Singapore’s Strategy To Address Talent Gaps in the Smart Manufacturing Sector!

Is there a lesson to be learnt?

Economic growth is a primary challenge of the political agenda of leading countries. Singapore understood very early that they would soon face the talent gaps in the “productivity paradox”, in the smart manufacturing sector. This Implementation of smart eco system was largely due to inability to implement special features of technological innovations. Singapore realized that Smart manufacturing was going to be the key driver for the country’s growth.

In 2017 at a closing panel of the Smart Manufacturing Asia conference in Singapore, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) director Nigel Stacey was quoted “[BCG] did a study on [smart manufacturing] in Singapore and we believe that it could be a real game changer for Singapore,” he said. “Labour productivity could increase by 30 percent and we think that it could lead to a net increase of 22,000 jobs over the next 10 years. Average salaries could increase by 50 percent.”

If we loosely put some math together, we are talking about over $30 Billion in terms of increased manufacturing output and additional company revenues.  The growth lies in the details. Singapore’s manufacturing output rose 10.2 percent in March 2017 from a year ago, following a 12.6 percent increase in February. A report by the Committee on the Future Economy suggests that smart manufacturing could help the manufacturing sector in Singapore maintain its share of about 20 percent of the country’s economy in the future.

Skills gap leading to talent shortage

However, one of the challenges the sector faces is the shortage of talent that can facilitate companies’ transformation to smart manufacturing. The larger problem is that the type of talent required for smart manufacturing is different from that for the general manufacturing sector.  Smart manufacturing requires engineers who can understand the processes, machines and technology on the shop floor in a way that integrates their working. One should be able to convert the generated data into enterprise-level information so that decision-makers can use it to make informed decisions. Smart manufacturing demands specific skills in rapid prototyping, design thinking and complex diagnostics.  A study by the Singapore Management University (SMU) and JP Morgan shows that the electronics and electrical engineering manufacturing sector – which is the largest component of Singapore’s manufacturing base – currently faces the biggest skills gap compared to the other manufacturing segments.  If you look at the job market data for Smart Manufacturing in Singapore, the demand for professionals with the knowledge in cybersecurity and data analytics have increased at least ten folds.

How Are Companies In Singapore Addressing This Gap

Closer collaboration between industry and government to map out the technical skills required for Industry 4.0.

  • Educational institutions, research institutes, private sector and government agencies to implement new ways to foster cross-functional learning.
  • Labour unions, trade associations and business chambers to communicate digital developments to the workforce and prepare them for this transition.
  • Organisations to implement programmatic interventions at all levels of the company.

Other initiatives include, incentivizing employees to cultivate end-to-end thinking through innovative training methods, encouraging cross-functional learning through projects to build internal capabilities, and establishing in-house academies to help workers gain perspectives into design thinking and diagnostics.

The Singapore Government’s efforts

The government has been proactive in implementing schemes to address the talent shortage in the manufacturing industry, which employs about 245,000 local workers. One of these initiatives is the Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) to help more than 1000 professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET) switch careers or retrain in new skills such as data analytics. To avoid a skills mismatch between companies and newly trained workers, the government also runs Place-and-Train and Attach-and-Train programmes. The former places workers with companies before training them, whereas the latter trains professionals for specific skills before placing them. These schemes complement other long-term initiatives such as SkillsFuture, which is designed to train Singaporeans in the skills of the future economy, including smart manufacturing.

These joint public-private efforts will allow the manufacturing sector in Singapore to source job-ready talent, attract a higher percentage of fresh graduates and mid-career professionals, build digital capabilities to enable existing talent, and retain talent by reducing the exodus of engineers to non-manufacturing industries.

I guess there is more than a lesson to be learnt from Singapore.