SINGAPORE - As Singapore plans to add 1,000ha more green spaces around the island in the next 10 to 15 years, it will also need green fingers.
To encourage workers and companies in the landscape sector to boost their competencies, and equip them with the knowledge and skills for the future, a 10-year industry transformation plan was launched on Saturday (May 4).
Meanwhile, a new generation of talent in the sector will be developed thanks to a collaboration between the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) which will see the first student-managed park in July, among other efforts.
The initiatives were announced by Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee on Saturday (May 4), as part of the Landscape Sector Transformation Plan (LSTP).
The LSTP aims to reinvigorate the sector’s ageing workforce and help the industry meet growing demands, as Singapore plans to introduce more parks and park connectors in the future.
Speaking at the newly opened Jurong Lake Gardens, Mr Lee said that to achieve these goals, the industry needs to be transformed into one that is "high-tech, high value and resource efficient".
This includes moving up the value chain, from basic landscape maintenance to landscape management, as well as building expertise in new areas such as environmental assessments and biophilic deign, he added.
The landscape industry can also increase its use of technology and mechanisation.
"Today, we still rely heavily in some areas on unskilled labour, and many of our companies only adopt basic technology in our operations," he said, noting that adopting more advanced technology will not only improve productivity but also attract a new generation of talent.
In 2017, nearly half of the 12,000-strong landscape workforce was made up of foreign workers, while the rest are Singaporeans or permanent residents. Of the resident workforce, nearly half are aged 41 to 62, while only 8 per cent are under 40.
Under the LSTP, companies can adopt new technologies, such as tree inspection drones and robotic mowers, by tapping the Landscape Productivity Grant.
To encourage companies to do so, NParks will place more emphasis on quality when assessing tender bids, said Mr Lee.
He added that the Government will also help to facilitate companies to export their landscaping and consultancy services through overseas projects, to help companies grow internationally.
A Skills Framework for Landscape has also been developed by NParks, SkillsFuture Singapore, Workforce Singapore and industry partners, to map out job domains and roles, and the skills and competencies needed in the landscape sector, said Mr Lee.
To prepare the next generation of the landscape workforce, NParks will be partnering the ITE, polytechnics and universities to develop initiatives that will train at least 350 young professionals each year, starting from 2022.
For example, from July, ITE students from the Nitec and Higher Nitec landscape courses will manage Bedok Town Park, to allow them to gain first-hand experience in landscape design, horticulture and arboriculture management as part of their studies.
Students such as Mr Abu Bakar, 25, have been involved with the pilot project since September last year, conducting a site evaluation for the management of the park and presenting their proposals to NParks earlier this year.
They will be trained to use technology such as drones to inspect and assess the condition of trees two to three times a week, spending half a day for each session.
The pilot project will involve up to 100 ITE students from the Nitec in Urban Greenery and Landscape and Higher Nitec in Landscape Management and Design courses, and will run until December.
Since he became involved with the project, Mr Abu Bakar said he has grown more confident in his landscape management skills and hopes to become a horticulturalist.
“When I started the ITE course, I thought it would be like traditional landscaping where you have to do a lot of manual labour, but now with all these technologies, I’m quite excited to continue on in this industry once I graduate,” he said.
While industry practitioners say the LSTP is timely and hope the move will inject fresh talent into the sector, they wonder if this will be sufficient to change young Singaporeans’ attitudes towards landscaping as a career.
Mr Toh Zhi Jian, general manager of Toh Kim Bock C-E Contractor, said: “It’s currently very hard to get youngsters to join the industry as a general worker on the ground, as aspects of the job will remain labour-intensive.”