Demand up for niche skills as focus on productivity increases

Schools ramp up courses as firms pay good wages for special talent

A 15cm-tall 3D prototype for the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix trophy this year. -- ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA
A 15cm-tall 3D prototype for the Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix trophy this year. -- ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA
Risis made the actual trophy (above). -- ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA
Ms Amanda Choo, 25, is a rapid prototype technician at Risis. -- ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA ST PHOTOS: CAROLINE CHIA

As Singapore turns to machines and automation to raise productivity, demand for people with the right technical knowledge and skills is rising rapidly.

Companies are willing to pay good wages for such talent while schools are ramping up courses.

These workers range from rapid prototypers who use the latest 3D printers, to developers who can programme trading software or drones.

There are no official figures on the scale of such jobs but observers said opportunities are growing across sectors.

"Demand for candidates is outstripping supply" in the financial services, said Mr George McFerran, global sales and marketing director at careers portal eFinancialCareers.

"Banks are looking for niche skills and candidates who have specific banking, information technology and automation experience," he said.

Data analyst jobs are on the rise at DBS Bank as it makes use of data analytics to automatically monitor for trigger events, said a DBS spokesman.

In manufacturing, there has been a 5 per cent rise in demand each year for automation-related engineers over the past five years, said Ms Linda Teo, country manager at recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore.

These engineers help design and provide technical support for automation systems in manufacturing plants, she added. They command an entry salary of around $4,000.

Flight control engineers who customise software and navigation systems for drones can expect to earn around $4,000 too, while 3D printing technicians start off at around $2,000.

Educational institutes have also adjusted their course offerings to meet the rising demand.

Checks with tertiary institutes showed that eight had added or updated automation-related modules in the last five years. Three will be starting new programmes or specialisations next year.

Republic Polytechnic, for example, is launching a diploma in engineering systems and management, with a specialisation in intelligent transport systems.

Nanyang Technological University started the NTU Additive Manufacturing Centre last year to grow the number of engineers with 3D printing specialisation.

With the machines becoming much more affordable, "there is a paradigm shift in terms of design and manufacturing", said the centre's director, Professor Chua Chee Kai. There are about 70 PhD and master's degree students enrolled and Prof Chua has also held seminars for manufacturers, artists and dental surgeons interested in the technology.

"If you want big companies to really get involved in 3D printing you need a talent pool, you have to start now," he said.

Nanyang Polytechnic offers a module in rapid prototyping. Former student Amanda Choo has been working as a technician at jewellery and gift company Risis since graduating in 2009. She prints prototypes for presentations or for casting moulds.

The technology reduces development time, said Mr Navin Amarasuriya, director of BP de Silva Holdings, of which Risis is a subsidiary.

Ms Choo, 25, said she enjoys the challenges of the job, such as figuring out how to print odd shapes without them collapsing.

"I get to see results very fast, and work with a high-tech machine. It's more interesting for the younger generation," she said.

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