Singapore’s tech is booming, but it does not have enough talent

It has been one of the world’s foremost financial hubs. But Singapore is also now becoming increasingly a major technology hub. The world’s biggest technology companies, including US and Chinese ones, are expanding or establishing bases there. That’s part of a broader foreign investment influx, which broke a 12-year record last year, encouraged by Singapore’s wealth, location, and business-friendly reputation. The country itself is on a massive digitalisation drive.
But the tiny nation of 6 million people now faces a big challenge – a severe shortage of technology talent. Ravi Menon, the MD of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, said last month that a boom in technology jobs across all sectors in Singapore and a shortage of tech workers implies that the country will have to rely on foreigners to fill the gap.
It’s already turning out to be a blessing for India and Indians, as top talent here gets great offers and companies in Singapore set up offshore centres here. The short four-hour flight time is a great advantage.

“A massive digital transformation is happening in Singapore,” says Sai Sudhakar, CEO of Singapore-based Apar Technologies. “The government is the biggest spender on technology and is pushing more companies to adopt digital ways due to the pandemic. Global banks such as Citi and Credit Suisse are doing transformational programmes here for a global rollout, while the shipping companies, which were lagging behind in systems, are also digitising,” he says.
Such massive programmes have already raised local tech salaries significantly. Nupur Mehta, global HR partner at Singapore-based fintech company Nium, says if a head of engineering earned about 240,000-280,000 Singapore dollars two years ago, the person now would fetch 350,000-400,000.
Another issue is that while Singapore has skills in front-end development, back-end skills such as Java and .Net technologies are hard to come by. “The bread and butter systems still run on Java. You get some locals but the demand is higher than supply,” says Sudhakar. For higher level skills such as block chain, data engineering and machine learning, the number of people is very limited. “Singapore does not have a history of working on complex technology projects. We train them to bring them up to speed and supplement them with more experienced guys from India,” he says.
Apar, which helps companies in digital transformation and counts DBS Bank, and insurers Axa and AIA among its clients, hires about 800 people annually, 60% of those from India. It has about 2,000 people across three offshore centres in Noida, Bengaluru and Chennai.
Singapore-based classified marketplace platform Carousell’s Bengaluru development centre, set up two years ago, works on three areas – platform trust, advertisement technology, and customer relationship management. “With India’s matured tech ecosystem and large talent pool of worldclass engineers and product managers, growing the India centre will help us strengthen our leading position in south east Asia,” the company’s CTO Igor Volynskiy said earlier this year.
Singapore’s transportation & food delivery venture Grab started an R&D centre in Bengaluru in 2017. DBS Bank started a technology centre in Hyderabad five years ago, its largest tech hub outside home country Singapore, with about 3,000 engineers currently.
Offshoring to India is attractive not only because of the skills availability, but also the costs of those skills. “If you are hiring somebody who has migrated to Singapore with five years of experience, you have to pay about 60-80,000 Singapore dollars (Rs 33-44 lakh). On the other hand, you can get that same skill in India for about Rs 15 lakh,” says Nium’s Mehta. Nium has a 250-strong engineering team in India and is looking to add another 50. It has just 70 people in Singapore, with only around 14 dedicated to technology roles.
Headhunting firm Randstad estimates that about 50,000 new technology jobs will be rolled out in the next few years in Singapore focusing on niche skills such as AI & ML, and data analytics. Demand, it says, far surpasses supply and the tech talent shortage is further exacerbated by global border control measures.
Singapore has also increased minimum salary requirements for expatriate hiring. Kamal Karanth, CEO of specialist staffing firm Xpheno, says this too will drive the potential for hiring resources offshore. “As the closest base for tech talent, global enterprises serving Singapore will be seen setting shop in India as nearshore and midway centres,” he says.

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