Firms should upgrade workforce for future jobs: Heng

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and ST Engineering Aerospace deputy president Jeffrey Lam (centre) observing a robotic arm at the Airport Road facility yesterday.
Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat and ST Engineering Aerospace deputy president Jeffrey Lam (centre) observing a robotic arm at the Airport Road facility yesterday.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Removing the worn coating from the engine fan case of an aircraft used to take around two days when done by hand.

But since last December, a robot has taken over the task at ST Engineering Aerospace - and it can complete the job in about a day.

Such efforts in automation, along with a training council the company set up to equip workers with skills needed for future jobs, make it a good role model for others, said Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

"ST Engineering is among the first few companies in Singapore to set up an in-house training council, to work more closely together with the National Trades Union Congress and to look at the training of their workers," said Mr Heng on the sidelines of a visit to the aerospace facility in Airport Road.

"I hope that many more companies will embark on this... because I think it's important for us to devote time, attention and resources to the upgrading of our workers," he said.

Mr Heng's comments come a week after he delivered the Budget, which included a $4.6 billion investment to boost businesses and support Singaporean workers over the next three years.

Of this amount, $3.6 billion will be used to assist workers during industrial disruptions, while $1 billion will help firms to grow their deep enterprise capabilities.

Mr Heng said he has heard fairly positive comments on the Budget, given that it covers a range of issues from security to economic transformation. But he acknowledged that some sectors will face more stress, in particular those that are more manpower-intensive.

"We will need to continue to work closely together with our trade associations, with our unions, so that we can make this major transition," he said, adding that more time and effort need to be put in.

"As I said in the Budget, if we do not change, then we will be hitting a dead end... It is far better for us to take the slightly more difficult road today, so that we will reach our destination," he said.

Yesterday, Mr Heng flagged the need to focus on solutions and consider positive examples of what companies can do to cope with change, such as in the case of ST Engineering.

Mr Jeffrey Lam, deputy president of ST Engineering Aerospace, said yesterday that the company has put more money into technology to support its workforce.

It has spent up to 20 per cent more on investment in technology and engineering development over the past five years.

This is in part due to customers' rising expectations of higher productivity and better goods, but also because of an ageing workforce. More than half of ST Engineering Aerospace's 9,000 or so employees are aged above 45, said Mr Lam.

"We also have a shortage of labour supply... As a result, we need to invest in technology that will enable us to automate and be more productive," he added.

With the help of new technology, the company has managed to reduce turnaround time for processes by 20 per cent to 50 per cent, he said.

Looking ahead, the company is testing the use of a drone to inspect the exteriors of aircraft, doing away with the need for engineers to climb up and down fixtures.

Mr Lam added: "We will invest in almost all areas to move to (a paperless workflow), to moving our work to mobile devices."

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 26, 2019, with the headline 'Firms should upgrade workforce for future jobs: Heng'. Print Edition | Subscribe