$120m to help arm S'poreans with IT skills as demand rises

The Government has earmarked $120 million to arm Singaporeans with infocomm technology skills to help meet its goal of building a Smart Nation. The money, double the sum in the previous four years, is to be spent over three years.

It will be used to expand existing training schemes that target Singapore professionals and students.

The new urgency stems from growing demand. It is estimated that about 30,000 such jobs will be in the pipeline by 2020 in such areas as software coding, cyber security and data analytics.

In announcing the move in Parliament yesterday, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim acknowledged the need to build a strong Singapore core for the industry.

"We must do our best to support our Singaporeans to be highly skilled so that they can compete with global talent," he said in his reply to MPs' worry about manpower shortages in the IT industry,.

MPs Zaqy Mohamad (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and Sun Xueling (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) as well as Nominated MP Randolph Tan had asked how Singapore could reduce its reliance on foreigners.

The plan, the minister said, starts with the very young, beginning with the Code@SG programme.

It offers enrichment lessons to primary school pupils, the first step to making coding a national capability, thus creating a base to develop future technology professionals.

Dr Yaacob said the programme will be expanded to target 24,000 school-goers every year, up from the current 22,000.

The lessons will get more complex as the pupils move up to the upper primary classes and secondary school. For instance, the Python programming language, which is not offered at present, will be taught to secondary students.

His ministry will also offer more structured internship and mentorship programmes to the 6,000 students each year who are already in infocomm disciplines.

The aim of these measures is to give them enough skills and experience at the foundation level even before they graduate.

The new target is produce 800 such pre-graduates a year - up from the current 130.

"Today, our estimates indicate that a significant proportion of them do not enter the sector on graduation," Dr Yaacob said.

Overall, the ministry's goal is to get 8,000 professionals and pre-graduates trained each year, almost double the present 4,500.

Funding for their training comes from many programmes such as the Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme (Citrep). It funds up to 70 per cent of the course fees.

But it too will be expanded to include courses for professionals who are new to the industry. Currently, Citrep focuses only on specialised courses like certification for security analysts. It has funded 3,000 IT professionals a year since 2014, but the expanded programme will target 5,600 a year.

A separate $1.55 million will also be set aside by the ministry for the SkillsFuture Study Awards, for people who want to hone their IT skills, including software developers, satellite engineers and master craftsmen.

A total of 310 awards will be given by the ministry this year.

Irene Tham

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline '$120m to help arm S'poreans with IT skills as demand rises'. Subscribe