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On the Talent Hunt: At our MedTech startup, most of our hires had no prior experience — and that's okay

The medical technology (MedTech) industry in Singapore is thriving, but finding the right talent is a perennial challenge for startups like Advanced Ophthalmic Innovations (AOI), which develops medical devices that address glaucoma.

Mr Seah Chen Lock, 51, is deputy director of Advanced Ophthalmic Innovations (AOI), a spinoff from the National University of Singapore.

Mr Seah Chen Lock, 51, is deputy director of Advanced Ophthalmic Innovations (AOI), a spinoff from the National University of Singapore.

As companies across a wide range of sectors in Singapore are grappling with a manpower crunch in a tight labour market, TODAY’s Voices section is publishing first-hand accounts from business owners.

In this instalment, Mr Seah Chen Lock, 51, deputy director at medical technology startup Advanced Ophthalmic Innovations, describes how the company has had to cast its net wide to find talent from other industries. To date, more than three quarters of its staff have been hired from outside the sector.

The medical technology (MedTech) industry in Singapore is thriving, but finding the right talent is a perennial challenge for startups like Advanced Ophthalmic Innovations (AOI), which develops medical devices that address glaucoma.

Due to the industry’s nascent nature, it is an uphill task for many MedTech startups to recruit experienced staff. We also compete with larger companies, which often provide better remuneration and incentives.

As the MedTech ecosystem expands, companies need a suitable workforce to sustain this growth.

Hence, firms need to be innovative in recruiting to stay ahead in this fiercely competitive market. This involves a delicate balancing act of selecting, training, retaining, and motivating talent to stay in the sector.

These limitations were more exposed than ever by the pandemic, which resulted in the drying up of talent pools, tightened budgets, and few wanting to switch jobs during uncertain times.

We had to cast our net wider by seeking talent from outside our industry, from sectors such as information technology (IT), manufacturing and service.

To date, more than three quarters of our staff have been hired from outside our sector. More than 90 per cent of our employees are locals.

I was also given the opportunity to diversify into the MedTech industry in June 2020.

I started my career in IT as an engineer, but due to structural changes in my previous company and the IT sector as a whole, I pivoted to MedTech. The move was not easy due to the steep learning curve related to medical terminologies and regulations, but my 25 years of work experience have helped in managing these demands.

Due to our hiring from outside the sector, we have set aside budgets to train staff in areas such as quality management and regulatory requirements.

We encourage our team to adopt a learner’s mindset. This means working closely with universities and research institutions here to develop next-generation products and solutions. We partner with these institutions to commercialise their intellectual property into products that meet clinical needs. This involves everything from design, testing, and packaging, all the way to clinical trials.

We also participate in Enterprise Singapore’s Global Ready Talent (GRT) programme, which enables us to tap a grant to recruit interns for a period of five to six months.

Interns potentially offer fresh perspectives for our business. In return, they gain practical industry experience by working closely with our staff.

This arrangement has worked well for us since the early years of our growth, and we regularly take in interns every six months.

After completing their stints, we extend job opportunities to some. So far, we have invited five individuals to consider full-time roles with us. Three of them have joined us in functions such as product engineering and regulatory affairs.

In these challenging times, there is no room for complacency. We continue to stay relevant by emphasising training and development, and keeping abreast of technology and regulatory developments. This is also key to growing and retaining talent.

 

ABOUT THE WRITER:

Mr Seah Chen Lock, 51, is deputy director of Advanced Ophthalmic Innovations (AOI), a spinoff from the National University of Singapore (NUS). Established in late 2014, the company develops medical technologies and products that address glaucoma with global sales in more than 35 countries. 

If you are a business owner with an experience to share or know someone who wishes to contribute to this series, write to voices [at] mediacorp.com.sg with your full name, address and phone number.

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