More women needed in Stem careers amid Smart Nation push: Grace Fu

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu speaking at the annual conference for the People's Action Party Women's Wing, which she chairs, on Aug 25, 2018. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The demand for graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem) is expected to grow as Singapore moves towards becoming a Smart Nation, and more women should be encouraged to pursue careers in these areas to reap the benefits, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said on Saturday (Aug 25).

"Stem industries will feature strongly in our future as we automate our production and digitalise our processes," said Ms Fu, who was speaking at the annual conference for the People's Action Party Women's Wing, which she chairs.

While degree courses in sciences and architecture have seen more female students than men in the last decade, women remain under-represented in IT and engineering courses, she added.

The proportion of women enrolling in IT courses in universities here dropped from 39 per cent in 2007 to 36 per cent in 2016, while those enrolling in engineering courses grew only slightly from 28 per cent in 2007 to 30 per cent in 2016.

"We should encourage more girls and women to take an interest in Stem and pursue a career in these areas to benefit from the fast-growing Stem industries and the many good paying jobs out there," Ms Fu told some 400 party activists at the Hilton hotel.

Computing science graduates, for example, are among those with the highest starting salary, according to a recent graduate employment survey.

Yet in a 2016 report by the Infocomm Media Development Authority, only 30 per cent of infocomm employees in Singapore were women, she noted.

Ms Fu also urged party activists to help ensure that technological change benefits users of all backgrounds, "so we can move in an inclusive way, and not have only a small group race ahead, leaving the others behind".

A panel of women leaders from companies like Grab and IBM spoke at the event, themed Smart Women for a Smart Nation, which hosted a technology fair.

Ms Feon Ang, vice-president of LinkedIn's talent and learning solutions for Asia-Pacific, cautioned that there is a skill gap in Singapore, with top talent in the three most in-demand skills: artificial intelligence, big data and cloud computing, being lost to organisations overseas.

Ms Janet Ang, vice-president for industry solutions and business development at IBM Asia-Pacific, addressed "growing concerns of job loss" with the advancement of artificial intelligence.

"With AI systems that are coming, IBM has put forward the key point that it should extend and scale the expertise of human beings, not replace them, and therefore such systems have to be built with transparency and purpose," she said.

Research indicates that around 7 per cent of jobs are at risk of obsolescence. But new jobs will be created, and workers should have access to the knowledge and skills to carry out these jobs, added Ms Ang.

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