Last updated: 16 April 2020

Published on: 17 April 2020

(This adapted article was first published in Entrepreneurs' Digest issue 90.)

The age of digital disruption and the advent of global economic uncertainty due to the unprecedented Covid-19 situation have brought about new challenges and opportunities for small and medium enterpises (SMEs). Besides the perennial need to compete with bigger companies, SMEs also face the pressure of keeping up with the digital wave. To maintain their competitive edge, they often find themselves having to compete for the right talent, in particular, those with the right digital skills.

According to the Annual Survey for Infocomm Manpower Survey, there were more than 18,000 infocomm jobs to be filled across various sectors in Singapore last year1. With such rife competition for tech talent, here are six ways SMEs can beat the labour crunch:

1. Hire for potential

With intense global competition for tech talent, employers may not always be able to find the ideal candidate every time to fill their vacancies. Indeed, some 85 per cent of Singapore companies cited manpower constraints as their greatest challenge in the Annual Business Survey 2017/2018 conducted by SGTech2.

To ensure a steady pool of talent, SMEs could identify candidates that may not have the requisite skills and experience yet but demonstrate the right aptitude and attitude to excel in their roles with the proper training. To do this, more tech firms are seeking out potential hires through internships and campus recruitment efforts to ensure that they secure talent as early as possible.

There are also many training opportunities for individuals with non-infocomm backgrounds or qualifications. For instance, SMEs can leverage on place-and-train opportunities for infocomm job roles through the Professional Conversion Programme (PCP)3 supported under the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA)4. This is an initiative driven by the Infocomm Media Development Authority with SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore (WSG). The PCP is a career conversion programme developed by WSG for mid-career switchers to undergo skills conversion and move into new occupations or sectors.

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SMEs can leverage on place-and-train opportunities for infocomm job roles with TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA).

2. Leverage training programmes and incentives

One easy way for SMEs to fill the talent gap is to equip their own employees with the relevant skills to thrive in an ever-changing tech world. However, many SME owners are reluctant to do so because of the high training cost and gestation time.  To overcome this challenge, employers need to adopt a different mindset by viewing training as a long-term investment rather than a sunk cost.

To help keep costs down, SMEs can get funding support to train existing and/or new staff through the Company-Led Training (CLT)5 programme under TeSA. With the CLT, SMEs can groom fresh to mid-career professionals through on-the-job structured training in new tech skills. Sending staff for regular infocomm tech (ICT) short-form courses and certifications is another way to ensure skills relevancy. To do so, SMEs can send their staff for ICT courses under the Critical Infocomm Technology Resource Programme Plus (CITREP+)6.

3. Offer different career opportunities

The ability to offer career development to employees is key to attracting and retaining talent. Not only does it give them a stronger reason to stay and grow with the company, it also provides the business with a pool of future leaders for succession planning.

SMEs can leverage the Skills Framework for ICT7 to design progressive human resource management and talent development plans. HR managers can also use the framework to develop career maps for prospective hires, as well as guide their employees on skills identification and development to stay relevant.

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There are many opportunities to attract and retain tech talent in companies. Check out the Skills Framework for ICT.

4. Look for new ways and platforms to hire

Today, HR managers have a wealth of information at their fingertips and can use multiple hiring platforms to hunt for potential talent. Through the use of new digital tools, HR departments can also be more efficient in reviewing resumes.

This allows SMEs to have a better chance of hiring an ideal candidate for the job. For example, SMEs can widen their hiring horizons by participating in career fairs and leveraging on WSG and e2i career centres to search for suitable candidates. SMEs can also leverage the Singapore Computer Society (SCS) Career Compass, which provides mentorship to Singaporeans interested in a tech career8.

HR managers can also post openings on WSG’s MyCareersFuture.sg job portal, a government initiative to help Singaporeans find jobs more effectively by matching their skills with vacancies9.

5. Build a diverse team

SMEs can benefit from new innovative ideas that can emerge from teams made up of different backgrounds, skills and experience. In particular, SMEs should look to tap on the capabilities of mature workers, a talent pool that is often overlooked in the tech sector.

Mature workers do not tend to job hop, which helps to mitigate the problem of high turnover rates. According to INSEAD, mature workers are also known to be flexible, confident, cool-headed, resilient and objective10. Their decades of work experience also mean that they come with institutional knowledge and professional networks. Contrary to popular perception, studies by COGITO11 and Korn Ferry12 have shown that older workers are able to learn just as effectively as their younger counterparts.

One way for SMEs to gain access to tech talent from diverse backgrounds, including mature workers, is through the TeSA Mid-Career Advance13 to support employers to tap into a new pool of experienced workers (aged 40 and above) who will be trained to take on tech jobs. Employers can also consider the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme, which aims to convert non-ICT professionals into industry-ready ICT professionals. SMEs can also look to access to tech talent through the Tech Immersion and Placement Programme (TIPP), which aims to convert non-ICT professionals into industry-ready ICT professionals14.

6. Keep up with the latest tech trends

Lastly, SMEs should never forget to keep up to date with the latest tech trends and stay plugged in to the industry. One such way could be through IMDA’s series of videos on key technology enablers that SMEs can adopt as part of their strategy15. They can also take advantage of IMDA’s SMEs Go Digital programme, which aims to help businesses use digital technologies to beef up their capabilities and seize growth opportunities16.

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Howie Lau
Chief Industry Development Officer
Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)

Howie is the Chief Industry Development Officer at Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). He drives the growth of a vibrant infocomm media sector through the development of talent, enterprises and key initiatives to build the local ecosystem. Prior to his appointment, Howie was the CMO and Head of Consumer Business at StarHub, where he was responsible for charting StarHub’s brand and marketing, as well as leading the Mobility, Pay TV and Broadband businesses. Before that, he was the Vice President for Corporate Development at Lenovo, where he led Lenovo’s global end-to-end post-merger management and related merger and acquisition matters. 

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