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Mr Howie Lau, President of the Singapore Computer Society,
SCS Honorary Fellows,
SCS advisory council members,
Fellow SCS members, and friends

              It is a pleasure to be here to celebrate and pay tribute to our IT leaders once again.

Digitalisation is at the top of the national agenda

2            We are firmly in the digital age, and the potential for growth is immense. Digitalisation is expected to contribute US$2 trillion in additional economic output by 2020. In our part of the world, the digital economy in ASEAN alone has potential to grow to over $200 billion by 2025. Singapore’s chairmanship of ASEAN this year puts us in good stead to drive the digital agenda in areas such as e-commerce, and help regional businesses grow.

3            Developing our digital economy is thus at the top of the national agenda. This year’s Budget unveiled a series of initiatives aimed at growing the digital capabilities of firms. A few days ago at the Committee of Supply Debates, SMS Janil, SMS Chee and I outlined MCI’s plans to help our workforce and businesses thrive in a digital age. Our strategy to develop our digital economy can be summed up succinctly as “ABC” – “A” to accelerate the digitalisation of existing sectors, “B” to build up our info-comm media companies, and “C” to create Singapore’s future technology sectors.

4            While achieving these will surely not be as simple as “ABC”, the building blocks are in place, and we are laying the groundwork to help workers and businesses become more digitally-ready.

5            As we enter a new phase of our digitalisation journey, the defining factors will be how much and how fast we can scale up our digital transformation. The ICT industry will have an instrumental role to play in this effort. As leaders and representatives of the ICT industry, I urge you to become active agents of change, and to drive this transformation.

6            Tonight, I would like you to consider three “C”s – Collaboration, Competency, and Community.
 
Collaborating to spread ICT across the whole economy

7            First, on Collaboration. How can we collaborate in new ways, to spread ICT across the whole economy?

8            ICT is no longer a standalone, peripheral sector, but the central processing unit or CPU that will drive the whole economy. We are helping SMEs in various sectors to accelerate their pace of digital transformation. For example, as part of the SMEs Go Digital programme to make digitalisation simple for SMEs, sector-specific Industry Digital Plans or IDPs are being developed to provide SMEs with step-by-step guides on the use of digital technology at different stages of their growth.

9            The progress so far has been encouraging. Two IDPs for SMEs in the retail and logistics sectors were launched last year, and we plan to roll out more this year. More companies are starting to see tangible outcomes from digitalising their businesses, with the support of the SMEs Go Digital programme. One example is SFS Global Logistics, a company that saw a 20% growth in business with the use of an intelligent mobile sensor that helped streamline and automate business processes. We will continue to help more companies and sectors level up through these initiatives.

10          But because digital needs vary widely across and within sectors, digitalisation of the economy will not be even. Some sectors, like banking and finance, and retail, have responded well, but others will require more support. We will need to collaborate in new ways to come up with customised solutions that are practicable and effective.

11          One way to do so is to build closer networks between the ICT and non-ICT sectors, so that there is cross-sharing of knowledge and resources which can help non-ICT sectors deepen its capability development in domain-specific IT skillsets. We have already begun doing this in some ways. In healthcare, for example, we are working with stakeholders to attract and develop Health IT professionals. IMDA will be holding a Health Tech Day for the first time next week, where students, aspiring entrepreneurs and professionals looking to specialise in health IT can learn more from tech startups in healthcare, as well as major healthcare employers.

12          It is worthwhile to explore how we can form more such collaborations across ICT and non-ICT sectors. Industry associations like the SCS are important partners that can facilitate such exchanges. I hope we can put our heads together, and find new ways to help spur digital transformation in non-ICT sectors.

Developing competencies to thrive in a digital future 

13          The next ‘C’ I would like to talk about is Competency. The big question here is how do we ensure we build the right competencies to prepare our workforce for the jobs and industries of tomorrow?

14          The relentless pace of innovation and new technologies will redefine jobs and workplaces. So we must develop a workforce that continuously learns and relearns throughout every stage of their careers. We have already begun ‘programming’ this into our system with the launch of the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) in 2016, which brings together the industry and employers to help our workforce acquire and deepen digital skills. Over 27,000 training places have been taken up or committed, and notably, about 10,000 were mid-career professionals aged 40 and above. This is a good pace, but we must do more.

