It has not been an ideal start to the Year of the Monkey in Singapore with media reports today pointing to the failure of education institutions in the country to prepare locals for an IT (Information Technology) future.
A report in today’s edition of The Straits Times may be perceived to have exposed the government’s failure to address the issue of IT short supply in Singapore.
In a country where its newspapers stay clear of investigative reporting, possibly to avoid running afoul of the establishment, one has to occasionally read between the lines to gather what is not working well. This time, though, it appears forthright.
The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) and industry players in Singapore may have, therefore, helped highlight what ails Singapore’s education system. Here’s what can be gleaned from what they are quoted as saying:
- Singapore will face a shortage of 17,000 IT professionals by 2017.
- The schools here have been teaching outdated skills to their students and have not been producing enough IT graduates to meet the needs of industry.
US Stays Healthy Despite Over-Projections on Talent Shortage
Point 1 is not alarming as we have seen reports in the past showing how the U.S. has been facing a shortage of millions of PMET and STEM candidates even as Cloud adoption was surging and businesses were going digital to save on costs.
Many of those millions of vacancies remain unfilled and the U.S. has not gone to the dogs. They still stay healthy. One does not have to get into panic mode because of over-projections.
Businesses Must be Ready to Invest in Training, Not Look for Quick-Fixes
But Point 2 is very damaging. Institutions that rank among the best in the world (such as NUS, and NTU) teaching skills that are no longer relevant is not something that can be simply brushed aside.
Technology is a space that evolves rapidly and coding languages get obsolete sooner than we imagine even as new platforms emerge. This is, however, not something to be alarmed about.
Graduates with fundamental tech knowledge can pick up new skills with necessary training. If businesses are not ready to invest in their training, we need not fret over whether or not they survive the challenge.
Local Students Being Short-changed
However, universities not producing enough local IT graduates is not acceptable. If they keep admitting students from overseas in large numbers in key courses locals will continue to be short-changed. This is something I have been writing about regularly.
If the Government does not encourage local students doing their O and A levels to look at career options that are in demand the situation will not change. Serious effort must be made to fill up University courses with local candidates to meet demand.
Virtual, AI-Enabled World
Professionals need not be on the ground in Singapore to do the kind of jobs that are lacking a local talent pool. The world is going increasingly virtual, so they must explore that option more seriously and stop cribbing. They cannot be tight-fisted in an environment where those with the requisite skills are snapped up by competing players.
If the government continues to make it easy for such companies that lack the creativity to overcome transient challenges to bring in foreign mediocrity in the name of talent, the damage to the country will be permanent. With the waves that Artificial Intelligence is making everywhere, Singapore must do all it can to avoid a situation where the country is filled with workers without jobs. Locals will then be the worst hit.
Smart Nation Push
Today’s media reports may have presented some obstacles coming in the way of Singapore’s Smart Nation push.
Singapore must get the basics right first before dreaming of becoming the world’s first Smart Nation! It has foundational WiFi connectivity challenges at airports and train stations that need addressing first. All the technological ornamentation can come next.
Even as there was another piece in The Straits Times on Smart Bins (trash bins that can send emails when they get filled), trashy responses to perceived challenges must be avoided. Singapore is already way too over-populated and efforts to trim it are called for, not knee-jerk actions to boost that.
G Joslin Vethakumar