Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Trade and Industry (a) whether there is a shortage of manpower in the biotech sector currently; (b) if so, how will the shortage of manpower in the biotech sector be addressed over the next decade; and (c) what are the key areas or levels of seniority in which the shortage of manpower in the biotech sector is most acute.
The Minister of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Low Yen Ling) (for the Minister for Trade and Industry): Mr Speaker, we expect the biotech sector to grow by 8% per annum and concomitantly, its manpower needs, especially for roles such as regulatory affairs and clinical project management.
We are addressing the biotech sector’s manpower needs in several ways. Firstly, by expanding the talent pipeline. A*STAR has nurtured a pool of 560 PhD-level talents for biomedical-related sectors to-date, including the biotech sector. In addition, we have a pipeline of 250 A*STAR scholars who are currently pursuing biomedical-related fields of study. The number of students admitted to biotech disciplines in our Autonomous Universities has grown from 1,200 in 2018 to 1,400 in 2021.
Second, we are nurturing talents who not only understand the science but also have the capabilities to commercialise, to fundraise and to scale up their business. We do this through efforts like the SGInnovate’s Helix Immersion Programme and the A*STAR’s Singapore Therapeutics Development Review (STDR) initiative. There is also the Innovation and Enterprise Fellowship Programme (IFP) which has attracted more than 90 fellows since its launch in 2020 and has seen 50 deep-tech startups, accelerators and incubators participate in its pilot.
Thirdly, we are supporting the industry’s need for scientific talent through A*STAR’s T-Up programme. T-Up is the Technology for Enterprise Capability Upgrading programme, which has seconded close to 70 researchers and scientists to 45 biotech-related companies.
Mr Speaker: Ms He Ting Ru.
Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I just wanted to check whether there will be any comments from the Ministry on the SGInnovate report that was published last year about whether there is going to be a widening gap that is projected, I think, 30% shortfall in talent within the next decade or so and whether there are any steps going to be taken to address some of these findings.
Ms Low Yen Ling: I want to thank the Member Ms He Ting Ru for paying close attention to the report which was just recently released and allow me to quickly elaborate on how the Government will take action from the report in terms of boosting the skills and manpower in the biotech sector.
Today, we have tripled the number of companies in biotech related areas compared to a decade ago. We have about 140 companies in Singapore involved in therapeutics, diagnostics, drug delivery as well as drug delivery tools. And to support the vibrant growth of this sector, as indicated in the report, we will continue to boost our talent pipeline all the way from the young university entrants, the entire spectrum to established researchers. I have highlighted some of the numbers about A*STAR PHD talent as well as the A*STAR scholars.
We will continue to do so through targeted programmes and initiatives that build and support the sector’s manpower needs. For instance, I mentioned briefly about STDR and this programme is about giving our scientists, our researchers opportunities to develop the skills and ability to fundraise in addition to their scientific talents, to commercialise and also scale up their business.
The Member may be interested to know that between 2015 to 2021 STDR has funded 44 therapeutics projects over seven grant calls, of which 18 projects have been completed.
I want to quickly also elaborate on the IFP that I mentioned because this offers our researchers, scientists and engineers, in fact working professionals, one year to one and a half years of formal and on-the-job training to help them develop entrepreneurial skills and since about two and a half years ago, since 2020, more than 90 fellows from academia and industry have onboarded, with many of them joining the deep tech startups and taking up technology commercialisation roles after completing the programme.
Another one – let me touch on the Helix Immersion Programme. By year 2025, this programme will place-and-train some 100 fellows in bio-tech startups and companies and more recently, just last month, on 13 January, we launched the Deep Tech Talent Central and this is led by SGInnovate and supported by the private and public sector partners. This programme offers apprenticeship for students and mid-career on-the-job training programmes.
So, I want to assure the Member that the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and our agencies will certainly continue to work closely with the industry, the universities and the stakeholders to follow up on this report to strengthen, boost and also nurture a vibrant and healthy talent pipeline for the growth and the future of our biotech sector.
Ministry of Trade and Industry
7 February 2023