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Professional services sector roadmap aims to create 5,500 new jobs a year for PMETs

It will equip workers with skills in high-growth areas such as data science, AI, analytics

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Ms Indranee touring Dentsu Aegis Network's regional HQ at Guoco Tower. She says the government will play a "catalytic role" by working with industry to develop innovation platforms.

Singapore

A NEW roadmap to help boost the professional services sector aims to generate 5,500 new jobs for professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) every year until 2020.

The sector's Industry Transformation Map (ITM) will also equip workers with skills in high-growth areas such as data science, analytics and artificial intelligence.

The target is for professional services to grow 4.6 per cent every year from 2015 to reach a value-add of S$31 billion by 2020, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah.

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She was speaking at the official opening of media and digital marketing communications group Dentsu Aegis Network's Asia-Pacific headquarters on Wednesday.

Professional services include architecture and engineering services, consulting, accounting, legal and advertising.

Firms in these industries employed more than 230,000 people in 2016 and contributed S$25 billion, or 6.5 per cent, of Singapore's gross domestic product that year.

The ITM will include initiatives to help homegrown firms expand overseas, facilitate collaboration among companies, as well as help companies and workers build key digital capabilities.

The government will play a "catalytic role" by working with the industry to develop innovation platforms, Ms Indranee said. This includes setting up a data-sharing consortium, which involves firms such as Google, Grab and Adobe helping companies use data to drive marketing innovation.

Four new Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) - which help PMETs find jobs in growth sectors and get the necessary skills training - will also be rolled out this year. They will train people for roles in programmatic advertising, internal audit, user experience/user interface design and building information modelling.

This will come on top of more than 10 professional services PCPs which have already been rolled out.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Patrick Tay said the professional services sector has not been spared the impact of disruption.

"Although professional services have typically been very 'high touch', increasingly technology has taken over a big portion of the work.

"These are exciting times for the sector with many new growth areas ... but there are also jobs at risk - for instance, the more manual jobs in accounting," Mr Tay said.

Technology is changing the way professional services firms work with clients and the sector has to transform to take full advantage of this, Ms Indranee said.

For instance, doing due diligence used to involve "armies of lawyers and accountants going down to the clients' office and trawling through the books".

"Now you can do a lot of that with data analytics," she said, adding that this involves a different set of skills.

Some professional services firms are already jumping on the tech bandwagon.

Dentsu Aegis' new 100,000 sq ft Asia-Pacific headquarters at Guoco Tower, for instance, hosts its Global Data Innovation Centre, which will serve as its global hub for data scientists and tech talent.

Local accounting firm Precursor Group set up its own technology team to develop a cloud-based platform with applications for various accounting and audit functions.

When the apps go live in the coming months, staff will be able to work from home or even from clients' offices or co-working spaces, said managing director Tan Khoon Guan.

"The idea is that we do not need to have an office ... We also want to be closer to clients - many start-ups and tech firms work out of coworking spaces," he added.

The company also hopes to further develop its platform into a marketplace for professional services applications.

Law firm Covenant Chambers tapped on a government scheme to implement a cloud-based software to help manage information and generate invoices more efficiently.

The system allows lawyers to access documents on the go, as well as update expenses in real-time to make billing more accurate.

The firm - founded in 2016 - has also signed up to an online marketing platform which allows clients to pay a nominal fee for "quick consults" with lawyers.

"We are relatively new and hoping to establish a brand name," said managing director Lee Ee Yang.

"Having a good back-end system helps keep costs down, which also means clients enjoy savings."

The professional services ITM is the 18th of 23 industry roadmaps that the government has earmarked. The remaining maps are expected to be launched by March. The 23 ITMs will cover 80 per cent of the economy.

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