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Soaring MedTech Industry Faces Skills Shortage

A deep dive into the talent needs of the MedTech industry in Asia Pacific.

by Asher Tan

The Asia Pacific (APAC) MedTech scene is expected to surge to US$133 billion a year by 2020, from US$88 billion in 2015. Catalysed by an ever-growing patient population and an increase in demand for quality healthcare, APAC’s MedTech is set to surpass the EU as the second-largest market globally, after the Americas.

Singapore is a popular destination within APAC for MedTech companies. Besides having a steady and growing inflow of investments, Singapore is also often regarded as a launchpad to other ASEAN markets, owing to factors such as advanced IT infrastructure and willingness to cope with rapid technological developments.

The Oliver Wyman Forum’s inaugural Global Cities AI Disruption Index places Singapore as the market that is most prepared for the next wave of technology disruption brought by AI (artificial intelligence).


Insufficient Skilled Talent to Keep Pace With Technology

As tech companies continue to be attracted to set up base in Singapore, the number of STEM-jobs will undoubtedly increase. A Randstad study in Singapore noted that 55 percent of respondents said that their employers are hiring for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) profiles.

However, a report from the Ministry of Manpower, Singapore revealed that the number of STEM-graduates has declined over the past 10 years. This lack of skilled talent will take a toll on science and technology companies, as they will face a decline in suitable skilled talent to keep up with their needs.

MedTech firms are already looking at alternatives to keep the engine going, such as hiring talents from other industries or relocating experts to Singapore to upskill the local workforce. New initiatives such as Tech@SG were developed to cater to the hiring needs of tech companies. It aims to help companies in frontier technologies accelerate innovation, commercialize ideas as well as facilitate skills and knowledge transfer to the local talent pool.


Three In-Demand Roles That MedTech Companies Are Looking For in 2019/2020

As the pace of drug development slows down, paradigm shifts in demands for healthcare facilities, and ageing populations, the industry is looking to MedTech firms to resolve the escalating healthcare challenges. MedTech companies continuing their regional expansion will to cater to the hiring needs in 2020 and are seeking talent from within and outside the industry to meet its talent demands. Here we explore the three specializations MedTech companies will be looking to hire for the coming year in 2020.

1. Regional Sales and Marketing

MedTech companies have previously engaged local distributors to enter new markets and improve patient access to their products. However, this approach has proved difficult for them to maintain control over how their products are being communicated and sold.

To gain control and maintain corporate integrity, firms are observed to build its regional sales and marketing team in Singapore. Experienced professionals who are familiar with local patient behaviours and regulatory processes as well as high-impact marketing strategies would be in high demand. Employers are casting their net to the technology and pharmaceutical industries to fulfil talent needs.


2. Research & Development

With the constant pursuit to meet healthcare demands, MedTech firms are in a competition to discover, design and innovate new solutions that could be the next blockbuster in healthcare. Whether it is in medical devices, bionics, or drug discovery, companies are actively looking for entrepreneurial and innovative individuals who are able to tap into the latest technological advancements.


Within the MedTech R&D space, there are two broad high demand areas:

The first involves data collection and analysis during the research phase. R&D professionals collect and analyse patient and lab data to refine existing products, further validate studies and develop new solutions. The use of big data allows researchers to process and streamline large amounts of information from clinical trials and studies around medical devices. This allows for a more accurate predictive modelling and a better understanding of information collected, which will eventually lead to the development of more fitting technologies.

The second is in the area of product development, with the design process perhaps being the most important stage in the development of devices. Companies are integrating AI in imaging devices to improve clinical outcomes and improve diagnosis. Home-care products are now designed to constantly monitor patients and automate the delivery of treatment, freeing hospital facilities to those who need them more. With increasing knowledge and use of automation, machine learning and AI, R&D professionals are now more than ever hard-pressed to collaborate with engineers to develop products and solutions that will improve patients’ lives.


3. Engineers to Drive Smart Manufacturing

Manufacturing firms and regional centres of excellence choose Singapore as their APAC home ground because of its strong and innovative engineering abilities, wide presence of automation suppliers and world-class standards of quality assurance.

As MedTech companies gravitate towards the use of smart manufacturing to facilitate the digital transformation, companies are hiring engineers skilled in advanced development. These new technologies can open up more opportunities for growth in a wider range of therapeutic areas, further developing their product lines and sustaining their existing products for a better patient experience. Digitally adept engineers are also expected to build machine learning and AI capabilities to improve diagnostics accuracy.


Strengthening the Local Talent Pool

With various talent challenges constraining the local MedTech scene, it is vital that measures are being taken to address them.

1. Early Intervention to STEM

A sustainable supply of STEM talent can help drive innovation in hyper-emerging industries. Therefore, early intervention is key to spark interest in children from a young age. When youths understand the myriad of career opportunities and impact on the world, they will be more inclined to contribute to the STEM industry. For instance, primary school students will soon be taking coding as a mandatory course to learn computational thinking and coding concepts. Aware of skills gap in these advancing industries, universities and tertiaries are also starting to offer new STEM degrees and modules, targeting computing science, data analytics and engineering to students.

This increasing focus on STEM is also evident in other more mature countries such as the United States, Ireland, and Germany. Germany has more than 150 Bachelor’s Degree and master’s degree programmes in the field of MedTech, which has resulted in a flourishing talent pool for many companies. A sizeable pool of STEM talent will also attract more companies to settle their APAC operations in Singapore, creating even more job opportunities.


2. Hire Professionals with Transferable Skills

Another avenue to make up for the talent shortage is for MedTech employers to hire talent from other similar industries such as pharmaceuticals, technology and manufacturing. Due to similar mode of operations in these industries, employees with transferable skills can easily transition into MedTech firms. Companies that hire from other industries will also need to invest in internal onboarding as well as training and development programmes to equip these individuals with industrial knowledge that is unique to MedTech.


3. Include Training and Development in Agendas

When large MedTech companies and industry associations put human capital development on their corporate agenda, they will stand to benefit from a highly skilled workforce. While schools build the foundation for STEM professionals to start their careers in MedTech, companies can help deepen those capabilities through adequate on-the-job exposure and keep them up to speed on technological advances that will have an impact or could potentially disrupt the industry.

Currently, there are some initiatives between the private and public sectors to help train and develop the next generation of HealthTech innovators for Singapore and APAC. The Singapore-Stanford Biodesign Programme set up by A*STAR, EDB and Stanford University is one such example, which offers a 10-month long fellowship that focuses on hands-on, team-based training in MedTech innovation.


A Long Road Ahead for MedTech Firms

Healthcare is one of the most recession-proof sectors. Over the next few years, MedTech firms will only continue to expand their teams to manage growing demands. This will not only include STEM-based jobs, but also in human resources, sales and marketing, finance and accounting and others who play a significant role in business sustainability. [APBN]


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About the Author

Asher Tan,
Senior Client Solutions Director, Randstad Singapore