Meet the Changemaker

For Singapore’s rapidly-evolving semiconductor industry, change has been the only constant over the last five decades. Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association (SSIA) Executive Director Ang Wee Seng, who spent two decades in the sector before taking on the challenge of leading its transformation two years ago, talks about the impact of Covid-19, SSIA’s strategy going forward, and how he envisions the future of the manufacturing industry’s most promising sector.

Covid-19 left a large number of sectors gasping for air. Semiconductors seem to have bucked the trend. Why is that?

Semiconductors are playing a central role in the ongoing digitalisation wave, with the Internet of Things, cloud computing, and emerging segments like AI driving its growth – and at phenomenal rates. This is why the industry remains one of the bright spots in Singapore and in other major global economies despite the pandemic. SSIA’s commitment to continuing to drive transformation within and beyond the sector will ensure our continuing success.

The semiconductor industry remains one of the bright spots in economy amid the ongoing pandemic.

The sector has grown impressively over the last five decades. How has that picked up of late?

Over the last 52 years, the sector has steadily climbed up the value chain to a point where we have almost the entire semiconductor ecosystem represented in Singapore. The semiconductor industry is one of Singapore’s first high-tech industries and contributes to roughly one third of Singapore’s manufacturing output.  We have the top foundries, the best R&D teams and the biggest names in the industry here. And the sector’s growth is far from done, both at an industry and national level. Though the industry is not spared from the impact of COVID-19, it is still taking advantage of the huge opportunities brought by the growth drivers such as 5G, loT, smart factories, and autonomous vehicles. Singapore’s Electronics Industry Transformation Map (ITM) will drive further productivity through three pillars: productivity improvements, innovation in product and services and, most importantly, development and growth of the talent pool.

5G, loT, smart factories, and autonomous vehicles – growth drivers for the semiconductor industry

You’ve been charged with “transforming” the sector through SSIA over the last two decades. What has that entailed?

In early 2018, SSIA’s Board assembled a team to ensure that our work took on even more relevance and impact, and to drive change through the sector in accordance with the ITM framework and its three pillars of development. Workforce development has become our foremost priority – ensuring that there are strategies in place to woo the brightest and best to the sector, and draw on the experiences of sector players and retired or retiring industry stalwarts to showcase the promise of the sector. This has been core to ongoing initiatives, and will form a key part of upcoming campaigns planned to excite potential industry hires. We hope to also seek support from industry leaders in terms of their participation and feedback on SSIA’s initiatives to make the Association more relevant.

Does SSIA have an overarching strategy for enabling the sector going forward?

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for our sector, given the diverse needs of players, especially between MNCs and SMEs. Some want to push aggressively on the digital front, while the focus for others is enhancing workforce capabilities or holding on to their competitive advantages. There is a need to grow the local ecosystem further, as we believe this will strengthen the overall industry here and attract more investment. Therefore, helping the local SME will be SSIA’s focus as part of the strategy moving forward.

Our Automation Supplier Day, for example, helps SMEs grow their networks and connect with bigger players in the industry. The Supply Chain Conference in August 2020, which was our first event in addressing the current supply chain challenges, helped bring valuable and updated information to different companies. As the sector regroups and charges ahead in the next few quarters, we will push these events even more aggressively.

Give us a hint about the upcoming recruitment campaign planned for the sector – how are you going to ensure you draw the brightest and the best?

Because chips are tiny, many do not realise exactly how mighty they are. They are central to everything many people use, need and enjoy on a daily basis, from mobile phones to gaming consoles. We will give the humble chip and the hidden stories of Singapore’s illustrious semiconductor sector – and its heroes – their rightful place, front and centre. As someone who began his career in microelectronics and has had a chance to work on products like Microsoft’s Xbox, what I can assure is that the stories are plenty.

Wooing future talents to join the semiconductor industry is SSIA’s key focus