Survey shows talent retention is a big challenge for Singapore's science and technology industry

However, survey respondents also believed that Singapore would remain competitive as a global science and technology research and development and product development hub in the next decade. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Talent retention is the biggest talent-related challenge facing Singapore's science and technology industry, a new local survey showed.

More than 40 per cent of the 146 research and development (R&D) and technical professionals believed this to be the case in the inaugural survey by government-owned venture firm SGInnovate. Results of the survey were released on Tuesday (Feb 4).

Other challenges outlined included the quality of the existing local talent pool (23.2 per cent), Singapore's ability to attract global talent (17.4 per cent) and the pipeline of entry-level talent (15.5 per cent) here.

A related insights report that accompanied the survey results said that talent retention was especially difficult for smaller companies or start-ups, which may not always have the deep pockets nor the reputation to keep employees. Instead of offering high salary adjustments, such start-ups could retain talent by giving them complex technical challenges to solve instead - which in turn, would give workers a sense of accomplishment, said the report.

The chief executive of Singapore machine learning start-up Visenze, Mr Oliver Tan, said in the report that his software engineers enjoyed solving the visual search problems proposed by the firm's clients, as the process allowed them to list specific projects that they had undertaken in their resumes.

He said: "This way, they get to increase their value if they want to move to another company. But in the process, they stay longer with Visenze doing important and relevant work."

Despite the concerns of talent retention, the majority of the respondents (88 per cent) surveyed believed that Singapore would remain competitive as a global science and technology R&D and product development hub in the next decade.

The government's "strong support and clear direction" were the top reasons why the country would retain its competitive edge, said the respondents.

More than one quarter (25.5 per cent) of the respondents felt that the Government should continue to take the lead in building up the talent pool , said the report.

Nearly a quarter or 22.4 per cent said that the national science and technology agencies should spearhead this effort instead.

No matter which body takes the lead, however, industry experts agreed at a panel session to launch the report that upskilling was necessary as technology threatened to displace jobs.

Mr Poon King Wang, director of the Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities at Singapore University of Technology and Design, said that one way of approaching the issue was to define a job's tasks, rather than the skills required. This made upskilling appear less daunting.

He said: "People can adapt better when they can draw on something they're familiar with."

Citing the example of training a 5G engineer, Mr Poon said one could look at upskilling 4G engineers by identifying what tasks are similar between the two jobs, and take advantage of those first. For tasks that are not similar, the engineer could then focus on training just for those, he said.

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