Fast forward to the future

Help NSmen stay abreast of rapid changes in IT

Mr Chee would like to see National Service offer avenues for enlistees with a passion for IT to hone their talents.
Mr Chee would like to see National Service offer avenues for enlistees with a passion for IT to hone their talents.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

What do the CFE's recommendations mean for the man in the street? We speak to five people and find out how the CFE's strategies can help them prepare for the future.

While most of Mr Jason Chee's junior college classmates spent the eve of the year-end exams poring over textbooks, he was at a Windows 8 launch event.

Not surprisingly, he did not fare well in his exams. After all, his heart was elsewhere.

Since his primary school years, Mr Chee - now 23 - has nursed a passion for all things IT, an area in which the CFE predicts burgeoning growth and opportunity.

He hopes to see even more being done to help people pick up IT skills at a young age. He himself started young, not just playing computer games but also trying to figure out how they were made.

Mr Chee recalls his primary school years, spent scrutinising the lines of code that made up games like Pokemon and MapleStory: "I was piqued by the behind-the- scenes creation of each frame. I was striving to decipher the codes - not just to beat the games but to break them entirely."


But instead of enrolling in a skills-based polytechnic course, he initially decided to head to junior college because most of his secondary schoolmates were doing so.

However, he quickly grew bored, and started creating apps and websites. He became the first junior college student accepted into the prestigious Microsoft Student Partners programme.

The programme gives promising students from around the world a chance to hone their technical and leadership skills and learn from experienced professionals.

Wryly, he says: "The skills-oriented chapter of my life expanded at the expense of my JC academia."

By the end of his first year in junior college - and after that "distraction" from his tech passion, those exams - he had decided to devote himself to IT, so dropped out to pursue a Diploma in Information Technology at Singapore Polytechnic.

Mr Chee has since graduated, and is serving national service before he starts a computing course at the National University of Singapore.

But the fast-paced tech industry presents a challenge, too, he acknowledges, saying there must be as many venues as possible to help people keep abreast of the changes. "The prospect of being rendered obsolete is very real now," he notes.

He adds that he would like to see National Service offer avenues to enable enlistees with a passion for IT hone their talents.

This would help them keep up with technological developments during the two years of mandatory service - a task that can be challenging now. With technology moving faster than ever, the two years of service can severely affect IT students, he says.

What people like Mr Chee want to know from the CFE: Will NS keep up with the times, and look at how enlistees can hone their IT skills? Will there be more efforts to expose people to computer science and IT at a young age? For his peers who are not as inclined to delve into tech, what are some other sectors or fields they should consider deepening their skills in?

Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR BEN LEONG of the National University of Singapore school of computing, who was on the CFE's sub-committee on Future Corporate Capabilities and Innovation, says:

There are several CFE recommendations that directly address these questions. One is for the Government to develop deep, niche skills in cyber security among full-time National Servicemen. This has been done in other countries and the Ministry of Defence would have to study carefully if we should and can do the same in Singapore. Another recommendation is to set up the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA). Schools like NUS already have global programmes like the NUS Overseas Colleges. The GIA will further expand the network between our institutes of higher learning, companies and overseas partners to better expose our students to future growth opportunities within Asia.

Mr Chee and his peers should take advantage of these opportunities to broaden their horizons and gain valuable overseas experience.

While deep technical skills will be critical for the future economy, they are not sufficient by themselves. Mr Chee and his peers should also focus on developing soft skills such as leadership and collaboration. The jobs of the future will be complex and require a broad range of complementary skills.

Our students are generally computer-literate. This year, MOE introduced O-level computing in about 20 secondary schools.

However, while many jobs will be created in the IT sector, we are not suggesting that our students should all study computer science or learn coding. Our economy is big enough and complex enough to absorb talent from most disciplines. We would encourage students to pursue their interests and strive for mastery in the areas for which they have passion and aptitude. In the long term, this would be good for them and for the country at large.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 19, 2017, with the headline 'Help NSmen stay abreast of rapid changes in IT'. Print Edition | Subscribe