Closing the AI skills gap: The next step for Singapore’s pursuit of sustainable economic growth?

Artificial intelligence can be a force for good but there are challenges in building an AI-ready workforce. A new report sizes up Singapore’s AI opportunity and finds that Singapore businesses can gain up to S$198.3 billion in economic benefits in 2030 if they turn to AI-powered solutions.

Google AI First workshop
The Google for Startups Accelerator: AI First programme is supported by Enterprise Singapore and aims to scale high-potential AI startups in the city-state. The picture features a startup bootcamp organised under the initiative. Image: Google Cloud

Southeast Asia is on the cusp of a transformation led by developments in artificial intelligence (AI). Accelerated investments in AI could be harnessed for both sustainability solutions and green economic growth.

However, there remains a significant AI skills gap across economies, which undermines the technology’s growth potential. Businesses need to invest in building a more AI-ready workforce, but this can be challenging if the benefits are unclear. 

A new report launched this week attempts to help companies in Singapore – where the government has committed to boost AI capabilities – anticipate their potential revenue gain and cost savings from the transformative technology. The city-state will pump more than S$1 billion (US$743 million) over the next five years.

According to the Economic Impact Report by tech advisory firm Access Partnership, AI-powered solutions can bring in S$193.8 billion (US$147.6 billion) in 2030. The amount is comparable to a quarter of the city-state’s nominal gross domestic product (GDP) in 2023.

AI’s economic impact is difficult to quantify because its effects can ripple through economies in complex ways, highlighted the report, adding that the estimates can help to plug the gap in understanding and encourage AI adoption in Singapore. 

Speaking at the Google AI Connect Summit supported by Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA), Ben King, managing director of Google Singapore, said that the nation is “setting the pace” for innovation in the region, and is well-placed to maximise AI’s potential and solidify its position as a leading global business hub. In December last year, the Singapore government unveiled a renewed national AI strategy, which it said was meant to drive ecosystem change. 

King highlighted the importance of ensuring that AI solutions are universally accessible and adopted in a way that is useful and beneficial to everyone, as well as Google’s interest to collaborate with the government to ensure that robust infrastructure is in place to support and fuel innovation. “AI solutions have the potential to create a truly inclusive future,” he said. 

Ben King at Google AI summit

At the Google AI Connect Summit, managing director of Google Singapore Ben King highlighted the importance of fostering public-private partnerships to build a stronger ecosystem for AI innovation. Source: Google Cloud.

AI-driven climate action

AI has been recognised as an asset in the fight against climate change, due to its unique ability to synthesise complex data sets. A recent study published by Boston Consulting Group states that with AI, stakeholders can take a data-driven approach to combat carbon emissions and address climate risks. 

By incorporating AI into environmental solutions, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could potentially be reduced by four per cent in 2030. This amount is roughly equivalent to the annual GHG emissions of Russia, the world’s fifth largest emitter, in 2022.

AI can also be used to restore degraded ecosystems. 

For example, Google Australia embarked on a giant kelp forest conservation project off the coast of Tasmania. Using Google Cloud’s Vertex AI platform, along with geospatial mapping technology, a team of researchers from Google were able to map remaining kelp forests – known as “ecosystem engineers” for how they are essential habitats for thousands of other creatures – with accuracy and speed. 

Additionally, AI models can also help to improve long-term projections for localised sea-level rise or to upgrade early-warning systems for extreme weather phenomena like hurricanes and droughts. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has stressed the importance of these safeguards to mitigate the impacts of climate-related catastrophes.

In a global sentiments survey conducted by Google and market research firm IPSOS published this year, respondents also ranked climate change solutions among the top five important applications of AI for society.

Google-Ipsos survey results 1

Perceived importance of AI applications for society: 37 per cent of respondents believe climate change solutions to be a very important application of AI. Source: Google-IPSOS

In Singapore particularly, 87 per cent of respondents felt that AI could be used to develop new ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change. This is higher than the global average of 80 per cent. 

