Tackling tech talent shortage in SG: ‘Peel back the veneer and ask the right questions’

­According to job portal Indeed, Singapore’s talent mismatch has fallen by 8% over the past four years as both employers and job seekers adjust to the evolving jobs landscape. But, based on data calculated from Singapore job postings and job seekers, the skills level of jobseekers in Singapore still does not match up to the higher-skilled and technology-based positions available.

The issue of tech talent shortage has been surfaced by several studies recently as companies seek individuals with specialised skillset. Recruitment agency Michael Page also concluded in a research that companies are seeking leaders who can drive digital strategy while also anticipating technology disruptors.

Agreeing with this was Wong Mei Wai, founder, CEO and chief change catalyst, APAC Global Advisory, who said like all industries, those in the tech sector in Singapore are under immense pressure to upskill at pace to compete with the talents from countries such as US, China, India and other emerging markets. While there is a rise in demand for specialist roles and transformation leadership roles, Wong added that traditional roles too are now demanding candidates to learn faster and have a change in leadership skillset.

“This includes top level management chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief information officer, business development leads, marketing and sales roles,” she said in a conversation with Marketing. As such, if the talent pool in Singapore does not have the requisite skills to meet the dynamic tech industry requirements, Wong said this eventually leads to employers lowering their standards in recruitment or look for other external options to fill the role or position.

However, the challenges to seeking talents with digital marketing skills is still prevalent in Singapore. Wong was of the view that there is a lack of benchmark as to what a digital marketing talent should bring to the table. She said:

"There are numerous candidates who claim to have the experience in this areas but unfortunately, do not have the requisite holistic digital marketing skill set to be able to lead and work independently in this role."

To tackle this across various levels in the industry, the former marketer explained that pre-entry level, entry level, mid-level marketing teams need to be encouraged to embrace the urgency in upskilling and be trained to integrate digital marketing to transform businesses and industries.

“Opportunities exist for the development of this sector for Singapore, and we will need to invest resources to start nurturing the pre-entry levels (Gen Zs) with programmes and exchange programmes. This exposes them to digital and tech in education, potential roles as well as ‘incubation’ so they can embark on digital and technology roles with confidence and aspiration,” she said.

Sharing a different point of view, Leela Nair, managing director SEA, Ebiquity said that there are no shortage of applicants for the tech related roles on offer, but rather, candidates do not have the digital experience or understanding required. In such cases, Nair chooses to focus on candidates with other transferable skills and teach the digital basics in-house.

These skills are lacking not only in Singapore but across the region, she said, adding that:

"Digital marketing is not the nirvana it was predicted to be, and the industry needs more people who have the skills to peel back the veneer and ask the right questions."

Helming a leadership position in a global marketing and media consultancy, Nair regularly scouts for talents in the market. To her, people with critical skills to question what’s put in front of them and form well-thought-out opinions were successful candidates.

She also added that during her time in adland, she too faced the struggle to find experienced candidates. In the recruitment phase, Nair said that university graduates were familiar with the big digital companies but few were fully aware of the opportunities that are available in the advertising and media industry.

“Many of the potential candidates were surprised by the opportunities that exist in the advertising media industry. Ironically, this shows how bad we are at marketing our own industry!” she said, adding:

"There is a talent shortage and we need a collaborative programme in the industry to address the issue. It is the new generation that is going to drive the change our industry so desperately requires, but we need to arm them with the right skills."