3 key points in tackling Singapore’s tech talent crunch

May 24, 2021
Asia Market Entry
3 key points in tackling Singapore’s tech talent crunch

Praised for its response to COVID, Singapore is the top choice destination for companies looking to establish a regional hub in Southeast Asia.

Tech giants’ expansion plans are powering forward with increasing momentum. And while the pandemic has had a crippling impact on many sectors, some continue to thrive and actively hire. A survey of 476 employers published in December 2020 by recruitment agency ManpowerGroup, found that 12 percent expected to return to pre-COVID hiring levels within the first quarter of 2021. And this prediction seems to be coming true.

Discussions with countless recruiters, founders, and business leaders in the tech sector all point to positive market sentiment – hiring is ramping up. There seems to be no intention of slowing down, even as the pandemic continues. While this may be welcome news for employees and job seekers – and an indicator of a strengthening economy – we face one problem that is yet to be resolved: is there enough supply in Singapore to satisfy the demand for talent?

Jobs on the rise

LinkedIn’s Singapore Jobs on the Rise in 2021 report highlights the dramatic shifts that have taken place as a result of COVID-19, the in-demand skills, and the areas where the gap between supply and demand is most significant.

Workers skilled in digital marketing and growth marketing are in the driving seat of digital transformation. Experts in SEO, Google Analytics, and Social Media Marketing are in short supply and high demand as organizations reimagine org-designs to form a growth umbrella, remove silos and focus intensely on revenue generation.

Content is (still) king, and understanding local markets and the ability to localize engaging content fuel demand for content creators across most industries.

Demand for engineering skills is a constant theme in the discussion of talent. One which we shouldn’t expect to diminish with backend, frontend, full-stack, and gaming engineers highly sought after by start-up, mid-sized, and tech giants alike. Similarly, the power of understanding customers, anticipating behaviors, and forecasting patterns are keeping data engineers and scientists in hot demand.

Tech giants fuel competition, and create shortages

“A regional hub with a talent crunch” is a phrase which is increasingly used by industry experts and commentators alike.

In 2020, Zoom Video Communications announced that it would expand its presence in Singapore by opening a new R&D center and hiring hundreds of engineers. TikTok owner ByteDance is investing billions of dollars and recruiting hundreds of employees in Singapore, and Facebook continues to grow its Singapore engineering team. As the list of tech giants in Singapore continues to grow, talent competition is fierce. Start-ups, VC-backed growth-stage companies, and global tech giants are all competing for the same skills.

A forced shift to remote working has leveled the playing field to a degree. With large numbers of the workforce now working from home (or a cafe nearby), the lure of tech giant perks such as a fully catered kitchen, an onsite gym, and a ping pong table is less appealing and less likely to seal the deal with A-player talent.

But that doesn’t mean we can avoid the fact that tech giants still have an unfair advantage. The media storm and positive PR associated with expansion (think Zoom, Tencent and Twitter), teams of recruiters dedicated to sourcing and screening candidates, and budgets that allow for above-market remuneration packages, all nudge tech giants one step ahead in the war for talent.

Lynx Analytics, a leading Data and AI solutions provider, is headquartered in Singapore and serves global customers from its Singapore base. Established by INSEAD professors and students, and led by ex-Google alumni, it is at the forefront of innovation. “We specialize in Data and AI, which has been one of the fastest-growing as well as most competitive sectors for attracting talent,” said Amit Akhelikar, Chief Operating Officer. “It was always a challenge attracting and retaining talent, and this is exaggerated with COVID, due to the restrictions in movement of people across borders. Given these factors, it is getting harder to attract talent at a compensation level suited to our business, at a pace that works for us.”

Offering remuneration packages that are considered “market rate” doesn’t mean competing at the same level when a tech giant can offer 30 – 40% above what is considered the fair market rate by mid-sized companies. Start-ups and mid-sized companies need to do more and think holistically.

Go Remote-first

Leverage a Singapore HQ and the abundance of benefits in establishing a regional hub, while tapping into the rich network of talent in the Asia Pacific region.

Remote models remove the barriers built by HQ locations and give the flexibility to hire the best talent regardless of where they live.

Kaddra, a Singapore-based technology company, transitioned its entire workforce to a remote-first model in 2020, pre-COVID. All Kaddra employees receive a monthly WFH fixed allowance, generous insurance policies, and all of the collaboration tools expected of a tech company. Singapore-based employees also have the opportunity to utilise coworking memberships for physical meetings.

Develop talent early

Identify talent by tapping into local universities, talent hub communities and embracing intern programs.

For example Kinobi, another COVID-born start-up, is building Asia’s largest accelerator of the Gen Z workforce, empowering the next generation with the skills and support they need to prepare for the golden age of technology.

Culture matters

Touting salary increases and big bonuses is enticing but will no longer give employers the edge. The ability to think holistically about the employee experience to attract talent is crucial to compete.

Amit Akhelikar’s advice is to “look at a comprehensive talent acquisition approach to compete with the tech giants – which includes a holistic package including compensation, clear line of sight for their equity and a conducive working environment with a healthy work-life balance…individuals are looking for different things, and these are the areas where mid-size companies can be nimble, proactive, and compete with the larger organizations.”

Promoting flexibility, balance, and development opportunities are increasingly important to job seekers and need to be at the forefront of the employee experience.

A Singaporean core

The message from the market is loud and clear; there is a demand for A-player talent but finding it is tough. Competition is accelerating, border closures continue to cause delays in overseas hiring, and the tightening of Work Pass requirements has many worriedly asking: Will Singapore run out of talent? To dive deeper, is there enough local talent to support the ambitious growth strategies?

Singapore is a global leader in innovation and is vocal in its commitment to ensuring Singapore-based companies have access to talent. Developing a robust Singaporean core is at the heart of the strategy, including intensifying efforts to train Singaporeans so that they are equipped to fill the growing demand for tech-based roles.

While the approach to developing a Singaporean core and foreign talent entry is pragmatic and makes sense long-term, it does not support the immediate hiring challenges faced by the start-up and tech-giant communities.

As we prepare to close the first quarter of 2021, and with signs of a recovering labor market, it’s clear both job seekers and employers will face challenges in a tight talent environment. Job seekers need to be equipped with digital skills, be prepared to retrain or upskill, and be open to companies that may not be household names, but do have the potential to be the next big thing. And employers need to think holistically about their attraction strategies, be creative in where they hire, who they hire, and what they can offer in return.