South-east Asia facing tech talent crunch: Study

Firms need to hire before roles open up and offer more growth options, says consultancy

A lunch crowd at Singapore's central business district, on March 29, 2019. PHOTO: ST FILE

When business services company Trusted Services needed to hire more tech talent to improve its offerings last year, it took between three and six months to fill the roles, up from one or two for other types of positions.

"Because of where we were in development, some key roles such as android development had to be outsourced," said its chief executive Ong Whee Teck. Of 21 new tech hires in the past two years, six have been hired from overseas. He is not alone in facing this talent crunch.

In a study released this month, recruitment consultancy Robert Walters found that in South-east Asia, close to 70 per cent of hiring managers took at least three months to fill an open tech position. The shortage of tech talent has negatively affected the speed of product development, according to 70 per cent of hiring managers surveyed this April.

The crunch has come about with technology developing at a "breakneck speed" in South-east Asia over the last decade, with late-stage start-ups here capturing US$7.86 billion (S$10.7 billion) from investors in 2017. By this year, there were two "decacorns" - privately held start-ups valued at more than US$10 billion - and five unicorns in the region, which are valued at more than US$1 billion.

"The rise of these start-ups has pushed larger organisations to accelerate their digital efforts as well, leading to a high demand for tech talent across all industries and sectors," said the consultancy. "However, the development of skill sets hasn't quite kept pace."

Mr Ong said: "One of the key challenges we faced was the shortage of new digital skills. With younger talent, there was a significant gap in the ability to put in place process and scale from ground up."

To boost innovation and attract younger talent, the company, which was founded in 1991, has tried to adapt its culture to one similar to tech start-ups, with a flatter organisation structure, said Mr Ong.

In its report, Robert Walters said firms "can no longer afford to hire only when roles open up", and can strengthen their profile among job seekers to ensure a ready pipeline of candidates. They can also widen their search overseas and work harder to shorten the hiring process.

Other recommendations include tailoring benefits to employees' needs - popular options the survey found included flexible hours, insurance for family members and the ability to work remotely.

Companies should also provide growth opportunities and have leaders who believe in the value of tech and how it can accelerate growth.

Digital wealth services firm WeInvest has made effort to foster a talent pipeline, by looking abroad and working with local universities for internships and postgraduate hiring opportunities, said co-founder Bhaskar Prabhakara. He added that tech roles in Singapore take three to six months to fill, in part due to long notice periods which are also seen in most of Asia-Pacific.

WeInvest started as a team of eight in 2015, six of whom were in tech roles, and has since expanded to around 130, including 80 developers, solutions architects and engineers.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 09, 2019, with the headline South-east Asia facing tech talent crunch: Study. Subscribe