High profile tech layoffs - trouble in digital skills paradise?

In recent months, the mass layoffs at global tech giants have hogged media attention. Closer to home, headcount cuts across several large regional tech players were also observed. Does this signify that the so-far unabating tech-driven hype in the jobs market has “lost its mojo”? 

“Despite the high profile layoffs, the demand for digital talent has not plateaued,” says Mr Chia Hock Lai, who is the Founding President of Singapore FinTech Association and Chairman of Blockchain Association Singapore. Chia is also a recipient of the SkillsFuture Fellowships 2022. 

According to the Skills Demand for the Future Economy 2022 (Skills Report) published by SkillsFuture Singapore, there is a growing demand for skills in software development, cloud, and systems and infrastructure. This is due to businesses developing more digital products and building up their IT networks and infrastructure.

Chia explains that the layoffs are likely to be temporary due to the adverse macro headwinds. “In the mid to longer term, the digital economy is expected to expand further as more firms undergo digital transformation,” he elaborates. Simply put, this means that even though tech firms are indeed undergoing restructuring and letting go of employees, companies in other sectors are also in need of workers with digital skills.

Global market intelligence firm IDC predicts that spending on digital technology by APAC organisations will grow at 3.5 times the economy in 2023. Chia adds, “Asian economies, particularly in the vibrant Asean region, are expected to grow faster than the rest of the world. This generates robust demand for more digital talents in these markets – across both tech-lite and tech-heavy job roles.” 

Diving into the numbers of data-related skills, Chia explains that while they are used in deeper technological areas such as artificial intelligence (AI) and data engineering, they are also critical in less technical aspects such as business data analysis and data visualisation. “This means that opportunities are plentiful for jobseekers, including mid-careerists seeking to upskill or reskill themselves.” 

This entirely corroborates with the Skills Report, which shows demand for Big Data Analytics skills growing around 30% between 2018 and 2021, and an asked-for skill among a whopping 800 job roles.

Growing job opportunities across sectors

As Singapore prepares for the next phase of growth for our digital economy, organisations are reinforcing their digital capabilities to capture new opportunities emerging in the next normal. While this helps to position their business for greater growth in the digital era, they are also at a higher risk of cyberattacks. Digital assets such as customer data, passwords, and account information can be stolen, resulting in operational disruption and eroding customer trust. 

For businesses, keeping their systems and data safe from cyber attacks has become increasingly important – as it takes only one successful attack from hackers to wreak havoc. “The cybersecurity landscape is ever-evolving and new roles are continuously created,” says Ms Serene Yeo, VP, Human Resources, Ensign Infosecurity, a SkillsFuture Employer Awards 2022 (Silver) recipient. “Cybersecurity professionals now have a wide variety of career pathways available to them, ranging from cybersecurity analysts to malware researchers, digital consultants, big data engineers, cloud architects and developers, as well as cyber threat hunters, and more.” 

A study by ISC2 revealed that the APAC region still faces a shortage of over 2.16 million cybersecurity professionals, despite having clocked the largest growth in the cybersecurity workforce. In fact, close to 7 in 10 local organisations are investing in training to mitigate the impact of this shortage, as they have challenges in finding sufficiently qualified cybersecurity talents. 

Speaking from her organisation’s experience, Yeo shares that they have seen significantly more mid-career professionals making the career switch to cybersecurity in recent years. Many of them come from adjacent IT-related fields such as software and web development, o r IT management. “However, we are also heartened to welcome a small number of mid-career professionals from non IT-related fields joining us,” she says. 

One of them is Dr Herman Teo, who was a scientist specialising in materials characterisation before joining Ensign. With more than nine years of experience in scientific instrument pre-sales, customer success, and marketing, he joined Ensign’s Consulting Business Unit as an Associate Consultant. 

Dr Teo is now responsible for assisting clients to improve cybersecurity posture and readiness through wargaming (yes, that’s really what it’s called) exercises. He is also involved in helping clients develop and fine-tune security policies and processes, conducting security audits and cybersecurity maturity assessments. “For Ensign, tech-lite roles are just as important as the tech-heavy ones, because they enable us to take a strategic approach to security and deliver greater value to our clients. This is a key differentiator for us in the saturated cybersecurity market,” Yeo explains. 

“No shortcut”, but joining the Digital Economy remains within reach 

For those looking to pick up relevant digital skills or embark on a career switch, there is a plethora of government and industry training options for digital skills available. A good starting point for mid-career professionals would be to leverage on SkillsFuture funding and programmes that are specially curated to focus on emerging skills. 

For specific areas such as cybersecurity, certifications are important for mid-career switchers. Yeo says, “Certifications are one way to demonstrate a certain level of skill or knowledge, especially if one does not have prior experience. Further, it sends a message that the candidate is self-motivated and committed to their own professional growth, qualities that are desirable in any candidate.” 

Chia echoes the sentiment, adding that it’s important to research on the prerequisites required, and do the necessary preparation work. For example, in FinTech, a blockchain development role would usually require a foundation in software development. 

At the end of the day, it all boils down to having passion and interest in learning new skills. “There are bound to be challenges along the way because learning a new digital skill is not trivial. Genuinely liking what you learn and what you do, can be a great motivation in your journey,” Chia says.  

He offers one last piece of advice for aspiring mid-career job seekers. “There is no shortcut – most digital skills require extensive practice to become proficient and employable. Hands-on time and practical sessions are extremely useful, but this means you have to navigate a lot of issues in planning and time management. That will help you to set realistic expectations for your career transition.” 

24 Mar 2023