Jobs in construction sector to go high-tech

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is aiming to have 80,000 personnel trained in construction technology - which prioritises productivity and innovation over manual work - enter the industry by 2025.
The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is aiming to have 80,000 personnel trained in construction technology - which prioritises productivity and innovation over manual work - enter the industry by 2025. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

BCA plans for 80,000 trained in cutting-edge technology as part of industry transformation

Instead of sweat, mud and grime, Singaporeans joining the construction industry in the near future may be greeted with digital design and cutting-edge technologies, as the Government embarks on an overhaul of a sector that has long struggled to attract local workers.

"Essentially, we are speaking about transformation of the whole construction sector - the entire process and value chain, from end to end," Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee said at the opening ceremony of the Singapore Construction Productivity Week yesterday.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is aiming to have 80,000 personnel trained in construction technology - which prioritises productivity and innovation over manual work - enter the industry by 2025. There are currently 32,600 trained in these areas.

The move is part of the newly launched Construction Industry Transformation Map (ITM), which is designed to pave the way for more attractive and highly skilled construction jobs in the sector. The move will also mean holding steady the figure of nearly 300,000 foreign workers the sector now relies on.

BCA chief executive officer Hugh Lim said: "We want to try to maintain the number of foreign workers at the current level, yet be able to cope with an increase in output as more big projects start kicking in."

BCA started to explore the feasibility of using new construction paradigms, such as Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), a decade ago in order to boost productivity rates and change the industry into one that resembles a highly productive manufacturing line.

This is achieved through technology such as prefabricated prefinished volumetric construction (PPVC), where large building modules manufactured in factories are assembled in a Lego-like manner.

Built this way, construction sites can see up to 40 per cent in manpower savings, which could mean faster completion times, fewer work incidents and a cleaner site.

BCA targets 40 per cent of all projects to adopt DfMA by 2020, up from the 10 per cent now. For HDB flats, 35 per cent of dwelling units will use concrete PPVC by 2019, making HDB one of the biggest adopters of the technology.

The ITM also charts the adoption of other high-tech methods in the construction pipeline, including green building technologies, and a move to integrate designers, builders, subcontractors and facility managers in the building's life cycle through an approach known as Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD).

Operations and maintenance of a building can cost up to four to five times more than actual construction, so with IDD, potential life cycle savings will be considerable.

Out of the 80,000 people to enter the industry, 35,000 will be trained in DfMA, 20,000 in IDD and 25,000 in green building technologies.

These high-tech methods are still more expensive, putting small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) at a disadvantage when it comes to early adoption. Reactions were generally positive, but a few SMEs had their qualms.

Said business development manager Lim Wei Chian of Tong Hai Yang Construction, an SME: " It will take some time for everyone to familiarise themselves with it, but we will get there."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Jobs in construction sector to go high-tech'. Print Edition | Subscribe