15          With the additional $145m investment in TeSA, IMDA will work with more partners to scale up programmes like Company-Led Training or CLT, and the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme. But the focus will be on building up competencies and skills in frontier technology areas demanded by the industry, such as artificial intelligence and data analytics, cybersecurity, internet of things and immersive media. Many of our partners are already moving in this direction. 

16          One of them is SAS institute, a business analytics company that has worked with IMDA under the CLT programme to train graduates in data analytics. I visited them last month, and was happy to learn that they plan to move into training for specialised domains such as cyber analytics and e-commerce analytics to cater to the growing demand for these skills in the market.

17          I am glad to announce that another new partner has come on-board the Cyber Security Associates and Technologists programme developed by IMDA and CSA. Under the programme, KPMG aims to develop 120 professionals in cyber security through on-the-job training, specifically in the areas of digital forensics, cyber risk and incident response.

18          Yet another initiative is the AI Apprenticeship Programme, which helps workers to develop skills in this emerging area. It has seen great interest and signups. I am pleased to share that the programme will commence in May, with our first batch of 20 apprentices.

19          To help our workforce prepare for the digital economy, one of the main thrusts under TeSA is the Skills Framework for ICT, which was launched last year. The framework offers a common skills language for individuals, employers and training providers, and helps them better navigate the skills and competencies needed in the digital economy. Quite critically, as we look at developing competencies in emerging frontier tech areas, training providers and employers must continue to engage one another and update the framework so that it remains relevant for both employers and job seekers in a fast-evolving landscape.

20          But how can we nudge more Singaporeans to pursue careers in emerging frontier tech sectors, when career prospects and pathways can be uncertain? Mentorship is an important aspect that help prospective professionals make the transition. Career Compass, a TeSA programme that the SCS is supporting to provide guidance to those interested in ICT careers, is steadily increasing its stable of career mentors, from 110 last year, to almost 150 currently. The SCS’s partnership with CSA to organise a Cybersecurity Career Mentoring Programme is another good example of how we are providing guidance to young professionals and students looking to start careers in emerging tech areas like cybersecurity.

21          With the ramp up of TeSA, we are targeting for another 20,000 more individuals to have access to training and job placement opportunities by 2020. Still, the demand for ICT skills and professionals will nonetheless continue to grow, and we must remain open to ideas and talent from around the world in order to keep our digital sectors vibrant and viable. Even as we do so, the government will continue to calibrate the right balance to ensure that Singaporeans continue to benefit from good jobs and careers.

Building a digitally-ready community that embraces ICT

22          Lastly, the third “C”, Community. As we grow the digital economy, we want to make sure that digital multiplies rather than divides, and that no one is left behind. Beyond nurturing a vibrant ICT industry in Singapore, how do we build a digitally-ready community that embraces ICT?

23          To truly become a Smart Nation, all Singaporeans, young and old, must be able to participate in and benefit from the opportunities of a digital age. Instead of simply enabling access, we want people to have the skills to use digital technology confidently and securely, in ways that will help improve their quality of life.

24          We are making this a priority, and the government is targeting to rollout a Digital Readiness Blueprint later this year. This has to be a concerted and collaborative effort, and the public, people and private sectors must all play a part.

25          Over the past few years, the SCS has done good work in growing a significant membership base, to over 32,000 students and professionals presently. With such a wide network at your disposal, I hope the SCS will find ways to tap on this potential to spread your passion for ICT, and contribute meaningfully towards our efforts to building a digitally-ready community.

Conclusion

26          Last year marked a milestone 50 years for the SCS, but the next 50 years will be an even more exciting phase of growth as we intensify our digital transformation efforts.

27          The journey ahead will not be without its challenges and uncertainties, but we must focus on the opportunities. Together, we are well-positioned to leverage on what the digital economy has to offer and I look forward to what we can achieve in the coming years.

28          Thank you.

 

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