As Singapore plans to add 1,000 ha of 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 competencies and skills, a 10-year industry transformation plan was launched yesterday.
It will include grooming a new generation of talent in the sector with collaboration between the National Parks Board (NParks) and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) which, among other things, will witness the first student-managed park in July.
The initiatives were announced by Second Minister for National Development Desmond Lee 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.
The joint effort by NParks, companies, industry associations, institutes of higher learning and government agencies is expected to grow revenue in the industry by an estimated $1.2 billion by 2030.
Speaking at the newly opened Jurong Lake Gardens, Mr Lee said that to achieve these goals, the industry needs to become "high-tech, high value and resource efficient".
This includes moving up the value chain, from basic landscape maintenance into landscape management, as well as building expertise in new areas such as biophilic design, he added.
The landscape industry can also increase its use of technology and mechanisation, such as tree inspection drones and robotic mowers, said Mr Lee.
"Today, we still rely heavily in some areas on unskilled labour, and many of our companies adopt only 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 consisted of foreigners, while the rest were Singaporeans or permanent residents.
Of the resident workforce, nearly half were aged 41 to 62, and 8 per cent were under 40.
Under the LSTP, companies can tap the Landscape Productivity Grant to obtain new technology, while NParks will place more emphasis on quality when assessing tender bids.
Mr Lee added that the Government will also help companies grow internationally, by exporting their services through overseas projects.
To prepare the next generation of landscape workers, NParks will be partnering ITE, polytechnics and universities to develop initiatives that will train at least 350 young professionals each year starting from 2022.
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.
Students such as Mr Abu Bakar, 25, have been involved with the pilot project since September last year, conducting site evaluation and presenting their proposals to NParks earlier this year.
Up to 100 students will be involved in the pilot project, which will run until December.
Since he became involved with the project, Mr Abu Bakar said he has grown more confident in his skills and hopes to become a horticulturalist.
"When I started the ITE course, I thought it would involve a lot of manual labour, but now with all these technologies, I'm quite excited to continue in this industry once I graduate," he said.
Industry practitioners have welcomed the LSTP as timely and hope it will inject fresh talent into the sector.
However, they also wonder if it will be sufficient to change attitudes on landscaping as a career.