SINGAPORE — Singapore workers place a high priority on digital skills when it comes to reskilling and upskilling, the most in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region, according to a recent survey conducted by Economist Impact and Google.
The survey, titled Bridging the skills gap: Fuelling careers and the economy in Singapore, included 1,375 employees across 14 countries in APAC – including 100 employees from Singapore – was conducted between November 2022 and January 2023. Of the survey respondents, 11.8 per cent were Gen Z, 63.2 per cent were Millennials, and 25 per cent were Gen X.
The respondents worked in a diverse mix of industries. The team behind the survey also interviewed employers and industry experts across the region to understand their perspectives on skills gaps, as well as reskilling and upskilling aspirations.
Digital skills desirability
The results showed that 69% of employees in Singapore prioritised digital skills, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, IT support, cybersecurity, and cloud computing, making it the highest priority out of the 14 countries surveyed.
The survey also showed that basic digital skills are considered a “must have” by 75.4 per cent of Singapore respondents, in line with the regional average of 73.9 per cent.
Cybersecurity is considered a “must have” by 24.6 per cent and a “good to have” by 68.1 per cent, while data analysis and visualisation were considered a "must have" by over 42 per cent of Singapore workers and a "good to have" by 54 per cent. Only 9 per cent of Singapore workers said that UX design is a "must have" while about 25 per cent of employees said the skill was "not needed".
The results of the survey highlight the growing importance of these digital skills, as demand for them becomes increasingly apparent across all types of industries.
The shortage of tech talent in Singapore would also mean that workers possessing advanced digital skills are also likely to have more bargaining power in the job market. Based on the survey, one in four Singapore employees said that higher pay and bargaining power best describe their motivation to acquire new digital skills.
The need for green
Employees in Singapore also place importance on other skills categories such as analytical skills at 53 per cent, soft skills at 51 per cent and self-management at 27 per cent. Entrepreneurial skills are the least valued skills category by Singaporean employees, ranked first by only 11 per cent of respondents.
Among the Singapore employees surveyed, green skills were considered less valuable than almost all other skills categories, with only 12 per cent of surveyed employees ranking the category as their first choice – compared with 17.7 per cent in the rest of the APAC countries surveyed.
In addition, most green upskilling is currently driven by employees’ personal interest in the topic, according to the survey.
However, the trend is expected to change as the government prioritises environmental goals. In 2020 the Singapore government estimated that the city-state would create 55,000 jobs in the coming decade because of the growing focus on sustainable development.
Demand is expected from sectors including finance, agriculture, food, urban solutions such as sanitation and waste management, carbon services, and climate science.
Barriers to learning
According to the survey, 42 per cent of Singapore employees cited the lack of time to learn new skills as a primary concern. Additionally, nearly half (49 per cent) of the respondents said they don’t have a grasp of which skills are in demand by employers and the job market. As a result, employees struggle to decide how best to allocate their already limited time and resources for learning new skills.
The survey also cautioned that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – which comprise 99 per cent of all Singaporean companies and 71 per cent of Singapore's workforce – are particularly vulnerable to this problem, due to their limited resources and training capabilities, resulting in "significant information asymmetry".
The key roles played by governments and employers in driving skilling initiatives amongst employees can be seen from the survey results. 61 per cent of employees in Singapore said that government awareness programmes are a main source of skills information in Singapore, ahead of social media and advertisements at 45 per cent and news articles at 44 per cent. It was also substantially higher than the regional average of 42.5 per cent.
Furthermore, the survey highlighted that 64 per cent of workers in Singapore primarily expect employers to provide information on different skills, 51 per cent expect support for their mental well-being, and 48 per cent expect employers to offer notable recognition through certification and additional perks.
Based on these findings, the survey suggests that employers should look towards training skill sets for specific goals and work with government agencies to explore the requisite upskilling needs. To support time management, companies could make upskilling a workplace activity, thus making learning and working happen in tandem. Employers could also regularly monitor the skills they need and clearly communicate them to employees.
The survey also suggested that the government, through its awareness programmes, could continue to keep the workforce updated especially groups and organisations that lack clarity such as SMEs.