The First Word: How Singapore can close the cybersecurity gap

Singapore has long been a gateway for tech companies looking to expand operations into Southeast Asia and has a growing reputation of being the ‘Silicon Valley of Asia’. The city-state is also home to a thriving tech-enabled startup ecosystem and is strongly positioned as one of the world’s most advanced digital economies.  

However, according to a recent workforce study, 79% of IT and technology firms in Singapore are facing tech talent shortages. As the country rapidly shifts towards automation and digitisation, there remains increased demand for specialist skills and talent in areas such as cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, and data science and analytics, and solution architects across application expertise (such as SAP functional specialists).  

The proliferation of cloud computing and digitalisation has made the tech industry more complicated and complex than ever before, causing major talent gaps. This issue in itself has highlighted the fact that many courses and curriculums offered at higher learning institutions are not quite up to speed with what the industry needs. When a student commits three or more years to studying for a degree in a tech-related field, they may find that by the time they graduate, the skills learned are likely to be outdated or lacking.   

A degree is not what necessarily gets you the job; rather, a better start to a career in tech and particularly in cybersecurity would be having the right mix of qualifications and hands-on work experience to truly keep up with the fast-paced nature of the industry.  

Bridging the gap between education and career  

There is a quote by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, “For the things we learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them,” which is very relevant for solving some of today’s tech talent shortages. 

To overcome the challenges of a skills shortage and build a sustainable talent pipeline for Singapore, we need to create more pathways between learning and employment. Formal education can certainly be necessary, but recruiting tech talent should not be limited to their paper qualifications. Cybersecurity talent shortages are that much harder to fill because of the constant evolution not only in technology but also in cyber threats; so to really understand cloud security vulnerabilities, new cybersecurity recruits need to be familiar with its relevant applications and defence strategies.  

As an industry veteran, I am very committed to developing local cybersecurity talent by sharing knowledge and meaningful workplace opportunities. I believe that if students are given the exposure to skills required in the workplace, we are better able to narrow the talent gaps which exist in the country today. At Lumen Technologies, we are driving this message home through a key strategic partnership with ITE College East to provide an authentic training experience for students enrolled in the Work-Study Diploma in Cyber Security & Forensics. We have been proud to partner along with three other technology companies, to enhance learning through internship placements as well as providing access to industry-leading cybersecurity training platforms and software. In my capacity as a cybersecurity professional, I’ve personally been very involved in helping to review the course modules to ensure that the skills delivered are what’s really required for our industry. The new training facility has also benefited from case studies and real-life scenario training with input from Black Lotus Labs, the threat intelligence arm of Lumen Technologies.  

The work-study program enables students to join us at the Lumen Security Practice as a full-time employee, with opportunities to be exposed to our Security Operations Centre (SOC), threat hunting operations and SecOps engineering. During this time, they work closely with members of the SOC to learn the fundamentals of security controls and also train in using our advanced technologies to detect and mitigate cyber threats. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to develop critical soft skills such as creative and analytical thinking, communication, problem-solving, and empathy to understand customer pain points 

By bridging the real world with the classroom, education institutions and the tech industry will be in a better position to identify the areas of expertise students are passionate about, and hone in-demand skills to prepare them for future job opportunities.  

Growing a wider cybersecurity talent pool  

Across Asia Pacific, more than 2.1 million people are needed to fill the cybersecurity workforce gap. As an industry, there requires a major shift in mindset to overcome the perception that only people with years of technical education and experience can become cybersecurity professionals.  

What’s crucial for the industry now is a greater acknowledgement that a tech talent pipeline doesn’t have to be built only after a candidate has graduated from university. Rather, it should be continuously fed with internships, job placements, and entry-level positions in several related areas. There also needs to be recognition and opportunities for candidates who bring different skills and may not have followed the typical career paths associated with IT security.  

It’s also no secret that women are seriously underrepresented in the industry, with only 24% in the cybersecurity workforce. The industry collectively needs to front initiatives to encourage women to pursue their interests and careers in tech for equal opportunities and to increase the hiring pool diversity.   

A career in cybersecurity has certainly kept me on my toes and is not the typical 9-5 job I thought it would be at the beginning of my career. But it’s a job that’s as highly important as it is fast-paced and rapidly evolving, making it seem like every day is a new adventure. As Singapore ramps up its status as a digital technology hub in the region, cybersecurity talent will surely become one of the nation’s greatest assets.


About the author

The First Word: How Singapore can close the cybersecurity gap - headshot

Wai-Kit Cheah is Senior Director of Lumen’s Product Management and Practices function in Asia-Pacific and a key member of Lumen Technologies’ Senior Management team. Prior to 2022, he was responsible for strategising Lumen’s cybersecurity strategy, roadmap and architecture of Lumen’s Security Operations Centers in the region. 

An IT veteran with three decades of diverse experiences across IT/OT, Operations, Risk and Compliance, Cybersecurity, AI and Automation, Cheah is a strong advocate for digital transformation and risk management. 

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Chief of Staff Asia