Paving S'pore IT road with manpower

With infocomm talent development one of four building blocks to reach its Intelligent Network 2015 goal, Singapore government explains how it is helping local industry and preparing future generations to carry the torch.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor on

Five years into its 10-year infocomm masterplan, Singapore has now passed the halfway mark of its target to create 80,000 new jobs for the local ICT industry by 2015.

According to a spokesperson from the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), this target includes 55,000 infocomm jobs and 25,000 non-infocomm jobs by the end of its 10-year ICT roadmap outlined in Intelligent Network 2015 (iN2015).

Just last year, the country passed the halfway mark with 41,000 additional jobs created, he said in an e-mail interview. The Singapore government had created several programs to help boost manpower including the Infocomm Training and Attachment Programme (iTAP), Infocomm Leadership and Development Programme (iLEAD) and Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme (CITREP)--each of which targets a different segment of the infocomm workforce.

ICT manpower schemes

Launched in June 2009 during the economic downturn, iTAP aimed to ensure fresh graduates and displaced experienced professionals can continue to be meaningfully engaged in infocomm jobs. A IDA spokesperson said the program was discontinued on Jun. 1, 2010 with the economic recovery.
iLead, also launched in June 2009, aimed to build infocomm experts and leaders in "high-end, strategic growth areas" with training and attachment opportunities, said the spokesperson. This June, the program added business analytics and infocomm in business domains to the existing five areas of application development, cloud computing, green IT, infocomm security and network engineering
CITREP is a training incentive program to equip both infocomm and non-infocomm professionals with critical and merging skills indicated in the National Infocomm Competency Framework (NICF). CITREP provides up to 80 percent of funding for course fees for participants, as well as Absentee Payroll support. There are currently over 420 courses and certifications approved under the program.
The NICF covers infocomm security, interactive digital media, IT services, networks and communications, project management, software and applications and telecommunications, as well as new and emerging areas such as cloud computing, business analytics, green IT, next-generation networking and service science engineering.

ZDNet Asia spoke to IT professionals who revealed what their worklife in the island-state entails.

At Webvisions, senior IT consultant Eugene Ng noted that while the company looks for IT skills such as systems and network administrative skills, non-IT skills are important as well.

Familiarity with troubleshooting, good interpersonal communication skills and an affinity for customer servicing are some of the non-IT skills important for a job scope similar to his, Ng explained.

By day, he works on projects such as VCloud expansion and Singapore's National Day Parade Web site, as well as efforts in provisioning virtual machine servers for customers. He also has to tend to technical support issues escalated by Webvisions' junior engineers.

An IT professional's day does not stop after office hours, he said, adding that he puts in an hour at home to research and experiment with new tools and systems. As the company runs 24 by 7 operations, Ng also has to attend to occasional after-hours emergency support issues.

Chip Salyards is another IT professional who continuously seeks improvement. Originally from the United States, Salyards had been with BMC Software for eight years when he was offered a position as vice president of the company's Asia-Pacific division. He has another year in his contract in Singapore and is currently in discussions to extend it, he said in an e-mail interview.

Salyards is responsible for building the company's services organization and salesforce to expand the business in the region. He is also planning to attend a three-week certification course at a global university to enhance his management skills.

His work has afforded various opportunities to widen his experience outside his core responsibilities, where he had guest lectured at several universities. He also plans to seek more opportunities to speak as a subject matter expert, such as attending and speaking at the World Economic Forum in China this September.

More challenging for SMB pros
Serena Yong, general manager of personal systems group at Hewlett-Packard Singapore, highlighted that the environment is more challenging for IT professionals in small and midsize businesses (SMBs).

According to the Singapore Ministry of Manpower, SMBs employ six out of ten workers in Singapore.

Yong said: "SMBs are constantly faced with making difficult decisions around cutting costs, looking at expenses at the line-item level, growing revenues through new products or services or new ways to acquire and retain customers, and improving the customer experience."

Many SMBs turn to IT to find ways to drive efficiencies and increase revenue and profitability, she said. "As such, being an IT professional in an SMB demands that you play a crucial role in enhancing the relationship between business and IT by looking at creative ways to drive business efficiency and returns on investment," she explained.

While IT professionals in larger organization pay special attention to understand how to make technology work harder for their company, Yong noted that IT managers in SMBs need to make smarter IT decisions with smaller budgets and ensure they are able to create significant competitive advantage with any IT investment they make.

"IT professionals tend to be the unsung heroes in most organizations in terms of career progression," she said. "Therefore, it is important to give each individual the support, recognition and training they need to grow and develop. That way, these individuals will be best able to contribute to both their own personal growth and the success of the business."

Grooming future infocomm professionals
To help prepare future generations of Singapore's ICT workforce, the government is focusing on efforts that span the graduate level, tertiary institutes, secondary schools and primary schools.

"Our outreach programs aim to interest our students to take up infocomm courses and eventually pursue an infocomm careers by introducing them to infocomm in an engaging and meaningful way," the IDA spokesperson said.

One such program is the Enhanced Learning in Information Technology (ELITe), launched in 2008, which to date has benefited 160 undergraduates. The program, supported by industry partners such as Accenture, Barclays Capital, IBM and TECMO KOEI, provides undergraduates the opportunity to acquire practical exposure and certification through industry attachments, mentorship, said the spokesperson.

IDA also set up the National Infocomm Scholarship for GCE A-Level students and polytechnic graduates, as well as the Integrated Infocomm Scholarship for GCE O-Level students.

Other initiatives include supporting Infocomm Clubs in local primary and secondary schools and junior colleges through funding and training opportunities provided by the industry partners, as well as organizing the National Infocomm Competition and the Infocomm Career Possibilities Programme to inform students of studies and careers in infocomm.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Newson Ng, Microsoft solutions architect at Datacraft Singapore, said it is essential that the young generation understand and be passionate in whatever they do.

Quoting a line from Apple CEO Steve Jobs to "stay hungry, stay foolish", Ng added that there were no shortcuts in mastering the skills required to understand technology and how IT tools can be applied to better support an organization.

He noted that IT professionals need to maintain a balance between what technology can do and what the business needs. For this, they need to learn to listen and empathize with the client and understand the background of the problem, he said.

BMC's Salyards believes the younger generation will be the change agents of the future. He recommended that these young IT professionals gain insight and experience in global markets and be open to change.

For Webvisions' Ng, the next generation IT professionals should never stop learning to improve themselves. "Because of the dynamic nature of this industry, change comes about rapidly and skill sets get obsolete quickly. So being able to adapt to emerging trends and technologies is essential to staying relevant," he said.

He also advised these young individuals to get involved with the IT community such as participating in technology-centric forums or IT projects. "Such experience is valuable in increasing exposure toward a wider range of viewpoints and best practices from IT practitioners of different walks of life," Ng noted.

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