Industry leaders discuss ways to boost workforce development in built environment sector

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad speaking at a breakfast talk for CEOs on the last day of the International Built Environment Week on Sept 6, 2019.
Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad speaking at a breakfast talk for CEOs on the last day of the International Built Environment Week on Sept 6, 2019.PHOTO: BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION AUTHORITY

SINGAPORE - The built environment sector aims to attract more skilled workers by engaging students in better ways, mapping out clearer career paths and improving jobs through digitalisation.

The initiatives were raised by industry leaders at a panel discussion on Friday (Sept 6) during the final day of the International Built Environment Week (IBEW) conference.

Mr Liew Mun Leong, chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong, suggested getting experienced engineers to talk to younger people about what they do.

"If you show them how Jewel was built, they will be more excited than just telling them, 'You can build Jewel'," he told around 300 fellow senior executives at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

Mindsets still need to change, Mr Liew added, calling the lack of trained engineers "a national problem". He noted that in France, engineers are more highly regarded than doctors and lawyers.

Far East Organization chief executive Philip Ng said Singaporeans are capable of executing world-class quality building projects, but few want to get involved in maintenance.

"When you have such a huge built environment, we have a dire need for good maintenance management people, because that's going to make a difference on quality finally.

"You can build very well, but if you don't maintain well, you're going to lose a lot of value."

Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad had earlier outlined details about a leadership development scheme for the industry that was launched in May.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) started the first run of the iBuildSG Leadership Engagement and Development (Lead) Horizon Programme last month for 25 young emerging leaders to hone their skills.

In October, 20 senior-level leaders will start the first run of the Lead Milestone Programme, which includes a stint at Imperial College London and an overseas immersion programme in Asia.

Mr Zaqy noted that the Institution of Engineers Singapore is working with partners to develop a national engineering career progression pathway for technologists and technicians, to give more recognition to skills acquired through engineering work experience and training.

"Our transformation journey is for the long haul, and we should undertake this with a collaborative spirit and forward-thinking mindset," he said.

Panellist Wong Chee Herng, group managing director and CEO of Straits Construction, suggested that schools organise field trips to building exhibitions and educate students that the construction industry is not just about spending long hours under the hot sun.

BCA CEO Hugh Lim said some 700 students visited the IBEW event this week, adding that employers can engage students through fruitful internships and work with the Government to excite them about big, challenging projects that they can look forward to working on.

The upcoming skills framework for the industry, which should be launched next year, will also help to set out career progression pathways.

"(It) allows us to express the different things that young people can expect, how they will progress through their careers and what are the big, challenging, complex projects that they will have an opportunity to embark on," said Mr Lim.

He added that digitalisation can help redefine roles of site supervisors, like resident engineers and technical officers, and make them more attractive.

For example, the BCA is in discussions with the Singapore Contractors Association to explore putting project records in the cloud, which will reduce the need to refer to paperwork kept in on-site offices and improve productivity, said Mr Lim.

Ms Pauline Goh, chairman of South-east Asia at real estate agency CBRE, said her firm is investing heavily in digital tools to engage staff: "We try to build software and apps that help clients to manage and run their buildings more efficiently, and also to create a workplace environment that combines workplace and technology."

Other topics discussed were the importance of selecting consultants and contractors based on quality - such as safety records and productivity efforts - rather than price, and the need for organisation leaders to drive transformation.