“You have to deal with robots as part of your workforce,” says Singaporean civil servant June Koh.

She is the Cluster Director of Human Capital at the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA). Part of her job is to identify skills in demands in the industry and “find emerging skills, emerging demand even before they appear”, she says. This comes from observing trends, analysing data, and a deep understanding of industries. “It’s not just what the companies want today, but what they think they will also need tomorrow.”

Koh shares how her team are working with colleagues and companies to ensure people have the right skills for these jobs.

Skills in AI

One of the key skills areas IMDA have identified is in artificial intelligence. “That requires you to upskill and rethink the skills that jobs required,” Koh says. For instance, maintenance and cleaning jobs are increasingly being automated.

Along with some jobs changing, “there will also be new jobs that will be created”, she adds, and this will require people to learn new skills. “There will be probably optimisation of jobs – I don’t think we will be shy with that.”

The government set up a national programme, AI Singapore (AI.SG), to enhance Singapore’s AI capabilities and drive the future digital economy. IMDA has partnered with AI.SG to run apprenticeships with AI experts in the industry.

Apprentices solve real-world business problems, getting hands-on experience while at it. “We want to work with them to see how we can build in opportunities for Singaporeans to be part of that learning experience,” Koh explains.

“We want to build more in those specific new areas where the existing workforce can also apply and level up and switch careers.”

Besides government-led programmes, IMDA is lending expertise to various big firms across sectors – banking and telecommunications among them – to help them run various training programmes in areas such as cybersecurity. This is meant to help established professionals in particular: “They pull in mid-careers and enable them to switch,” Koh explains. “We want to build more in those specific new areas where the existing workforce can also apply and level up and switch careers.”

Tomorrow’s skills demand

Two other skills areas that IMDA has identified are in IoT and immersive media, Koh says. IoT will present opportunities in manufacturing or even cyber security, as it has much to do with physical and digital infrastructure. Meanwhile, immersive media – augmented and virtual reality – are entirely new ways to communicate stories and concepts to people, and correspondingly require different methods of production than traditional media.

These may not translate into a great deal more new jobs – rather, “it could be a current job, it’s just an extension of skill”, Koh says. IMDA’s role here is to help in “deepening courses available in those fields in order to assist that extension of the current job”.

Koh works closely with various ministries, private sector, business associations and academia to identify what types of ICT skills will be in demand in the coming years. Once she has a clear sense of emerging areas, the next step is to work with industry to see how IMDA can support them in training people in these skills.

IMDA’s teams crunch the numbers, looking at growth projections, internal data, and historical trends to predict skills that will be in demand. The agency has a yearly research survey that helps here. “We also then look at job ads and study the patterns and what kind of job roles they are asking for,” Koh says. Key hirers weigh in through various platforms to give a clearer view of what is going on in industries and “validate some of our hypotheses”, she adds.

The agency holds forums to get feedback from companies on talent recruitment and ICT manpower. “It’s a good way to review and improve the programmes and support available for ICT professionals as well as hirers to narrow any gaps or challenges they may face in ICT talent and skills development,” says Koh.

As Singapore’s industries adapt to AI and other new technologies shaking things up, it is important for any professional to have avenues to learn skills that will hold them in good stead. It might even be possible to pivot mid-career and make the switch to something new.

Image from IMDA