Tripling Singapore’s AI workforce to 15,000 not just about numbers, but ‘talents and ideas’: Experts

Tripling Singapore's AI workforce to 15,000 not just about numbers, but 'talents and ideas': Experts

Some of the increase in AI workers that Singapore seeks will come from local universities. In 2020, the undergraduate intake for information and digital technologies degree courses was 3,100 across the country’s six autonomous universities, according to the Education Ministry.

But not all graduates will specialise in AI, leaving a gap likely to be filled by other sources, including continuing education and overseas workers.

An apprenticeship scheme by AI Singapore – the national programme to develop AI capabilities – will be redesigned as part of NAIS 2.0.

Close to 300 people have graduated from the apprenticeship since it started in 2018. About 90 per cent have gone on to become data scientists, machine learning operations engineers, AI engineers, software engineers and other roles.

AI Singapore said its graduates have between five to 15 years of experience, with diverse backgrounds in engineering, banking and finance, teaching, law and human resources. 

Still, given a worldwide scarcity, Singapore will have to present itself as an attractive destination for AI talent – and it does have some advantages in this area.

Assoc Prof Kan pointed to the country’s transparency, suitability as a testbed and interconnectivity. And speed of AI regulation and rollout can allow Singapore to serve as a role model for other countries facing more difficulties scaling up deployment, he said.

Mr Adrian Goh, co-founder of tech talent platform Nodeflair, said government support to foster tech trends and welcome innovation – as seen in cryptocurrency-friendly policies – has helped make Singapore attractive.

The country’s strong English proficiency also attracts global companies like FAANG – Meta (formerly Facebook), Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google – and Nvidia, while the high quality of life appeals to overseas AI talent.

Compared to the United States, where tech workers face challenges securing visas, Singapore has a streamlined employment pass system, Mr Goh added.

On the other hand, compared to Singapore, other countries in the region offer “cost-efficient growth options” with their emerging talent pools, he said.

Singapore’s software engineers have the highest median salaries among seven Asian economies, according to a recent Nodeflair report. The median salary for a lead software engineer was about S$6,600, versus S$2,400 in Malaysia and S$2,100 in Vietnam, which had the next highest salaries.

Dr Lily Phan, IDC’s research director for the future of work in the Asia-Pacific, also cited a lack of “AI-readiness” infrastructure, which was a limiting factor for 47 per cent of Singapore companies her market intelligence firm surveyed.

“It’s the combination of different factors to make AI really work: Strategy, infrastructure, skills, governance (regulatory framework), data and culture,” she said.