Over the next four years, projects already secured in the urban solutions field alone will add 2,000 new digital-related professional jobs to the economy, the Economic Development Board (EDB) has estimated. The lucrative urban solutions domain covers infrastructure, the built environment, security, water, energy and transport.

There will also be potential jobs in other parts of the digital economy, which "is going to be a very long- term trend and opportunity for Singapore and Singaporeans", EDB executive director Goh Chee Kiong told The Straits Times.

But he also fears the workforce may not be able to keep up.

Urban solutions and sustainability was one of four strategic technology domains identified in last year's $19 billion Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 master plan, with a pipeline of skilled manpower singled out as a key growth pillar.

Jobs include data analysts, solution architects, application developers and cyber security experts.

"We expect a good mix of new hires and skills upgrades for existing workers. The latter (group) will be able to leverage the digital technologies to perform their current roles more productively," said Mr Goh, who oversees clean technology and cities at EDB, as well as infrastructure and industrial solutions.

He added that the Government is making a strong push to work with multinational companies and local training providers to ensure that workers have the right skills.

This could involve ensuring that global firms, "when they bring new capabilities to Singapore... are prepared to train Singaporeans to take on such new roles". With such firms, "we do provide financial incentives" to train locals.

But on whether Singaporeans are ready for the digital economy, his answer is still: "Not enough."

"When it comes to digital courses, there is already a good range, so that's not a major issue for now," Mr Goh said. "But for those courses that are more specialised for urban solutions, we have determined that there is a shortage."

Mr Greg Unsworth, who handles digital business at PwC Singapore, noted: "Digital change is moving very quickly and, at this stage, the skills in the marketplace are not fully keeping up, particularly when it comes to technological capabilities."

Sustainable technology firm Netatech is a 50-strong urban solutions enterprise that has faced a shortage of engineers and consultants. "We pick very bright graduates, regardless of their basic engineering course, and train them," said director of operations Elinda Gan.

Such training can include giving newcomers a front-row seat in in-house research and development projects, "which is itself a very healthy platform for staff learning".

National University of Singapore's Associate Professor Albert Hu, who studies the economics of technological change, told The Straits Times: "To address the skills mismatch problem, a long-run solution would be to look into our education system and make sure that we impart the right skills and a lifelong learning desire to our students."

In February, Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the Republic has set a target of 25,000 to 40,000 new jobs each year for the next three to five years.

"A lot of attention has been paid to training ICT-related talent - which is important," Mr Goh said. "But at the same time... we want to make sure we can upgrade the local engineering and technical workforce as well, to make sure that they are digitally confident."


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