Pursuing a career in Science and Technology (S&T) and taking on advanced technical jobs can be satisfying. On average, more than three out of five respondents from the SGInnovate survey perceive that R&D professionals here in computer science, science and engineering are well-qualified. They point to the tremendous upward growth curve for the technology industry as an indicator for the slew of exciting careers that will open up over the next few years.
There are three S&T disciplines – computer science, science and engineering – which form the foundational technologies on which leading-edge applications are developed and where talent is most urgently needed as Singapore advances into Industry 4.0.
Computer Science Disciplines
A digital economy needs ICT professionals. In 2017, NUS, NTU and other tertiary institutions produced over 8,000 graduates in computer science, engineering, science, medicine and related disciplines.1 As organisations proceed with digital transformation, more expertise in this field is needed. Southeast Asia’s largest bank DBS for example, tripled the headcount in its technology and operations department to 10,000, hiring software engineers, data scientists and cloud specialists among others.2
Data scientists and cybersecurity specialists are the fastest-growing occupations in Singapore. According to a LinkedIn report3 in 2018, demand for data scientists grew the fastest at 17 times the previous year. Demand for cybersecurity specialists grew 5.5 times.
Opportunities are aplenty in these two areas. Insights gleaned from the data can help companies in various ways from more efficient use of manpower to improved customer engagement. Demand for cybersecurity professionals is also exploding as organisations seek new ways of protecting and defending themselves against the exponential growth of online threats and attacks.
But there are other fast-rising domains such as computational science to support supercomputing capability. It combines computer science with other domain-specific areas in biology, chemistry and other sciences to design simulations of physical phenomena to run on supercomputers. Another is quantum computing which approaches computation from a fresh approach – not based on classical computing – to crunch data much faster.
Although not new areas of study, computational science and quantum computing are coming to the fore partly due to the expansion and commoditisation of computing power in the last decade and the explosion of data. This confluence allows data to be mined and analysed quickly and more affordably for their useful insights.
Artificial intelligence has deep roots in Singapore. Among the earliest AI application worldwide was expert systems which trained computers to solve problems following an “as if-then” rules. In the mid-1980s, the then Port of Singapore Authority faced a challenge in the planning of loading/unloading containers. It required 25 ship planners around the clock to do this. The Port worked together with a government research agency called Information Technology Institute (closed in 2000) to roll out the Ship Planning Expert System in 1987.4 This system won the Innovative Application Award from the American Association for Artificial Intelligence at its inaugural conference in 1989 at Stanford University. This award placed Singapore’s AI engineers alongside teams which had developed expert systems such as the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s space shuttle mission control system.
From this pocket of AI engineers, Singapore had built out its AI capabilities in areas like machine learning, deep learning, decision making, computer vision, natural language processing and others. AI has been identified by the Government as a core technology essential to the country’s push to become digitally ready. To spur the development of local AI talent and ecosystem in Singapore, AI Singapore was set up by the National Research Foundation.
With this push into AI, many job opportunities will become available, said Dr Leong Tze Yun, Practice Professor at the School of Computing, NUS, and Director of AI Technology at AI Singapore. Various AI scientists, experts and technologists will be needed in various areas, including inventing new solutions, integrating AI to solve complex problems and managing AI teams. To help users apply AI-powered applications in problem-solving, AI application specialists will have to be trained.
According to AI Singapore, AI researchers here are strongest in machine learning followed by computer vision, robotics and natural language processing. 5AI Singapore is collaborating with various tertiary institutions to build expertise. For example, with NTU, it is collaborating on machine learning, data mining, computer vision as well as applying AI in ageing and healthcare solutions. With the Singapore Management University, it is zooming in on AI for urban and social sensing.
Cybersecurity is a pre-requisite for every organisation. It is a long and never-ending journey. No organisation including government agencies will have cyber defence capabilities that are absolutely impregnable against attacks. Attackers are using the same technologies employed for cyber protection to launch their attacks.
Singapore is one of the most connected nations in the world. Reliance on technology, however, also opens up organisations to cyber threats and attacks which are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Intelligence Report 2019 show that globally, web attacks have risen 56% and mobile ransomware is up 33%.6 Many of the attacks steal information including intellectual property or are designed to bring down critical infrastructure like healthcare and power generation.
Singapore started its cybersecurity strategy in 2005 with its first Infocomm Security Masterplan which focussed on building basic capabilities within the public sector to mitigate and respond to cyber threats. The current National Cybercrime Action Plan 2016 spells out priorities to fight against cybercrime including public education and strengthening international collaborations.
In 2020, the Government expects there will be a potential shortage of up to 3,400 cybersecurity professionals7 here. Many different types of jobs from cyber risk analysts, security engineers to security operations manager and forensics experts are available. Many organisations are also beginning to hire chief cybersecurity officers to provide corporate guidance and governance.
Job opportunities in this sector are immense. Talent is needed to detect, defend and protect, as well as to predict potential threats and attacks. According to LinkedIn, cybersecurity specialists are the second most in-demand profession in 2018 after data scientists.8
Data science can be used in various industries from advertising to utilities. This discipline is geared towards providing meaningful information based on large amounts of complex data. It combines statistics and machine learning in order to interpret data for decision-making purposes. With the insights provided, businesses obtain a better understanding, among other things, of customer behaviour and transactions.
