In the next 12 months, those with specialist skills such as digital marketers, data analysts and IT specialists will be the most sought after by employers in Singapore, more than in any other country in the region.
According to the 2013/ 2014 Randstad World of Work Report: Talent Strategy Game-Changer Series, 68 per cent of employers will look for skilled specialists here next year.
The quantitative study took responses from 638 employers and 972 employees, aged 18-65. This is the eighth year Randstad has produced its annual report, which covers countries in the Asia-Pacific region such as Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Australia.
Randstad Singapore country director Michael Smith said the rise in demand for knowledge workers in Singapore is due to employers increasingly investing in innovation.
"As momentum continues to move from the West to the East, the nature of work in the region is changing from more labour-intensive, low-skilled employment to more knowledge-intensive and technology-enabled work. This means businesses in Singapore need to continue investing in innovation to gain a competitive edge in the region."
He added: "Singapore has a world-leading education system. However, the pace of economic, social and technological change in the region is a fairly recent phenomenon that makes it difficult for education institutions to respond, causing a growing gap between the skills graduates possess and the business- ready attributes employers need."
Randstad's report is supported by another done by Hays, a global specialist recruiting group, which found the top talent trend for 2014 is the need for big data analysts, specifically data scientists - a role the Harvard Business Review proclaimed as "the sexiest job of the 21st century".
Benjamin Leong, assistant professor at the School of Computing at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said demand for good data analysts is high because excelling at big data is hard, mainly because it involves the integration of both business and technology. Few are well equipped with both skills.
"You can't ask the right questions if you don't know what to ask, and you can't ask the questions if you don't know how to ask."
Big data aside, Professor Leong said the right approach for college students to prepare for the job market is to pursue something they care about, but also double major in specialist skills like computer science.
"Humanities and the arts are very important. I find great value in learning them. But as Singaporeans, we need to be practical. We need to balance our creative pursuits with the real world," Prof Leong said. "Even leaders of specialist teams will have an advantage to hold some knowledge of what their team does. If an IT specialist thinks his leader is technically incompetent, he won't follow."
He emphasised that universities are not plastic factories where students can be moulded into what the market needs.
"The world is moving too rapidly. Our job as institutions is not to push students into the most sought after jobs, but to teach them how to learn, to have good attitudes and values, and instil discipline in them. I think that's how it goes."