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Tech talent still in demand in Singapore despite mass layoffs, say analysts

But tech professionals should expect smaller pay raises and hybrid roles in the new job market, analysts tell CNA.

Tech talent still in demand in Singapore despite mass layoffs, say analysts
File photo of a man working on a computer. (Photo: TODAY/Nuria Ling)

SINGAPORE: Despite mass layoffs at tech firms – from Meta and Twitter to Amazon and Shopee – tech professionals are nonetheless still in demand as companies of all stripes look to develop digital capabilities.

Hotspots of business activity and recruitment remain, even as parts of the tech industry cool amid rising inflation and interest rates and the changing post-pandemic landscape, analysts told CNA.

“The days of just hiring left, right and centre, in fear of losing out on talent – that will probably come to a stop for a while,” said Assistant Professor Ng Weiyi of the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

Among those employers likely to become more “fiscally prudent” are fintech start-ups that have been highly reliant on venture capital and private equity for funding, he said.

Competition has also intensified with the increased supply of job seekers after several high-profile layoffs that impacted the Singapore tech sector. 

Facebook parent Meta, which terminated more than 11,000 employees worldwide, laid off dozens of employees in Singapore in departments ranging from marketing to engineering. Twitter slashed half its global workforce, or around 3,700 employees, though it is not known how many in Singapore were affected. 

E-commerce giant Amazon is planning to lay off 10,000 employees, reports on Tuesday (Nov 15) said. Singapore-based online marketplace Shopee has held three rounds of retrenchments since June this year, which included staff in its food delivery and online payment teams. Both companies have not responded to queries about the number of employees affected in Singapore.

The larger pool of tech talent available for hire now will give companies leverage to dictate the terms of employment, which means they could end up paying employees less, said Asst Prof Ng.

But outside the start-up world, companies that have traditionally not been regarded as tech firms – such as banks – are seeking to deepen their digital capabilities. The layoffs in tech could be a boon for them, and also present new opportunities to tech job seekers.

“There’s a potential mobility shift for companies that want to reinvent themselves to pursue the top tech talent that would otherwise not be available,” said Asst Prof Ng.

“Now you are seeing an opportunity to recruit top tech talent that has otherwise been lured away by the very juicy compensation packages that were offered by the venture-backed companies.”

Ms Yorlin Ng, COO of venture outfit Momentum Works, said this was the silver lining of the Big Tech layoffs for non-tech companies and start-ups that want to innovate and are now able to grab hold of tech talent.

“A few founder friends of ours already find it easier to hire talent recently,” she said.

“I believe there will be a boom in tech again – perhaps very soon. The landscape might be different from what we are familiar with now though.”

COMPANIES HIRING

At OCBC, some technology teams have doubled in size over the past two years, such as those in emerging technologies like blockchain, artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

New hires came from a mix of backgrounds, including banks, tech companies, start-ups and the government sector, said Mr Praveen Raina, head of group operations and technology.

The bank announced in March that it was hiring 1,500 people in tech roles over the next three years in positions such as application developers, cybersecurity experts, blockchain specialists and data scientists.

UOB plans to hire more than 2,700 people this year, of which 500 are in technology and data roles, said Mr Dean Tong, head of group human resources.

The bank is “more than halfway towards this goal” and building competencies in positions like programme and project managers, business and system analysts, technology development managers, domain-related architects, test engineers, he added.

DBS said it also continues to hire for critical roles in fields like data, AI and machine learning, as well as site reliability engineering, blockchain and cloud.

Momentum Works' Ms Ng highlighted that the layoffs in tech have not been uniform, and depended on the longer-term strategies of specific companies.

“For example, a few large tech companies are keeping their business development team to continue to manage clients, whilst some large tech companies which have cut ‘non core’ functions still keep strategic tech teams (such as AI) so that they will remain competitive after the current crisis.”

Automation firm Workato was among the tech companies still hiring in Singapore. Reports in April said that the US-headquartered firm planned to expand its local headcount more than five times by 2025.

While the company has been affected by the slowdown in tech, it continues to hire in a “measured and sustainable” way, growing most teams in Singapore including its sales, product, UI/UX, consulting and engineering business units throughout the year, said Ms Khoo Choon Yen, head of people operations and people systems.

A check of Google’s job portal on Monday also showed 72 openings for roles based in Singapore. Google declined to respond when contacted by CNA for this story.

“It’s not all doom and gloom if a retrenchment happens. The tech industry as a whole is still growing, and there is still demand for talent,” said Ms Chee Sze-yen, executive director at HR consultancy Career Agility.

MINDSET SHIFT

But deceleration in salary growth can already be seen in the sector, said Mr Adrian Goh, co-founder of tech talent platform NodeFlair. He attributed this to a combination of a slowdown in start-up funding, layoffs and hiring freezes and a “bear market” in cryptocurrency.

A report compiled by NodeFlair found that salaries of software engineers in Singapore rose by 22 per cent on average last year, but were “relatively flat” or saw at best single-digit percentage growth this year, said Mr Goh.

He cautioned tech professionals to manage their expectations when it came to pay increments, adding: “A shift in mindset is required – we are no longer in the market of ‘free money’ where companies will be as aggressive when competing for talent.”

Mr Goh added that demand for tech talent going forward was likely to be more of a “hybrid” nature with one worker wearing multiple hats, such as data analytics and data engineering, or full-stack developing instead of only frontend or backend skills.

Ms Ng said tech professionals should be conscious of rapid changes and build “not only skills, but also competencies and insights” to stay competitive.

“Honestly speaking, Big Tech is often not the best place for young people who truly want to build a competitive long-term career. Big Tech companies are often more rigid than large traditional corporations in processes and career progression prospects.

“Those who want to join the tech sector should really be forward-looking and join sectors or functions that have significant growth potential in the next five to 10 years. You will grow faster than your peers in more comfortable places,” said Ms Ng.

“Such growth potential might even come from non-tech industries, which are slowly but finally embracing what tech can bring them.”

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Source: CNA/dv(cy)
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