Singapore is pursuing more foreign tech talents to grow the sector which will also benefit locals in the plans amid concerns about preserving jobs as the economy sours.
The Asian city-state is already home to the regional offices of hundreds of tech companies like Facebook and Google, a cluster it hopes to grow into a global tech hub and make the “linchpin” of its future economy.
“We are accelerating our efforts to develop our tech talent,” Trade Minister Chan Chun Sing told parliament.
“Demand for tech talent is far outstripping the local supply… We need to complement our local pipeline with skilled workers from all around the world.”
Chan was responding to a question about whether a scheme aimed at helping firms hire foreign tech talent, called Tech@SG, was necessary given slowing growth and the government’s stated focus on hiring and developing local jobs.
“We are deeply cognizant of the fact that this topic can be easily stirred up because of the emotions involved and because it concerns jobs… However, we must not go down the path of other countries who have started to put up barriers and take an inward-looking, protectionist approach,” Chan said.
He said stepping up efforts to grow the tech sector was “precisely because of the uncertainties with the economic outlook”.
Foreign labor has long been a socially sensitive topic in Singapore, which is due to hold an election in the next 18 months. It was seen as one of the biggest issues for voters in the ruling party’s worst election result in 2011.
Singapore has been tightening conditions for hiring foreign professionals in recent years, and said in February quotas for foreign workers in the services sector would be further reduced.
Risks of a looming recession with growth rates at a decade-low and a slight uptick in citizen unemployment – although low by global standards at 3.3% – have brought the issue back into the limelight.
But Chan said Singapore cannot afford to “sit back” amid a global shortage of tech talent, citing concerns raised by firms with expansion plans such as Alibaba and Grab.
“We have only a small window to build a critical mass of high-end professionals, startups and companies,” said Chan.
“How we do today will decide whether we make it as a tech hub, or not. We must move now, and move fast.”