SINGAPORE: National Servicemen look set to add cybersecurity skills to their arsenal. The Government earlier said it accepted the recommendation to implement this following a report from the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE). This also comes as militaries around the world are stepping up their cyber defences in response to growing threats.
"Militaries have an expanded role in this day and age," said Dr Graham Ong-Webb, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. “They used to be in a very classical mould of picturing a soldier carrying a rifle or in a tank. Today's military is being reconfigured as we speak, to deal with a whole host of threats and challenges."
In recent years, the Government has established agencies like the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore and the Cybercrime Command. While Dr Ong-Webb called the CFE initiative a "timely recommendation", he said nurturing cyber defence expertise might need to start earlier.
"In my own assessment, I think that two-and-a-half years could to be too short for this to happen,” he said. “So two-and-a-half years for National Service could be that period where we are picking up on those skills, to get competent and inclined national servicemen to exercise the skills of a cybersecurity analyst, but the training for this probably will have to happen a whole lot earlier."
Dr Ong-Webb suggested the Singapore Armed Forces “latch on” to the various enrichment programmes offered by Institutes of Technical Education (ITEs) or polytechnics.
“The education system will play an integral role in making this happen,” he said. “In terms of identifying our young Singaporeans who are inclined towards cybersecurity-related work and work in the digital domain, and to start to build those skills already in the course of the educational journey before they enter National Service.”
He added that the CFE initiative is "going to dovetail quite neatly” with the recent announcement that pre-enlistees would be able to choose their NS vocation from November 2017.
“This, I think will be a win-win situation,” Dr Ong-Webb said. “I am certain that with the increasing savviness of Singaporeans in the digital domain, dealing with the Internet, coding, robotics and so forth, that this is going to be an area of work that is going to be attractive to young Singaporeans.”
“This allows a much more efficient process in building up this skilled workforce for cybersecurity, as well as the deepening of skills that are required," Mr Bill Chang, CFE Jobs and Skills subcommittee chairman told Channel NewsAsia.
“Having people who have (built up) their academic experience in the polytechnics and ITEs, going to NS (for) another two over years - that's a total of five-and-a-half years of deep skills training and education,” he said.
In 2015, there were 15,000 vacancies in information and communications technology. And Mr Chang, who is also CEO of Group Enterprise at Singtel, said training cyber experts and soldiers at the same time could help companies like his fulfil a "huge need for a cyber workforce” in Singapore.
“It's very important that we do not lose these skills as the boys go to NS,” he said.