Data scientists are in great demand especially by organisations undergoing digital transformation. They can “unlock” the value of the data embedded in business processes that can lead to greater efficiency and savings in cost and time as well as uncover new business and revenue potential.
Rapid developments in scientific knowledge – from finding a cure for cancer to inventing a new clean form of energy – will improve living standards. However, science fundamentals such as the science of materials, will remain foundational, said Dr Jeffrey Tung, Head of R&D, Greater China Area, 3M.
“For instance, a very smart device with cutting-edge software featuring AI capabilities can be designed. However, if the material used cannot enable this device by way of overheating prevention, improving durability or waterproofing, technological and scientific advancement would be severely limited.”
Nanomaterials, neurotechnology and synthetic biology are the other key emerging technology trends, he added.
To work in top-tier R&D labs that undertake basic research, it is important to have PhD qualification with postdoctoral fellowship experience. Scientists can aspire to become principal investigators to run their own labs.
Some private sector R&D programmes are open to hiring research officers with master’s degrees. They also offer professional and managerial tracks. For the professional track, the highest rank obtainable is a chief scientist or something akin to this role.
Entrepreneurial scientists can start their own companies by acting on their passions.
Cardiologist Dr Philip Wong of the National Heart Centre was a gadget enthusiast. He started Web Biotech on a part-time basis to develop a wearable to detect heart arrhythmia.
Other scientists licence a technology for commercialisation. Dr Rosemary Tan, chief executive of homegrown Veredus Lab, licensed disease testing technology from A*STAR where she had worked before. This technology allowed Veredus to detect malaria, dengue, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and other diseases. When STMicroelectronics and a French-Italian semiconductor company invested in Veredus, she developed its lab-on-a-chip technology.
In the digital economy, engineering is more important than ever. They are needed for Singapore’s R&D efforts in climate change mitigation, green manufacturing technology, engineering solutions to improve food security, electrification of the transportation system, enhanced water and energy production, biofuels and emissions control technology.9 In the SGInnovate survey, about seven out of 10 respondents indicated that the current engineering researchers have good technical expertise.
Engineers make science and technology invented workable. Their expertise is in improving the technology readiness of a product or solution including its components, measuring manufacturing performance, costings, testing and packaging. The universities hope to enhance the effectiveness of future advanced engineering manpower by introducing a new type of graduate engineering programme especially in translational research.
The Doctor of Engineering (EngD) is a new research degree at the doctoral level to develop master engineers who not only can innovate but also translate the new ideas into commercialised products. This master engineer will have a deeper industrial focus and will have mandated technology management coursework. This is most appropriate for those pursuing professional rather than academic careers. NUS has introduced this programme in 2018.
Professor C.C. Hang of the Engineering Faculty, NUS, said of the EngD course, “The engineering landscape in Singapore has become more sophisticated and knowledge-intensive. Many of our top engineers are interested in gaining greater expertise but are not interested in PhD programmes because they don’t want to become professors or to do basic research in universities.”
“The EngD thus allows them to gain greater expertise while working full-time in industry on applied R&D, but at the same time they learn about the business aspects, so that they are better prepared to take an invention or research result into commercialisation.”
Apart from these courses, engineers can also consider postgraduate programmes in management of technology, supply chain management, materials science and engineering and postdoctoral fellowships.
At the undergraduate level, new modules have been added to provide future skills. NUS Engineering for example, has introduced new specialisations in robotics, Internet of Things, digitalisation in urban infrastructure and data science in its 2019 academic year. Top students will have a chance to accelerate their education, obtaining in four years, a master’s in science degree – in any area including business and computing – in addition to their basic engineering degree.
1Ministry of Education Singapore, “Education Statistics Digest”, 2018 [https://www-moe-gov-sg-admin.cwp.sg/docs/default-source/document/publications/education-statistics-digest/esd_2018.pdf]
2Today Online, “The Big Read: Nerds and geeks no more, computing graduates now rule the roost”, 10 March 2018 [https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/big-read-nerds-and-geeks-no-more-computing-graduates-now-rule-roost]
3Today Online, “Data scientists, cyber-security specialists among top emerging jobs in S’pore: LinkedIn report”, 6 September 2018 [https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/data-scientists-cyber-security-specialists-among-top-emerging-jobs-spore-linkedin-report]
4Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore, “Innovationation: 25 Years of Infocomm in Singapore”, 2006
5AI Singapore, “AI Research” [https://www.aisingapore.org/research]
6Symantec, “Internet Security Threat Report”, February 2019 [https://www.symantec.com/content/dam/symantec/docs/reports/istr-24-2019-en.pdf]
7The Straits Times, "Cyber-security contest aims to attract young people to sector”, 17 July 2019 [https://www.straitstimes.com/tech/cyber-security-contest-aims-to-attract-young-people-to-sector]
8LinkedIn, “Emerging Jobs Report 2018” [https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/talent-intelligence/emerging-jobs/sg-emerging-jobs-report#]
9Academy of Engineering Singapore, “Engineers for the future” [https://www.saeng.sg/key-projects/engineers-for-the-future]
In our Future Jobs for Industry 4.0 Insights Paper, we delve deeper into the emerging jobs in Science and Technology. Download our insights paper to read more on the impact of Industry 4.0 and the digital economy on Science and Technology talent development in Singapore.
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