PARLIAMENT

Tech@SG scheme will require firms to meet venture-capital terms

THE upcoming Tech@SG scheme for fast-growth tech companies, which will facilitate the entry of foreign "core team members" to Singapore, will require qualifying firms to have secured more than US$10 million in venture capital (VC) funding cumulatively, and have received funding from a programme-recognised VC in the past 36 months, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing in Parliament on Monday. "This will ensure the companies would have sufficient resources and readiness to internationalise and compete."

Amid global competition for tech talent, such fast-growth firms will need global talent in the short-term, even as Singapore builds up local talent in the longer term, said Mr Chan. He was replying to Member of Parliament Patrick Tay, who asked whether there was a need for Tech@SG in light of current economic conditions and the government's focus on hiring and strengthening local talent.

Tech@SG "is intended for companies with the commitment and ability to build teams and products in Singapore", both local and foreign, said Mr Chan. Apart from the VC requirements, qualifying firms will have to be incorporated in Singapore, have a digital or technology offering, or have a business model built around proprietary technologies, research or hardware.

Companies are increasingly basing investment decisions on the availability of talent, said Mr Chan. He noted France and Thailand's special visa programmes for tech talent, adding: "If Singapore sits back and does nothing, we will almost certainly be left behind."

Companies have also told government agencies that Singapore lacks experienced software engineers and product managers who can take charge of the development and rollout of digital products at a global scale, he added. "These are often people that can marry both technical leadership and commercial acumen, manage larger tech teams in the hundreds and thousands, and are highly valued because they are in short supply."

Singapore's pool of tech talent must thus be expanded, said Mr Chan. Although the first prong of Singapore's talent strategy is to develop the local workforce, "the demand for tech talent is far outstripping the local supply".

"We need to complement our local pipeline with skilled workers from all around the world to meet the surging demand from companies that are already in Singapore, and companies that we want to bring to Singapore," he said. That is where Tech@SG comes in.

While the government is "deeply cognisant of the fact that this topic can be easily stirred up because of the emotions involved and because it concerns jobs and the kind of society we want to build in Singapore", it has always sought to be honest with Singaporeans and has never shied away from explaining challenges and sharing what needs to be done, said Mr Chan.

"We will never stop putting Singaporeans at the heart of everything we do and will continue to develop every Singaporean to their fullest potential so that they can fulfil their aspirations and seize opportunities in Singapore and beyond," he said. "However, we must not go down the path of other countries who have started to put up barriers and take an inward-looking, protectionist approach not just to trade, but including talent."

Responding to a supplementary question from Mr Tay, Mr Chan confirmed that firms under Tech@SG will still be subject to the Ministry of Manpower's Fair Consideration Framework, which requires employers to give fair consideration to Singaporeans before hiring Employment Pass holders.