(Sept 2): Singapore needs to remain open to skilled foreign workers, especially in the technology sector, in order to ensure the economy stays a globally competitive one, the nation’s trade minister said.

The city state can’t afford to take an “inward-looking, protectionist approach” like some countries that have put up barriers to protect local industries and workers, Minister for Trade & Industry Chan Chun Sing said in prepared remarks delivered in parliament Monday.

He was responding to a question from a lawmaker on whether there was a need for a new government programme aimed at helping technology firms attract skilled foreign workers, given a worsening economy and an objective of strengthening the local workforce.

With a global shortage of skills in the technology sector, if Singapore doesn’t stay open to foreign talent, “we will almost certainly be left behind,” Chan said. He cited countries like France and Thailand, which have recently made changes to their work visa programmes to lure skilled professionals in technology.

“We must be prepared for these fast-growth companies to recruit the skills they most require,” the minister said. “In the short-term, these skills may come from global professionals. But, we must take a strategic view on this to reap the long-term rewards for Singaporeans.”

He also gave the following updates on the government’s skills measures:

• More than 74,000 training places have been taken up or committed under the TechSkills Accelerator, a programme first announced in the 2016 budget to upskill workers in information and communications technology

• Universities and other institutes of higher learning offer around 200 full-time tech-related courses. In the 2018 academic year, there was an enrolment of more than 63,000 locals in these courses, which received about $1.1 billion in government funding