$72 million boost to skills as construction sector builds its high-tech future

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the construction industry is rapidly changing, and it is changing all over the world, including in Singapore.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said the construction industry is rapidly changing, and it is changing all over the world, including in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A $72 million training fund has been set up to help the building industry move away from the labour-intensive methods to more "smart" processes.

The funds will go towards boosting skills in the building sector, including financing existing scholarship and sponsorship programmes for students and adults, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Jan 22).

The funds, which have been earmarked from June last year to May 2020, could benefit the 118,000 locals working in the construction industry as well as architects and facility managers.

"The construction industry is rapidly changing, and it is changing all over the world, including in Singapore," said Mr Wong, adding that these changes are still behind the pace seen in sectors like transport and finance.

He noted that venture funding in building technology is growing and traditional firms are starting to do more to transform how they build, picking up new capabilities in automation, prefabrication and digital building and design methods.

"To make all these happen, our people are at the heart of this transformation journey. How far we go depends on the quality of the people we have," added Mr Wong, who was speaking at an iBuildSG scholarship ceremony at the National University of Singapore.

The $72 million fund will support an enhanced iBuildSG Scholarship and Sponsorship programme for those seeking academic qualifications in a full-time undergraduate, diploma or Institute of Technical Education track.

There were 448 scholarships and sponsorships awarded to polytechnic and ITE students, university graduates and post-graduates on Tuesday.

The programme partners these students with industry firms so they will have a job in the sponsoring company on graduation.

The firm will also provide on-the-job training programmes and part-time upgrading courses. Previously, this sponsorship programme was only open to polytechnic and ITE graduates; university graduates are now eligible as well.

 
 

Mr Wong said that no matter if a person is a degree or diploma holder, graduation is the starting point for lifelong learning and not the end of a person's education.

All those awarded scholarships and sponsorship will now receive a $3,000 training grant to boost their skills and competencies through courses. They will also be encouraged to stay on in the industry with a $7,000 retention incentive one year after their bond ends.

The existing Building Specialist Sponsorship programme, which supports the training of technical personnel, will also be extended from two to three years. This allows students to attend longer courses such as part-time Nitec, higher Nitec and post-ITE development courses, said Mr Wong.

In addition, a new iBuildSG Tripartite Committee, comprising industry stakeholders from the unions, institutes of higher learning, and trade associations and chambers, will find opportunities in attracting and developing talent.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will also launch an iBuildSG Club in April to entice secondary school and tertiary institution students to the built environment sector, helping them figure out the courses they can take if they wish to pursue a career.

KTC Civil Engineering and Construction senior project engineer Jason Li Koon Wai, 28, believes it is now no longer sufficient to have a meaningful career in the sector with just a degree as a bachelor's degree course "only scratches the surface" of the construction's growing adoption of technology.

Mr Li, who is pursuing a master's degree in science (civil engineering) with a BCA-KTC sponsorship, said the industry has become more high tech in just a few years.

He noted how his firm now automates and digitalises site measurements compared to the laborious manual readings back in 2015, when he first entered the industry.

"I used to think that construction is a lot more labour-intensive, but while it still requires a lot of manpower, that labour is deployed in more efficient ways," Mr Li said.

BCA chief executive Hugh Lim said the transformation of the construction sector is powered by having talented and committed people, which is why the authority has been upgrading its programmes and created new touch points for individuals to be interested in the industry.

"Students are a natural starting point and by reaching out to them at an early stage through the iBuildSG Club, they can be better advised on how to prepare themselves to seize new career opportunities in the sector," he added.