Singapore public IT stable, but more talent needed

Country's public sector not experiencing drain in IT talent but faces growing need for skilled professionals, which ICT regulator says is key to deliver quality e-services.

Singapore's public sector may not be facing a drain in IT manpower, but like any sector, there has been a growing demand for professionals with relevant technical skills and domain expertise, noted industry insiders. This has made talent retention all the more critical, according to recruiters.

While Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) has recently acknowledged that there was a record 310 doctors who left public healthcare institutions last year, the country's ICT regulator the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA) did not address ZDNet Asia's queries on technology talent drain from the government. IDA was also not able to share the number of IT professionals in the public sector.

According to local daily The Straits Times, the health minister noted that remuneration was not the only reason for the exodus of public sector doctors to private practice and said the ministry is engaging relevant stakeholders to examine the trend.

Over in the United Kingdom, British intelligence agencies are said to be losing Internet experts to the private sector due to higher wages offered, Reuters said in a report last month.

Recruitment agencies ZDNet Asia interviewed did not report any significant outflow of ICT talent from Singapore's public sector.

Annie Lim, manager of Robert Walters Singapore's IT commerce division, said while people do move from public to private sectors, "we haven't come across many of our candidates doing so".

Asked about the difference between public and private IT work, she replied that public sector roles are perceived to be more stable, whereas private sector roles are viewed to offer more in terms of commercial value.

According to Lim, the more popular roles in the private IT field among jobseekers are in the areas of project management, systems analysis and IT consultancy.

The trend may be different in other Asian markets. For instance, IT talent who begin their careers in the public sector in Hong Kong would "stay loyal due to job stability and security", said senior consultant Carol Lo of Robert Walters Hong Kong. But in China, public sector IT professionals may join the private sector, which tends to offer higher compensation packages, said manager Nick Zhang from the executive recruiter's China office.

Tim Hird, Asia managing director, at Robert Half International, noted that a possible reason for the move to the private field is the "glamour" aspect attached to the technology field in the private realm.

That said, he observed in his e-mail that IT professionals in Singapore are moving from both the public and private sectors into financial services, mainly to gain domain knowledge.

The appeal, besides a higher salary, comes from getting to be equipped with financial knowledge and business perspectives as well as exposure to different aspects of technology from support to project management, he explained.

IT talent key essential for efficient public services
According to IDA, IT is a "key strategy to deliver better quality and efficient public services", hence top IT professionals with up-to-date, relevant skills, expertise and sector knowledge are critical for the development of impactful infocomm solutions.

For instance, the healthcare sector leverages IT to help reduce the waiting time for new beds, an IDA spokesperson said in an e-mail interview.

She added that having a skilled IT workforce has allowed the government to deploy about 1,600 online services and over 300 mobile services, so that citizen users can access information more easily and transact on the go.

Asked if a shortage of IT talent in the public sector exists, the spokeswoman replied: "Not limited to the public sector, there has been a growing need for IT professionals with strong technical skills and knowledge in their respective domains, and also the enhanced capabilities to meet challenges put forth by emerging trends and new strategic growth areas, including business analytics, cloud computing and green technologies."

Make IT talent retention a priority
Robert Half's Hird pointed out that retaining competent IT employees should always be a priority for all organizations, be it the public or private sector.

With the improving economy, top IT professionals everywhere are faced with "more career options and have greater job mobility". Coupled with ongoing issue of skills shortage, organizations today are more aware of the need to implement sound retention strategies to stem the brain drain to support their business for long-term growth, he said.

Hird added that to retain staff, employers should implement regular training programs to "enable their staff to progress as an individual", which will translate to long-term benefits for the organization.

In addition, inter-organizational mobility such as overseas postings or short-term project work can also allow employees to expand their horizons and maintain interest in their job by gaining access to a variety of work beyond their usual job scope, he suggested.

The IDA spokeswoman said the statutory board provides regular ICT training programs for both internal infocomm personnel and end-users in the public sector. The courses are compliant with the National Infocomm Competency Framework (NICF), which is a career developing and training framework articulating the various competencies need for key ICT roles.


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