10-year plan put forward to revitalise S'pore's plumbing sector, attract younger locals

Singapore Plumbing Society president Tan Wee Teck giving his address at the signing of the MOU.
Singapore Plumbing Society president Tan Wee Teck giving his address at the signing of the MOU.PHOTO: NTUC

SINGAPORE - Plumbers can soon upgrade their skills for better job opportunities in Singapore.

A 10-year operation and technology roadmap has been drawn up to prepare plumbing firms for the new economy - including the adoption of new technology and training for its professionals.

On Wednesday (March 24), the National Trades Union Congress' (NTUC) unit for small and medium-sized enterprises - called U SME - signed a memorandum of understanding with the Singapore Plumbing Society (SPS) and seven SMEs to transform the sector.

This comes against the backdrop of an ageing workforce in the sector.

There are about 900 licensed plumbers in Singapore, of which over three-quarters are above the age of 50, SPS president Tan Wee Teck said at the signing ceremony at the NTUC Centre in Marina Boulevard.

"If the trend continues, then you might not have enough plumbers to actually serve the population," he said.

Mr Tan acknowledged that it would not be easy to attract the young to the trade.

"Traditionally, plumbing is not a choice career. People don't choose to become a plumber. But we want to change that public perception," said Mr Tan, who has sought the help of industry partners to speed up the transformation.

SPS has been working with various organisations, including NTUC, national water agency PUB and the Public Utilities Board Employees Union, in exploring solutions.

For a start, the sector is looking to grow the workforce through structured career progression pathways and training frameworks. This would allow a young licensed plumber to take on further qualifications, such as an engineering diploma or degree, and pursue new career opportunities.

Putting together a clear career roadmap will not only help attract and retain new and younger Singaporean workers, but also enable the sector to stay relevant, said Mr Tan, who has observed an increased demand for plumbing services over the years.

"Not everyone has to go through that pathway, but at least they have the choice," he said.

A new licensed plumber can earn at least $4,000 a month at present, while a senior plumber can command up to $6,000. Regulated water service and sanitary works can be carried out only by plumbers licensed by the PUB.

Currently, the sector faces other pressing challenges such as a lack of transparency in pricing for plumbing services and differing standards of work due to the presence of unlicensed plumbers.

Through the roadmap, SPS hopes to promote the adoption of technology among companies. It is also looking to be an accredited training institution for plumbing and sanitary related education as well as an authority on best practices.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng (right) speaking with partners at the signing of the MOU. PHOTO: NTUC

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said the roadmap would help develop future-ready workers who will be able to tap new tech to do their work even better, and keep businesses viable in the new economy.

The NTUC's focus is to be a connector on the roadmap and bring in the relevant parties to help professionalise the sector. There are currently no plans on organising plumbers as gig workers.

Ms Yeo Wan Ling, director of the NTUC U SME, said the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted plumbing as an essential service that requires a strong Singapore core. She added that the roadmap will allow SMEs to rethink their daily operations and consider ways to make themselves more attractive to job seekers.