Singapore Needs A Trained Workforce To Become An AI Capital

Singaporeans are optimistic about AI's economic potential, yet harbor job redundancy anxieties that may signal a need for better workforce upskilling

singapore, generative ai, workforce training

This article was originally published in The Business Times on June 20, 2024.

Singapore is investing heavily in a dense artificial intelligence (AI) ecosystem, and recently expanded its 2019 AI strategy to, in part, give individuals and businesses confidence to use AI effectively. 

By and large, workers here have embraced the emergence of generative AI. Some 86% of Singaporeans say they use AI at work – higher than the global average of 80%, according to a 15-nation survey of over 25,000 employees conducted by the Oliver Wyman Forum. And more than two-thirds of local workers say generative AI has improved productivity.

They’re also more optimistic about AI’s economic potential and are enthusiastic consumers. Half of Singaporeans say that AI will create new jobs, compared to the 35% global average. And they report above average rates of using AI for shopping, travel, and media consumption.

That’s welcome news for the government and for businesses offering AI-powered services. The government announced a S$1 billion investment blueprint in February 2024 to support its national plan in attracting organizations developing AI solutions, securing powerful computing chips, and driving AI adoption.

But Singaporeans still harbor work-related anxieties that must be addressed if Singapore is to become an AI capital. Three principles for the government and organizations to consider as they seek to keep themselves competitive and their workforces skilled:

Give workers a voice in AI integration

Despite their optimism in AI’s economic potential, Singaporeans are more concerned about AI job redundancy than workers elsewhere, with nearly three-fourths of workers here expressing so compared to 60% of employees globally. Meanwhile, 32% of Singaporeans say they are job-seeking due to generative AI, slightly higher than the 30% global average.

Employers that treat employees as collaborators in AI deployment can better retain them. Showing that they have employees’ needs in mind can demonstrate a good faith effort in calming anxieties, while ensuring the benefits and disadvantages of AI aren’t concentrated in specific groups of workers will help foster a sense of equity. And automating repetitive tasks with generative AI can empower employees to focus on other work aspects.

Close the talent gap with upskilling initiatives

The AI anxieties are perhaps translating into a desire for more training. While 85% of Singaporeans say they want AI training, two-thirds of those who receive training say it is insufficient – the second-highest rate globally after Hong Kong. Employees here are learning skills that are less likely to be automated, discussing AI at work, and learning about AI at higher rates than workers in other markets.

Upskilling programs from employers and government can satisfy a desire for more training, teach employees how to use it safely and effectively, and prevent a talent exodus. Tailoring training to individual roles can be the most effective, while conducting hands-on workshops can build proficiency and trust. Centers of excellence dedicated to best practices can foster a culture of informed use.

Management training may be most urgent. Some 75% of respondents in finance and tech cited a scarcity of middle and senior management AI talent in Singapore, according to a recent global AI in finance hub study by Oliver Wyman and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

That talent gap hinders Singapore’s ambitions to be a top destination for cutting-edge AI projects. The presence of such projects was in turn ranked among the top three factors in attracting elite AI talent to Singapore, according to the Oliver Wyman-MAS survey.

Closing that gap may mean expediting upskilling at all seniority levels. Senior leaders should be offered specialized AI courses, while regulators can link junior talent with leading firms involved in advanced AI projects, both locally and internationally, to forge stronger ties.

Manage data and reputational risks

The lack of proper training may also pose a severe cyber risk to Singapore’s businesses. Almost 90% of Singaporeans report exposing proprietary data while using AI tools for tasks such as analyzing company data or writing e-mails. It’s a rate that’s behind only workers from India, the United Arab Emirates, and Indonesia. The Singapore government’s “AI Verify” tool provides a testing framework to help organizations use AI systems safely and securely.

Employees need training in both the technical aspects of generative AI tools and how to engage with them responsibly. Some 54% of Singaporeans report seeing incorrect AI-generated outputs at work. Developing protocols to ensure the quality and reliability of AI outputs will reduce the likelihood of harmful or inaccurate content.

To establish Singapore as an AI hub, it is vital to have an upskilled workforce. Government and business initiatives to strengthen Singapore’s AI ecosystem can become even more competitive with a robust and confident talent pool.