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Speech at TECH3 Forum

Mr Lim Swee Say, Minister for Manpower, Mandarin Orchard

Mr Howie Lau, President, SCS

Dr Kwong Yuk Wah, Chairperson, Tech3 Forum Steering Committee

Mr Robert Chew, Chairman, Best Tech Company to Work For Award 2017 Committee

Mr Tan Choon Shian, Chief Executive, Workforce Singapore,

Mr Gilbert Tan, CEO, e2i

Mr Steve Leonard, CEO, SGInnovate

Friends and colleagues

  1. Good morning.
  2. I am happy to join you today to recognise best employers and celebrate best employment practices in our infocomm sector.
  3. As the leading infocomm and digital media society, the Singapore Computer Society represents the voice of more than 32,000 infocomm professionals and students. The Society also plays a vital role in linking the government and industry to the community, and championing the cause of enhancing our infocomm capabilities in Singapore.
  4. I commend SCS for bringing together the “TECH3 Forum” and “Best Tech Company to Work for Award”. This is in line with our national efforts to create better jobs and careers for our people in all sectors, especially in key growth sectors such as infocomm.
  5. The Singapore economy is in transition. Post global financial crisis, our economy grew by an average of 4% in 2011 to 2014. We grew our workforce by 4% a year. Productivity during those 4 years was 0. Basically we achieved our 4% GDP growth through this simple formula – "4+0=4". 4% growth in manpower, 0% growth in productivity, to give us 4% growth in our GDP.
  6. Obviously, this is not sustainable. The Singapore workforce is ageing. Growth is slowing down very rapidly. Come 2025, 2030, the growth of the local workforce will reach zero. We are heading for stagnation.
  7. Therefore, we have to make a transition from manpower-driven growth to manpower-lean growth. And that’s what we did. We introduced a series of measures to be more selective in the importation of foreign manpower at all levels. But more importantly, to find ways to make better use of technology, to make better use of every precious person we have in Singapore.
  8. So, after 4 years of "4+0=4", in 2015, workforce growth in Singapore dropped from 4% a year to 2% in 2014. Meanwhile, productivity stayed at zero. So in 2015, what we saw was “2+0=2”. On the one hand, we became more manpower-lean, but we did not succeed in pushing up our productivity.
  9. Last year, manpower growth continued to slow from 2% in 2015 to 1% last year. We became more manpower-lean, and our productivity turned positive to 1% growth.
  10. We are moving on the right track, but the transition is not complete yet. What we are aiming for is an economy of “1+2=3” - manpower-lean growth of 1% a year, plus 2% improvement in productivity, to give us quality growth of 3% a year. 3% is less than the 4% that we saw post global financial crisis, but we believe it is of better quality. It is productivity-driven, innovation-driven, and more importantly it will be more sustainable.
  11. As we move towards "1+2=3", we have to continue to move faster and spread wider the process of innovation and development. Along the way, we also need to create quality jobs – not 120,000 like what we saw in 2011 to 2014, but between 25,000 to 40,000 quality jobs at a steady state.
  12. On this journey towards our Future Economy, infocomm is a high priority sector. In itself, infocomm is highly innovative and fast changing. It is a direct contributor to economic growth. Yet, it is also a multiplier of transformation towards the future economy. For example, infocomm can help to drive transformation in sectors such as Finance and Insurance, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Logistics and Transport, and many other sectors.
  13. On top of these, infocomm offers good employment, now and into the future, here and globally.
  14. In USA, among the top 50 companies on LinkedIn’s list ranked by their ability to attract and keep talent in 2013, about 25% were infocomm companies. This year, over 55% were infocomm companies. Of the top 10, 9 are infocomm companies.
  15. In Singapore, employment growth in infocomm is likewise healthy. In fact, from 2011 to 2016, employment growth in the infocomm sector was 4.1% per annum. This is much higher than the national average of 2.6% per annum across all sectors.
  16. The quality of jobs created in the infocomm sector is good. About 8 in 10 jobs in the sector are PMET level jobs. The median wage is 30% higher than the national median.
  17. As we pursue the vision of a Smart Nation, we believe that the quality of jobs will keep getting better. From IT development to Network & Infrastructure, Data Analytics, Cyber Security, Research and Development, and so on.
  18. To realize the full economic and employment potential of infocomm, we are mindful that the core driver of infocomm, today and into the future is not technology, but people!
  19. We will therefore keep building our human capital in infocomm, along three key thrusts.
  20. First, strengthen the Singaporean core.
  21. Local employment in the infocomm sector has been growing. It increased by about 13,000 in the last 5 years. Locals now account for over 2/3 of total manpower in the infocomm sector.
  22. To help more locals to join the sector and stay in the sector, we have stepped up the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) spearheaded by IMDA, and expanded the scope of Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) spearheaded by WSG.
  23. First, to help those who have left the infocomm sector to re-enter to take on new careers in the sector. Second, to help those who were outside the infocomm sector to re-skill to enter the sector, and thirdly, to help existing infocomm professionals facing greater risk of displacement to update their skills continuously to remain employable with their existing companies or in the industry.
  24. For example, we can do a lot more by helping our local PMETs to build new capabilities in cyber security, data analytics, Software development, Digital marketing and so on.
  25. In short, the strength of our Singaporean Core is not just about number, but also the quality and capability of our local infocomm professionals.
  26. Second, tap on global expertise to complement local expertise.
  27. To be globally competitive, no country can be self-sufficient in expertise, especially in the fast changing field of infocomm. Singapore is no exception.
  28. As we develop our Singaporean Core, we also continue to complement our local manpower with foreign manpower.
  29. A study conducted by Linkedin revealed that our local and foreign Infocomm professionals are both skillful but have different strengths. Relatively speaking, more locals have skills in social media, marketing and graphic design, whereas more foreigners have skills in data management and software engineering.
  30. As infocomm becomes smarter, through artificial intelligence, and more pervasive, we will need to keep building new capabilities in our Singapore infocomm workforce, which comprises both local and foreign infocomm professionals, so that we can have the collective expertise to stay ahead of global competition.
  31. Through our Fair Consideration Framework, we will strive to minimize substitution and maximize complementarity so that we can have business growth and employment growth at the same time.
  32. Third, speed up transfer of global expertise to our local workforce.
  33. Global expertise in emerging areas of technology and infocomm exploitation is in short supply. This presents us with the opportunity to strive to be a leading “capability” hub in the exploitation and exportation of infocomm. We can do this by speeding up the transfer of global knowhow to Singapore.
  34. Putting the three thrusts together, our strategic intent is to:
    • Strengthen the Singapore Core to make our “2/3” better
    • Tap on global expertise to make our “1/3” better
    • Speed up transfer of global expertise to our local workforce so that 2/3 + 1/3 can be >1
  1. If we can achieve that, then we can attract better investment, create better jobs and sustain better growth in our Future Economy.
  2. How far we can go and how fast we can get there will depend on how able our companies are to bring out the best in our people, our human capital.
  3. I am therefore grateful to the fine efforts of the many progressive employers we have in Singapore. Among the 10 companies shortlisted for the awards today, we see good examples of how they’ve developed and valued their people; how they’ve made sure that the innovation-driven growth of their companies will also be inclusive growth for their workers.

