© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of the Singapore city skyline
By Chen Lin and Aradhana Aravindan
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – At least three recruiters approach Singapore-based software developer Xiao Yuguang with job offers every day.
Demand for Xiao's skills has increased since he graduated with a degree in computer engineering in 2014. Now he's just ignoring the offers, having recently joined TikTok owner Bytedance after several years at Grab in Southeast Asia.
"It's not that I want to change jobs often," said Xiao.
Singapore aims to become a regional technology hub, but faces a severe talent crisis as more companies move in. This is shown by interviews with more than a dozen recruiters, companies and employees.
China's Tencent, Bytedance, based in the USA Zoom video communication (NASDAQ 🙂 and Unicorn Grab and Sea Ltd are among the companies expanding in Singapore, fueling a war for tech talent in the city-state, where unemployment hit a 16-year high due to a coronavirus-induced recession.
"Certain member companies have expanded their operations … and hired more data scientists and programmers," said Lei Hsien-Hsien, chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce in Singapore.
"So the demand is very strong, but the supply is relatively weak, which is slowing down some of the expansion plans."
Up to 500 new tech jobs are posted on construction sites every week, according to NodeFlair, which helps hire people for Bytedance and Sea's Shopee e-commerce store.
The information communications sector would need an additional 60,000 skilled workers over the next three years, Cabinet Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in June.
In response to a Reuters inquiry about this number, the communications ministry announced in mid-September that almost 10,000 technology jobs were available on a government-run career portal and that a further 6,800 jobs and internships would be created through industrial partnerships by June 2021.
Border restrictions due to the coronavirus and stricter policies on foreign workers are delaying hiring overseas and exacerbating the shortage, some headhunters said. Some tech professionals may request salary increases of up to 30% when changing jobs.
"It's not sustainable," said Daljit Sall of the recruitment firm Randstad, which expects salaries to even out once the borders are reopened and the talent pool develops.
The government has retrained thousands of people with technical skills while the number of IT courses at Singapore colleges has increased 17% over the past three years to around 7,600 for the 2020 academic year.
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Singapore, an Asian base for many multinational corporations and banks, has had a tight job market for years and the country of 5.7 million people is not yet able to quickly match the technical skills and experience of the industry.
"A lot of tech companies are coming and it's a tiny island," said Raagulan Pathy, director of Asia Pacific at Zoom, which plans to hire hundreds of engineers.
"The simple math means you will run out of talent at some point," said Pathy, adding that Singapore's program of issuing visas for foreign workers has been pragmatic.
At the moment, the labor crisis doesn't seem to put anyone off. The Economic Development Board (EDB) is attracting great interest from global technology companies looking to expand their business.
"We are constantly striving to ensure that companies that set up here have access to a strong Singaporean workforce, complemented by a diverse foreign workforce," said CEO Chng Kai Fong.
The EDB has several programs to help bridge the talent shortage, including one that allows tech companies to bring in talent from overseas and a new work visa for senior tech executives.
The work visa, which was launched this month, has generated a lot of inquiries, according to recruiters. However, it is limited to 500 participants and has strict criteria.
Companies find ways to deal with it. The ShopBack shopping rewards platform relies on redistributing the workload among the existing engineers to meet new demands.
Fintech company Nium's 250-strong engineering team is based in India. The 13-strong team of product managers will be doubled in Singapore, said CEO Prajit Nanu.
Singapore's open economy has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, airlines, and tourism, and former Singapore Airlines (OTC 🙂 flight attendant Alloysius Lee is grateful for choosing to study data analysis.
"I feel happy … I've spent the last few years learning and learning a new skill," said Lee, 32.