SINGAPORE: A ministerial committee will be formed to oversee and coordinate Singapore’s digitalisation push which has been ramped up in light of challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, said Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran.
He will co-chair the new ministerial committee for digital transformation with Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing.
Key priorities of the committee include helping people to learn new skills and seize technology-related jobs, as well as getting more small businesses, especially those battered by the pandemic, to go digital.
It will also be looking at how to boost digital adoption among hawkers and the elderly – segments in the society which have been seen by some as “the most challenging in terms of digitalisation”, Mr Iswaran said in a virtual interview on Thursday (Jun 11).
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He noted that this push to go digital isn’t new, but has “taken on added relevance and salience” as the pandemic forced businesses to scramble online to stay afloat and home offices became the norm for many workers during the “circuit breaker” period.
The circuit breaker kicked in on Apr 7 to curb the spread of COVID-19 by closing schools and most workplaces, and banning all dine-ins at food places. It ended on Jun 1, although restrictions will be lifted in three phases.
“One of the biggest impacts of COVID-19 has been to demonstrate that digitalisation is no longer an optional extra. It's actually a critical necessity for a business,” the minister said.
The Government has ramped up efforts on this front recently such as setting up the SG Digital Office and expanding initiatives to create more jobs in the thriving information and communications technology (ICT) sector. These plans currently involve various agencies and ministries.
READ: Expanded programme to place and train 3,000 Singaporeans in tech jobs over next two to three years
“We have decided that Government has to double down and make a concerted push for digitalisation. To oversee this, we are establishing a ministerial committee which will be jointly chaired by me and Mr Chan Chun Sing,” said the minister.
“Through this committee, we will be able to oversee and coordinate the effort towards enterprises, whether they are large enterprises, SMEs or micro enterprises, and also the digital inclusion effort … with seniors, our broad population, our workers and so on," he added, noting that the new digital office will be the "point of coordination" for these efforts.
WHERE THE JOBS ARE
Last week, Mr Iswaran announced the expansion of the company-led training (CLT) programme which will train 3,000 Singaporeans to take on tech jobs such as cybersecurity and data analytics, over the next two to three years.
The CLT is one of the many programmes under the TechSkills Accelerator (TeSA) – a SkillsFuture initiative administered by the Infocomm Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA) and in partnership with other agencies – that helps workers to acquire relevant skills and match them to ICT jobs.
Another initiative – the TeSA Mid-Career Advance programme – will run in parallel to create an additional 2,500 jobs for mid-career professionals aged 40 and above over the same period.
These will aim to create a wide range of tech jobs – from “tech-light” to “tech-heavy” ones with varying requirements of technical knowledge, said Mr Iswaran during the interview.
Training will be provided to help people take on these new roles, he said: “Our priority is to get Singaporeans into those jobs."
But the Government is also aware of the skills gap in the local workforce. Efforts to bridge this gap will take time and companies “may need to move faster”.
“We need to find a balance. So our strategy has always been to find a way to complement the local talent base with a judicious component of foreign talent so that it comes together in a way … that makes opportunities bigger for everyone,” he said in response to a question on the possibility of firms turning to foreign talent to fill tech-related jobs.
GO “DEEPER” INTO COMMUNITY
Meanwhile, businesses will get help to quicken the pace of digital transformation, with those in the badly-hit food and beverage (F&B) and retail sectors getting extra aid.
Under the new Digital Resilience Bonus, businesses can receive a payout of S$2,500 if they adopt business process solutions and an additional S$2,500 if they build an online shopfront or e-commerce platform. They will qualify for an additional S$5,000 payout if they adopt advanced digital solutions like data mining and data analytics.
READ: Fortitude Budget: More than S$500m allocated to support digital transformation of businesses amid COVID-19 outbreak
Mr Iswaran also talked about how the digital push has to move “deeper” into the community to reach two groups – hawkers and the elderly.
It was announced on May 31 that a new SG Digital Office will recruit 1,000 ambassadors to help 18,000 hawkers and 100,000 seniors to go digital. The plan was for digital ambassadors to cover all 112 hawker centres and wet markets in June to nudge hawkers to adopt SGQR codes for e-payment.
The SGQR code, compatible with payment schemes such as PayNow and Nets, was rolled out in 2018 as a way to simplify QR code payments in Singapore.
Thus far, 200 ambassadors have covered nearly half of the 112 hawker centres and are “committed to finish their first sweep of all the hawker centers in the next week or two”, said Mr Iswaran.
These two groups also get dedicated programmes, namely the Hawkers Go Digital and the Seniors Go Digital initiatives.
The former gives hawkers who sign up for the unified e-payment solution and fulfil minimum transaction requirements a bonus of S$300 per month over any five months. Hawkers who have already adopted the unified e-payment solution are also eligible for this bonus.
Meanwhile, the Seniors Go Digital Programme will introduce one-on-one coaching at community places, options for seniors to sign up for small group learning with their friends and other hands-on learning opportunities.
But to get everyone on board, Mr Iswaran said it is important to address concerns.
For instance, hawkers had questions about the QR code technology and related set-up costs, as well as how to check if the transactions went through.
One solution that the authorities are exploring with e-payment firm Nets is to allow hawkers to hear an “audio signal” in either English or Mandarin when the transaction is completed, said Mr Iswaran. And when it comes to costs, Nets has waived transaction and subscription fees for hawkers until end-2020.
Language is similarly a concern for some seniors, while there are other worries about how the push to go digital may leave the elderly feeling lost and alienated.
He stressed that digitalisation should be seen as “a means to a better life”.
“As far as our focus is concerned, these digital initiatives are to give our seniors more options … in the way they get information, the way that they communicate with the family and the way they transact or make payments and so on. It is not about taking away existing options,” said Mr Iswaran.
“So at the end of the day if it is too difficult, then obviously the existing solutions are available to them … But I don’t think we should underestimate the ability of our seniors to … make this transition.”