest with Public administration & education workers), among all the job categories

Furthermore, it has been reported that the number of retrenchments rose in 4Q 2022 to 3,000 from the lows of the previous three quarters (800 – 1,300).

The increase mainly reflected higher retrenchments in Electronics (within Manufacturing) and Information Technology and Wholesale Trade (within Services). Retrenchments in other sectors were stable. Business reorganisation or restructuring was said to be the top reason for retrenchments in 4Q 2022.

I have been speaking to IT professionals over the years, & anecdotally, some have expressed their concern that older S’porean IT workers, may have been facing increasing competition from foreigners and PRs for IT jobs.

A report from TOC also notes a source in the IT company, Cognizant Singapore, saying that a number of IT staff were successfully transferred from India to the Singapore’s branch last year using the intra-corporate transfer under the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

Perhaps it is like what Mr Ang Wei Neng, a People’s Action Party (PAP) Member of Parliament, observed during his visit to the Changi Business Park, “When I stepped into a lift, there were many well-dressed people, apparently foreigners, and were speaking in a language that was foreign to me. For the first time, I felt like a foreigner in my own country.”

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