Singapore partners big tech to train officials

By Justin Tan

The new Digital Academy by GovTech will build up digital skills with specially designed courses.

“The half life of skills is about five years,” said Singapore’s GovTech Minister, Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary. Like the decay of radioactive matter, the skill-sets of today will become outdated as new tech breakthroughs emerge.

Singapore has launched a Digital Academy to train public officials in digital skills. It has partnered with tech giants such as Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft to curate its curriculum for the public sector.

Puthucheary joined other tech leaders to discuss how Singapore can embrace self-driven learning at the Academy’s launch on Monday.

Tech training for government

The Academy aims to address existing gaps in public sector training, and will cover everything from data science and UX design to IoT and cybersecurity. The courses will be designed by big tech firms Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Web Services, along with other tech experts.

Singapore is not just borrowing expertise from tech, but from leading teachers too. It has partnered with online learning platforms such as Coursera and its own public sector training academy, the Civil Service College.

Under one roof

Singapore is big on building in-house tech talent. This allowed it to react quickly with digital contact tracing and home-based learning in the pandemic, said Puthucheary in his opening address for the Digital Academy launch.

“Having that capability, that talent within the public sector meant that when we needed something built in a hurry… we could turn to our teams,” he said at last year’s Festival of Innovation.

But it wasn’t always this way. The nation state used to outsource tech projects to the private sector, “to the extent that we lost our technical capabilities within the government sector,” Kwok Quek Sin, Senior Director of the National Digital Identity said in 2019.

Creative training methods

What else can governments learn from big tech? A panel of experts convened at the launch to share some of their tech training secrets.

Google, for instance, runs a learning network called “Googler 2 Googler”. Employees can volunteer a portion of their time to give courses to their peers, shared Patrick Teo, Head of Engineering for Payments, Next Billion Users and Site Leader for Google Singapore at the launch.

The 10,000-strong network includes courses ranging from professional development to hobbies. This programme supports employees with learning opportunities and creates a sense of ownership, Teo said.

The company also sends staff on “bungee assignments'', where they temporarily hop onto a different project to gain hands-on exposure. Teo shared how an employee from a HR department was able to hone project management skills while “bungee-ing” - which she could bring back to apply in her own work.

Other governments have embraced unique approaches to in-house training. Taiwan has been doing “reverse mentorships”, where young entrepreneurs under 35 are paired with ministers to propose new ideas.

“The younger generation needs to point out the direction, especially around digital transformation, and the elderly generation of course supports them with the resources,” Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Digital Minister told GovInsider.

Coupled with the challenges brought by the pandemic, the demand for digital innovations have shifted into top gear. Singapore is learning from big tech to boost the digital skills of its public sector.