Lay reaction to Singapore's huge shortage of information and communications technology professionals would border on the incredulous. By next year, there could be a shortfall of almost 30,000 such workers, according to the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA).
How could a jobs and skills mismatch on this scale have developed, when it was plain in recent decades that the world is being increasingly driven by such technologies? Software runs through many aspects of a nation's and an individual's life, and an Internet layer exists in not just applications but also things.
To the public, this might represent a failure of training institutions to adequately meet market demand for IT skills, and of job seekers to make the right investments in their human capital to take advantage of booming opportunities. Indeed, these have grown since 2014 when Singapore set itself the goal of becoming a "smart nation", articulated in various ways like harnessing data and linking diverse operations to improve overall efficiency.
To put things in perspective, the imbalance of demand and supply is a global phenomenon and many countries are struggling to cope with the need for IT professionals in many sectors - administration, finance, health, communications, transport, defence and others. Alongside these, new areas like data analytics have arisen which go beyond the usual skills associated with computer programmers, information system analysts and software engineers. There's demand now for teams who can tap data science, for example, to offer customised content, consumer and entertainment tips, and tailored advertising. This calls for a mix of skills in "computer science, statistics, operations research, engineering, business insights and strategy", as noted by video game provider Zynga's chief data officer.
Is it any wonder, therefore, that local businesses are struggling to find workers with the right combination of specialised skills for tech-related jobs. To ease the crunch, IDA is working with companies to take in more polytechnic graduates who can be trained for specialist roles. Elsewhere, firms are forming alliances for this purpose. For example, American tech company Symantec is working with India-based National Association of Software and Services Companies to develop skilled and certified cyber-security professionals.
Tech firm Cisco had earlier estimated that one million cyber-security jobs are being left unfilled worldwide. And a Digital Skills Committee told Britain's House of Lords in 2014 that this global shortage will grow to two million by next year. Clearly, Singapore cannot afford to let such shortfalls compromise its cyber defences and erode a core Singaporean presence in critical IT fields. That is why closing that skills-jobs gap ought to be a concern of society too, not just tech businesses.