Banks in Singapore still scouring the globe to find their technologists

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Banks in Singapore are still recruiting specialist senior technologists from abroad, in a bid to overcome local talent shortages and competition from tech firms. But overseas hiring at a junior level has slowed to a crawl as the government encourages banks to take on more young Singaporean techies, say recruiters.

Technology is one of the few job functions in which both global and local banks in Singapore have recently been adding hundreds of new employees to their headcounts. DBS, for example, recruited about 200 new technologists in the year to end-May, while more than a third of J.P. Morgan’s Singapore staff now work in tech.

“Banks in Singapore have been growing their technology teams very aggressively over the last few years, and there’s now a noticeable gap between the supply of local candidates versus the demand for them,” says Lucas Yeo, head of banking and finance at recruiters Tangspac. “Tech firms are also hiring from banks, which increases this talent shortage.”

As a result, the Singapore government is still allowing experienced foreign technologists in specialist roles to relocate to the country as it “rebalances” the education system to boost the local tech workforce over the long term, according to Bloomberg. “Talent is very short everywhere in the world – AI talent, software programmers,” Education Minister Ong Ye Kung told the newswire last month. “We let them in because we require a critical mass for the sector to take off, while we continue to train Singaporeans for those jobs.”

Adam Davies, associate director and lead IT recruiter at iKas International, says demand for experienced techies in Singapore finance “is growing all the time”. “So it’s inevitable that banks and fintech firms are looking overseas for certain niche skills.”

Which particular technology skills do overseas job seekers need to have? “Developers with experience in full-stack, front-end, back-end or mobile development are highly sought after,” says Michael Nette, a director at recruiters Ambition. “Languages which are in high demand in Singapore banking include Java, Python and Go for back-end, and ReactJS, AngularJS and VueJS for front-end.”

“Cyber security, cloud, DevOps and senior architecture roles are also increasingly being sourced from overseas,” adds Adam Edwards, a business director at recruiters Hays. “This is because the technology is quite new and the skillset is not as developed in Singapore as in overseas markets.”

Yeo from Tangspac has also seen senior foreign candidates land jobs in Singapore because they have experience in fields such as AI, machine learning, data analytics, and UI/UX, or they understand niche banking products, including T24, Triple A Plus, and Murex. “Given the wide range of tech skills required by banks, the high degree of proficiency required in each one, and the fact that the in-demand skills are constantly changing, it’s difficult for experienced talent to come from the Singapore market alone,” says Yeo.

By contrast, junior jobs are increasingly being filled by Singaporeans, both new graduates and young tech professionals. Banks have been prioritising local hiring for all roles since the 2014 Fair Consideration Framework introduced an obligation to advertise jobs to Singaporeans before foreigners. The law only applies to positions paying under S$180k, but that includes almost all junior banking tech vacancies.

“Compared with four years ago it’s more difficult for banks to hire at associate level, for example,” says Davies from iKas. “But at VP and above its not a problem for most banks.”

An overseas technologist’s chances of obtaining an Employment Pass to work in Singapore depend not just on factors such as their skills, experience and salary, but also on the ratio of foreign vs local staff in the team and/or bank they are applying to. The Ministry of Manpower has recently stepped up its scrutiny on companies with a disproportionately low concentration of Singaporeans in their workforces. This may mean that banks that already employ a high percentage of local technologists may potentially be given more leeway to hire from abroad when they need to, say recruiters.

“Conversely, I’ve seen some banks experiencing more challenges than others when hiring foreign technologists. These banks are now working to take on more local talent, giving them an additional quota to hire from overseas,” says Davies, without naming the firms. “Every bank has to get the balance right between having local and overseas people on their payroll.”

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Image credit: bluesky85, Getty

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