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Speech at IDA Company-Led Training (CLT) Programme Signing Ceremony with Singtel Group

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower , NCS Hub

Ms. Chua Sock Koong, Group CEO, Singtel

Ms. Aileen Tan, Group Chief Human Resources Officer, Singtel

Mr. Bill Chang, CEO, Singtel Group Enterprise & Country Chief Officer, Singapore

Mr. Chia Wee Boon, CEO, NCS

Mr. Steve Leonard, Executive Deputy Chairman, IDA

Familiar faces from IDA

Friends of Singapore Computer Society


  1. I am very happy to be here this morning.
  2. I came to the Ministry of Manpower three months ago. From time to time, I have heard comments and remarks that the Infocomm Singaporean core has weakened and is now being dominated by foreign work pass holders. I was curious to find out why. So last week, I made a visit to the Changi Business Park and spoke to a few companies there.
  3. It is true that in these companies, the majority of the Infocomm professionals are indeed foreigners. So I asked these companies, why that was the case. They explained and named two factors.
  4. First on the supply side, they found it increasingly difficult to find enough Singaporeans who are keen to work there. On the demand side, their customers are increasingly imposing more stringent requirements. For example, when they bid for projects, their customers will specify that at least one of their team members must have a minimum of X years of experience.
  5. As a result, on the supply side it becomes harder to find Singaporeans and on the demand side, customers demand for people with working experience. These companies were thus unable to overcome these constraints and their applications for work pass holders in their companies kept going up.
  6. I shared with them why this is not desirable, why this is not sustainable and they agreed. In fact, we explored ideas to work together. First, to diversify the nationalities of the EP holders. Second, to strengthen the Singaporean core. And third, to strengthen the alignment of the Smart City, Smart Nation initiatives. So I really look forward as the Ministry of Manpower, through the WDA and IDA and so on, to work closely with this cluster of companies at the Changi Business Park.
  7. But having said that, I think it is important that we dispel misperceptions that the Singaporean core in Singapore has weakened and now mainly dominated by foreigners. It is indeed not the case at the national level, outside the Changi Business Park.
  8. I asked the Ministry of Manpower and the IDA for data, and from the information that they have gathered, the situation today is indeed still very encouraging. Nationwide, we have about 150,000 Infocomm professionals in employment in various sectors. The Singaporean core today makes up about 2/3 of those working in the ICT sector.
  9. Hence, it is not as what people perceived - that Singaporeans are the minority. However, looking ahead, there are a few areas that we ought to do better. The ICT sector will play an even more important role in the development of our economy, in the development of our society and broadly speaking, in the development of our next 50 years.
  10. In the early 1980s, when I was a young man like many of you here, I was involved in the development of the ICT sector in Singapore. At that time, there were only 800 ICT professionals in the whole of Singapore. Under the leadership of National Computer Board (NCB) chairman, Mr Philip Yeo, we decided to increase the number of ICT professionals from 800 to 8,000 over 10 years. We managed to achieve our target two years ahead of schedule. So by 1988, we had 8,000 professionals and by 1990, we exceeded our target and there were 10,000 professionals. Today, we have 150,000 ICT professionals.
  11. In those days, we were looking to transform Singapore into an Intelligent Island and many exciting things happened along the way. Today, our vision is to go beyond being an Intelligent Island, to become a Smart Nation. I can assure you that there will be many exciting possibilities and challenges.
  12. In this regard, we have two core priorities. 
  13. First, we want to increase the number of Singaporeans in this profession. This is a career of good jobs, with good pay and prospects.
  14. Second, we must improve our level of expertise as we move from being an Intelligent Island to a Smart Nation. As Sock Koong mentioned, we will be required to build many new expertise, new capabilities, to not only ensure that the Smart Nation vision will be realised, but more importantly, that it would be one of the best in the world. For that to happen, what must we do?
  15. In the eighties, I mentioned that we were able to grow our manpower from 800 to 8,000. How did we achieve that? We did it by working together as a nation. The NCB, the Singapore Computer Society, the Singapore IT Federation and representatives from the industry – we all came together, with our economic institutions and EDB and so on. So what we did was we created a national platform where IT application, IT industry development, manpower development, and technology development all came together. Through the synergy of the four factors, we not only produced the quantity but more importantly, produced the quality of professional manpower. In fact, many of the pioneers sitting here were nurtured during that period. And the reason why we are here is because we did many things right. So over the next ten years, twenty years, I believe that as long as we continue to work together, this is within our reach.
  16. So this morning I am very happy. I am happy to see that you have come to this programme – this company-led training programme spearheaded by IDA. This programme is very good because it is an illustration of how we are able – through government agency support and working with industry leaders, in this case NCS, and using their IT applications as a platform – to nurture the next generation of Infocomm professionals.
  17. You are our next generation of Infocomm professionals. What Singapore is today is because of the past and the present generation of Infocomm professionals. So now, we will count on you to realise the Smart Nation vision. You have a heavy responsibility on your shoulders. Now take this opportunity seriously. Many people work hard to put this together.
  18. I’m very happy that besides NCS, other companies are also on board this CLT, spearheaded by the IDA. In the banking sector, you have DBS and in the tech sector, you have Google and so on. And I think this is the kind of spirit we need to keep strengthening.
  19. Now in conclusion, let me summarise. The Infocomm Profession is one that offers good job, good pay and good prospects. And that is the reason why Singaporeans should never give up and miss out on these exciting career opportunities. As we strive towards our vision of a Smart Nation, I hope we will all work together as a nation to ensure that the engine behind the train on this important journey will be one that is made in Singapore with a strong Singaporean core.
  20. With that I wish you all the very best.
  21. Thank you very much.