New framework aims to boost Singapore's competitiveness in energy and chemicals manufacturing

Chemical and utility pipelines seen on Jurong Island in a photo taken on Nov 5, 2018. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Companies in the process construction and maintenance industry that provide services to energy and chemicals plants will soon be able to attain recognition if they meet certain productivity benchmarks.

A new certification framework will evaluate companies in four areas: how they improve planning and execution through using project management tools; technology adoption; staff development; and how well they collect data that can be analysed.

Certified companies benefit as plant owners would be more likely to engage them for contracts, said Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Koh Poh Koon in launching the framework on Wednesday (Nov 13).

He added that the initiative - the Economic Development Board (EDB) said it is the first in the world for the energy and chemicals industry - can be a strong value proposition for Singapore if implemented well.

"While we may have to face carbon constraints, we may have to face land constraints, let us not make people, the only resource we have, become a constraint as well," Dr Koh told around 100 people at an industry seminar on productivity at the Trade Association Hub in Jurong East.

"We can punch above our weight and break that constraint of human numbers by making sure that each and every one increases their productivity."

Dr Koh, who is also deputy secretary-general at the National Trades Union Congress, also encouraged companies to tap union networks to help workers be more willing and able to adopt technology.

There are about 400 process construction and maintenance companies here, servicing more than 100 international energy and chemical manufacturers on Jurong Island that have cumulatively invested $50 billion or so here.

Mr Koh Yak Boo, chairman of the Productivity Council for the process construction and maintenance industry and energy and chemicals industry, expanded on how the new framework could benefit this sector.

Its aim is to improve productivity, which in turn can shorten maintenance downtime for plant owners while helping contractors generate more revenue, he noted.

"We want to use that to attract investments to Singapore, build new plants, energise the economy and create job opportunities for our people," Mr Koh said.

The framework was developed over the past four years by the Productivity Council, which was initiated by the EDB, Singapore Chemical Industry Council and Association of Process Industry. It includes representatives from process construction and maintenance firms as well as energy and chemical plant owners.

Mr Koh, the Productivity Council chairman, said the six biggest process construction and maintenance companies, which employ more than half of the industry's workers, will be certified by next year.

The hope is that they will then encourage their subcontractors to implement the framework, which is voluntary.

"We think business owners will see the intrinsic value of the framework. It's not just a yardstick; it also tells you the specific actions you need to take to achieve the next quantum improvement in productivity," said Mr Koh, who is also ExxonMobil's Singapore site turnaround manager.

Companies will be trained to evaluate their own work processes and data in order to see which of the five tiers they fall into. The standards in the highest tier, platinum, are based on world best practices while those in the lowest - merit - are based on current practices here.

For example, the best ratio is one supervisor to three foremen but the industry average here is one supervisor to six foremen, said Singapore Chemical Industry Council principal consultant Pramesh Krishnankutty.

Likewise, best foreman-to-workers ratio is one is to four; here the average is one to 10. There should eventually be a body that can issue certificates, said Mr Koh.

Singapore Refining Company project manager Timothy Lim said the framework will provide more structure to how his company evaluates contractors' technical capabilities during tenders for work such as piping, electrical and equipment maintenance. It typically considers factors like track record, safety and tools.

"If plant owners were to look at cost alone, we won't get the best quality. Now we can have a common platform and system so that everyone can be evaluated equally," he said.

Mr Roger Chia, chairman and managing director of Rotary Engineering - one of the six big firms piloting the framework - said he is working on optimising how teams of workers are organised and on digitalising work records so that productivity can be better monitored and improved.

"By measuring improvements in productivity and controlling wastage, we can deliver the job in time and within the budget, and better manage the shortage of manpower," he added.

Correction note: This article has been amended to correct the Singapore Chemical Industry Council's name. We are sorry for the error.

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