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Scarcity of financial tech workers in Singapore, getting multiple job offers and pay increments

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SINGAPORE: Despite a sluggish job market, tech talent in the financial industry is in such demand that many candidates receive multiple job offers and are offered salary increments, recruitment agencies said.

Mr Nilay Khandelwal, managing director of Michael Page Singapore, said that candidates in technology have at least two to three job offers. 

“Mobility of talent has been a challenge and demand from existing and new companies is high compared to supply. In order to secure tech talent, we have seen companies either counter offer or offer higher than normal salary increment,” he said.

Demand surged with COVID-19 and various technology transformation projects, but tech was already an area of supply-demand mismatch before the pandemic, he added.

Not only are banks digitalising many of their functions, the fintech sector is also rapidly expanding with the launch of virtual banks, scaling up of e-commerce platforms and the rise of cryptocurrency platforms, said Mr Faiz Modak, senior manager for tech and transformation at Robert Walters Singapore. 

And firms are not just looking for developers or engineers, they are increasingly sourcing for people with a combination of skills.

With a shortage of workers who have both technical and functional business knowledge, firms are competing for the same talent and driving up salaries, said Mr Modak.

Early this month, managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Ravi Menon said about 6,500 jobs are expected to be created in the finance sector this year.

A quarter of the jobs on offer are in technology roles, and Mr Menon said that many of the tech skills required are in short supply in Singapore.

WAGE PREMIUM

Data analytics, general programming skills and knowledge of Java are the three most in-demand tech skills in the finance sector, according to JobTech’s online census of job postings data this year in the sector.

There is a wage premium for tech roles, but it’s “not homogenous”, said Mr Lee Wei Xuan, a data scientist and labour market analyst at JobTech. “Application developers and data analytics tend to get a slightly higher premium.”

From JobTech’s data, data analytics and application engineering jobs command some of the highest median salaries at S$7,800 and S$7,500 respectively. 

Mr Daljit Sall, senior director of technology at Randstad Singapore, said the recruitment agency has seen a rise in demand for talent in digital finance, including fintech services and platforms from digital banking to online portals for trading and financial planning.

“Despite the need for more highly skilled and diverse technology teams, the reality is that our local technology talent pool isn’t large enough to meet these new business demands,” he said. 

Sourcing for talent overseas is also difficult in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he added. Singapore has tightened border restrictions as coronavirus cases rose in recent weeks, with new variants of concern transmitting locally. There is also a ban on travellers from countries in South Asia.

Michael Page’s Mr Khandelwal said companies have definitely “upped their game” in selling the job role and organisation during the interview process and have realised that “it isn’t an employers’ market in tech”. 

“Most (if not all) of the companies are hiring locally,” he said. 

Some companies who are unable to hire locally are moving these roles to other markets, he added. This is especially so with most employees now working from home.

MAS managing director Ravi Menon said on May 4 that of the 21,000 net jobs created in the finance sector in the last five years, one in four was in technology. But while Singaporeans took up 75 per cent of the total net jobs, they accounted for only 35 per cent of the tech jobs.

NEED TO DEVELOP LOCAL WORKFORCE

Randstad’s Mr Sall said there is a need to address the widening skills gap and talent shortage locally. Efforts to nurture homegrown tech talent can be ramped up, he added.

Professional services consultancy EY, for instance, has launched an Accounting Data and Analytics Work-Study Programme with the Singapore Management University, which will help students develop data analytics knowledge in accounting.

Mr Max Loh, Singapore and Brunei managing partner at Ernst & Young, said the teaching of digital skills in universities here are recent developments. Only graduates from the past three to five years have been somewhat more equipped, he said. 

“The technology skills that we are looking for include coding and programming, cyber, cloud technology, forensics and data analytics optimisation and visualisation. Business skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving and effective communication are equally important in today’s world.

“For EY, while we are able to attract our share of such talent, like everyone else, demand outstrips addressable supply,” he said. 

Besides collaborating with tertiary institutions, the firm also has internal staff training programmes. These include the EY Badges programme, where employees can earn digital badges for skills such as data visualisation, data science and artificial intelligence, and other soft skills like transformational leadership. 

Mr Samir Bedi, EY’s Asean workforce advisory leader, said it is not just domain-specific or tech skills that are valued today, but being able to think across different disciplines.

“Everyone’s job is changing, right, but no job is changing more than the IT professional’s,” he said.

One’s career path will no longer be “vertical” but look more like a “zigzag” with workers picking up different skills and disciplines by moving around various functions, he said.

“The old way of going to school, picking up a skill, going to an organisation, delivering that skill, going through your career path … that is gone.”

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