The collaborative study aimed to understand global public attitudes towards AI. 17,000 interviews were conducted with individuals across 17 countries, including Singapore, Australia, Japan and India. 

King highlighted the enthusiasm for AI in Singapore, citing the Google-IPSOS study: seven in ten Singaporeans believe that AI will positively impact the way they learn, work and access information.

Google-Ipsos Singapore results

Singaporeans perceive AI’s impacts more positively than the average respondent from across the world. Source: Google-IPSOS; Image: Eco-Business.

Generally, Singaporeans view AI more positively than the global average and are excited by AI’s potential to drive breakthroughs, including tackling climate change.

Strengthening AI fluency

To tap into Singapore’s AI potential, Google, in close collaboration with the government, intends to build an AI-ready workforce through funding various development programmes, among its other objectives.

“Investing in skilling programmes is how we empower Singaporeans to be part of this growing digital economy,” King said.

In support of Singapore’s Digital for Life movement, Google will be working with IMDA to roll out Gemini Academy, a new initiative to educate learners about the fundamentals of AI. Singapore is the first country where Google is expanding the Academy – originally designed for educators – beyond the classrooms to make AI literacy more accessible to the public.

Singaporeans will soon be able to access content around generative AI through updated resources on IMDA’s Digital for Life website and through the SG Digital Office. 

“Singapore has also invested tremendously to upskill and uplift our workforce in terms of AI, aiming to triple the pool of AI practitioners to 15,000 and uplift over 50,000 enterprises over the next 5 years through the Digital Enterprise Blueprint. IMDA will continue partnering with leading tech companies like Google to support our local enterprises and workforce on their AI journey,” said Kiren Kumar, deputy chief executive of the IMDA.

Google has also introduced programmes to help businesses and nurture a pipeline of AI talent by working with educational institutions.

Singaporeans can access AI courses to upskill themselves. Launched a few weeks back, the Google AI Essentials programme provides users with a self-paced online course. No experience is needed, and at the end of the course, they will earn a certificate to enhance their credentials. 

To help educational institutions nurture the next generation of AI-skilled talent, Google has worked with Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) to incorporate advanced Google Cloud training around AI and Machine Learning into their core curriculum. Over 1,000 students stand to benefit from this partnership, which integrates real-world megatrends and up-to-date needs in education. 

In some cases, experts from these tech majors also co-teach and mentor our students,” said Tan Soon Keow, director of Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Information Technology.

Upon graduation, students will be well-equipped with the in-demand expertise employers seek in the AI-driven job market, Tan added. 

Ecosystem transformation

Beyond enhancing workforce preparedness, Google also sees opportunities in working with key stakeholders and partners on strengthening Singapore’s innovation infrastructure, while ensuring the accessibility of AI technologies. 

It has jointly developed the AI Trailblazers programme with the Singapore government, which brings together AI infrastructure and training to help companies accelerate their development of home-grown generative AI solutions. The programme has benefited organisations like the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), People’s Association, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Temus, driving efficiency for both businesses and end-users.

Another programme supported by Enterprise Singapore, Google for Startups Accelerator: AI First programme aims to scale high-potential AI startups based in Singapore. Businesses can benefit from access to Google’s industry experts, technical training programmes, equity-free support and the assessment for any of their applications to the EnterpriseSG Startup SG Tech grant will also be expedited

Startups that have participated in the programme saw the performance of their sustainability solutions enhanced with AI. For instance, Singapore agritech firm DiMuto used AI to increase the traceability of agricultural products through the supply chain and managed to help reduce disputes over quality and reported increased trust among trade parties. This reduced potential food waste generated from rejected goods. Another startup Carbon Sync Ventures provided AI-driven real-time monitoring of carbon offset performance.

The diversity of public-private partnerships are the “real accelerators” because they allow resources to be pooled, and expertise shared, highlighted King.

“Through these strategic investments and partnerships, we are building more than just infrastructure. We are fostering an AI ecosystem where innovation flourishes, and Singapore thrives,” he added.

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