SINGAPORE - When cyber protection company Acronis wanted to grow the team for its research and development centre here last year, it targeted locals.
But when it could not hire enough with the required know-how, the Singapore-based firm tapped the Tech @ SG programme, which provides for more flexible requirements for foreign professionals to secure an Employment Pass (EP).
The programme, jointly administered by the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) and Enterprise Singapore, endorses EP applications to the Manpower Ministry (MOM).
Acronis is now eyeing another EDB initiative - the Tech.Pass - while hiring and training more locals.
Unlike an EP, foreign professionals with the new work pass are free to choose who they work for.
"We could definitely use Tech.Pass to recruit the best people and expand our engineering team - the new scheme provides certain flexibility to the holder, since it's not tied to one company," Acronis' co-founder and Technology President Stanislav Protassov told The Straits Times.
Many tech companies here like Acronis say it has been difficult to secure enough top-tier talent to grow their Singapore workforce and boost capabilities.
EDB says Tech.Pass, announced on Nov 12, is an attempt to address this manpower issue while simultaneously growing Singapore's tech ecosystem and creating opportunities for locals.
The Tech.Pass is valid for two years and can be renewed once more for another two years.
Holders of the pass can serve on the board of directors of a Singapore-based company or be a shareholder or investor in companies here.
They can also start and operate a business.
Applications for the Tech.Pass will open in January, with 500 passes available.
Candidates must meet at least two of three criteria:
• A last-drawn monthly salary of at least $20,000 in the past year;
• At least five years of cumulative experience in a leading role in a tech firm with a valuation or market capitalisation of at least US$500 million ($669 million) or at least US$30 million funding and beyond;
• At least five years of cumulative experience in a leading role in the development of a tech product that has at least 100,000 monthly active users or at least US$100 million in revenue.
Senior director for information technology at recruitment agency Randstad Singapore Daljit Sall said the bar has been set high to ensure that Tech.Pass attracts only "serious movers and shakers" in the global tech industry.
"This group of individuals should have a proven track record and the expertise to not just fill the talent gap, but also drive the industry forward," he added.
Associate Professor Lawrence Loh from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School, said tech titans in the field of computer graphics cards - the chief executive officer of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) Lisa Su and Nvidia's CEO Jensen Huang - would be the type of talents who would secure a Tech.Pass.
"They reside in the United States now. If only they were to sink root in Singapore, we would have the world's best leaders in graphic cards," he added.
Beyond filling up key roles in organisations, EDB said that Tech.Pass holders can also groom local tech professionals by taking up lecturing roles in institutes of higher learning, serve as a mentor or advisor to companies here, and conduct corporate training.
Speaking at the Singapore Tech Forum on Nov 17, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said while the country has a supportive environment for technology in terms of infrastructure, the key factor is talent.
"We need more tech talent to grow the industry, and to tackle the urgent problems that we have and that tech can help us to solve," he added.
Mr Chng Kai Fong, managing director of the EDB, said pass-holders who pursue entrepreneurship will also generate business spending locally and create jobs and opportunities for locals to learn.
Responding to concerns that Tech.Pass may only attract talents from a few sources overseas, some industry watchers said safeguards are in place.
"I'd expect the first 500 of eligible candidates to come from diverse backgrounds, countries and fields," said Dr Protassov, who has a PhD in physics and mathematics from Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
"There will also likely be quotas in place to ensure the even distribution of the arriving foreign professionals, as is standard practice."
Country director of Google Singapore Ben King said that the tech giant welcomes the introduction of Tech.Pass, "to support the growth of the tech industry in Singapore".
Prof Loh said the people who apply for Tech.Pass should also be able to value-add to the organisations they work for in multiple ways.
"These leaders should be able to take on a comprehensive suite of initiatives beyond innovation and investment - capability development of the local pipeline should be a key priority," he explained.
EDB's Mr Chng said that schemes like Tech.Pass and Tech @ SG could facilitate the growth of tech companies here and serve to attract established tech talent to Singapore.
"EDB will continue to conduct regular reviews and consultation with industry on talent programmes and work with partner agencies to meet evolving industry and talent needs," he said.