The battle to attract enough IT-savvy personnel to develop and run Singapore's online economy is the most important aspect of the country's development plans, according to Yong Ying-I, chief executive officer of the government's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), which oversees strategic IT initiatives here.
"We must fight the global war for talent," she said at IDA's industry dialog session here Tuesday. "This is going to be the core of Singapore's effectiveness, and if we don't win in this area, we may not win in any other area."
Many countries, including the U.S., Germany, the U.K. and Australia have begun casting around to bring in overseas IT talent to overcome existing and projected shortages.
But Singapore, with a population of slightly over 3 million, is uniquely vulnerable, IDA believes. With no natural resources, the city-state plans to make information and communication technologies (ICT) the basis of its economic competitiveness, and needs a pool of creative talent to make these plans work.
"We will be training existing IT workers in many of the hot new areas such as broadband and 3G (third-generation wireless) technologies," Yong said. "If the teachers can't physically be in Singapore, then we will use technologies like videoconferencing."
Learning and education will be a key plank in Singapore's talent strategy, according to Yong. Apart from increasing the IT skills of local people, Singapore's training centers will be open to students from around Asia, who then become a potential source of recruitment, Yong said.
"Our openness to foreign talent will be one of our advantages," she said.
Yong's point was backed up recently by Puni Rajah, vice president of consulting research at International Data Corp. (IDC), who said that as competition for scarce global IT skills gets stronger, countries looking to import IT staff from overseas will have to market themselves as attractive career destinations.
Recently, Germany announced it planned to allow 20,000 overseas IT professionals to come to the country to fill IT jobs, of whom half would come from India. But only 300 Indian IT professionals applied for the scheme, underlining Germany's image problem in India, Rajah said.
"Indian IT professionals went to Germany before and some were not well treated," she said. "These kinds of stories go around."
Already, around 20 percent of full-time IT jobs in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries cannot be filled because of a lack of skilled staff, Rajah said.
Last month, the Information Technology Association of America said that skill shortages would mean that 843,000 of 1.6 million newly-created IT jobs would go unfilled. Australia expects a shortage of 30,000 staff this year in an IT workforce of 300,000.
Singapore, whose population is made up of ethnic Chinese, Malays and Indians, is looking to increase its population to 5.5 million within 40 years, a large proportion of whom will be immigrants from around the region, the government announced recently.
IDC is owned by IDG News Service parent International Data Group Inc.