Developing the Singaporean Core

  1. ST Electronics supported the Adapt and Grow initiative and hired over 70 local mid-careerists through PCPs.
  2. Accenture has an apprenticeship program for local polytechnic students who wish to gain experience in areas such as big data, business analytics, and cloud computing.
  3. Tinkerbox Studios saw potential in mid-careerists with no formal skills in coding at their coding bootcamps, and hired and developed them to become software engineers.


  1. Red Hat trains infocomm workers in open-source software skills of which it is a leader. For its own employees, the Red Hat University suite of skills certification courses is available to them with no management approval required. EON Reality runs monthly knowledge transfer sessions for its diverse staff, and motivates managers to pass on know-how to employees through coaching and mentoring.
  2. Tinkerbox Studios holds bi-weekly sessions called “TinkerThursdays” to promote sharing of knowledge among its employees.

Inclusive Practices

  1. Carousell’s cloud-based workflows enable easy accommodation of flexi-work, such as telecommuting. IBM set up a dedicated nursing room and organizes dependent care talks for employees to encourage a family-friendly workplace culture. Accenture collaborates with NGOs. They have programmes such as Girls 2 Pioneers for 10-15 year old girls and Coding Girls to address gender inequality in the tech industry.
  2. I hope many more companies will be inspired by their progressive employment mindset and practices.
  3. In closing, economic transformation is not new to our infocomm community. Our first major effort was in the 80’s. From computerisation to C&C to becoming an Intelligent Island.
  4. Since then we have transformed repeatedly, towards IT 2000, ICT 21, and so on. Today, we are transforming again towards a more manpower-lean and pervasively innovative economy.
  5. The journey ahead is challenging, but exciting and rewarding too. So let us transform together, adapt together, and grow together.
  6. Thank you.