More certification programs will be needed to produce skilled professionals to cope with tightened data privacy laws around the world.

The increasing demand for data privacy, as well as the perpetual threat of data theft by sophisticated hackers, has led to a shortage of skilled data protection professionals. 

In Singapore, December 2019 saw the graduation of the first batch of 12 Advanced Diploma in Data Protection students from Singapore Management University’s SMU Academy. At the graduation ceremony on 13 December, the Academy – which is the professional training arm of the university – announced that a total of 1,500 professionals have been trained there this year through 15 data protection related courses. This is a 50% increase from 2018.  

The Advanced Diploma in Data Protection is awarded to participants who have successfully completed both the Advanced Certificate in Data Protection Operational Excellence and Advanced Certificate in Data Protection Principles (11 course modules in total).

These two Advanced Certificate programmes, which cover data protection principles and operational requirements of data protection laws in the ASEAN region, Greater China and the European Union, can be accumulated via a credit system, leading to an Advanced Diploma in Data Protection.

Launched in July 2018, the curriculum is targeted at both legal and non-legal professionals interested in data privacy and protection, and is the first of its kind in the ASEAN region.

Dr Lim Lai Cheng, Executive Director, SMU Academy, said: “We have seen a significant rise in interest level and enquiries regarding our data protection courses. This illustrates the heightened awareness of the need to properly manage personal data in compliance with the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA), and the consequent increase in demand for such expertise among companies in Singapore.”

Congratulating the first batch of graduates who have successfully attained the Advanced Diploma, Dr Lim added: “Being the first to have completed our unique practice-based and application-oriented data protection curriculum… this group of data protection specialists will become an invaluable asset to their respective organizations. The knowledge that they have gained will also bode well for their future careers in this field.” 

Aside from the 12 Advanced Diploma in Data Protection students who graduated, 51 Advanced Certificate in Data Protection Operational Excellence students and 17 Advanced Certificate in Data Protection Principles students also received their graduation certificates. These participants hailed from varied backgrounds, including legal professionals, Data Protection Officers (DPOs), compliance as well as information security professionals.

Besides the advanced certificate modules, in 2019, more than 800 course participants, including DPOs, attended certification training such as the Practitioner Certificate in Data Protection conducted by the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), as well as international certification courses conducted by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP). 

The latter had estimated in 2016 that there would be a worldwide shortage of 75,000 DPOs due to the impact of the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation. In Singapore, the Data Protection Excellence Network (DPEX) centre led by compliance training firm Straits Interactive had also forecasted in the same period that Singapore would need more than 10,000 skilled data protection professionals locally by 2020. 

Said Kevin Shepherdson, CEO, Straits Interactive: “We are seeing an upward trend towards both local and international data protection-related certification courses, especially in developing and implementing a data protection management programme (DPMP). This trend will likely continue due to the shortage of data protection officers (DPO) and new laws being introduced in the region requiring the appointment of a DPO and the emphasis on data protection in the government sector.”

Notwithstanding the trends in data privacy regulations and commercial implications, businesses must value customer sentiments and be transparent in their use of personal data.

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