Agri-tech career conversion programme to benefit 100 people over next 2 years

Singapore aims to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

SINGAPORE - Up to 100 people looking to uproot to the agri-tech sector in a mid-career switch can benefit from a new career conversion programme (CCP) over the next two years.

The programme, rolled out by Workforce Singapore, Singapore Food Agency and Republic Polytechnic (RP), is in line with a greater push to equip workers with relevant skills so that they can benefit from the green economy, as the nation pursues sustainability goals.

Singapore aims to produce 30 per cent of its nutritional needs locally by 2030.

Manpower Minister Tan See Leng told reporters on Friday (Jan 14) that the sector currently employs around 2,000 workers. By 2030, it is projected that about 4,700 new and redesigned jobs would be created.

Of these, about 70 per cent are expected to be filled by skilled workers and professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs).

"Some of the new jobs... include agronomists, produce specialists and farm managers. These roles will require workers to have competencies in areas such as science, infocomm technology, engineering and maths," he noted.

While the CCP will benefit around 100 workers in the next two years, there will be plans to expand the programme if there is high demand, said Dr Tan.

The CCP provides "an alternative pathway" for companies to meet their manpower needs by reskilling mid-career individuals who possess transferable skill sets.

Giving an update on how the CCP has helped Singaporeans, Dr Tan said more than 100 programmes have been developed across different industries, generating "thousands of jobs".

However, seeing that unemployment rates have been declining, with several sectors returning to pre-Covid-19 levels, he expects that the number of successful conversions via CCP will gradually drop, as employees may want to continue in their existing sectors.

As at January, 15 companies have expressed interest in hiring under the agri-tech CCP.

Vertical farm Sustenir Agriculture aims to employ eight people in the coming years via the programme.

Its chief executive, Mr Jack Moy, said: "CCP is very targeted for us as we bring in automation and want to improve productivity. So when it comes to our technical experts or our team leaders, we are looking at the CCP.

"And as we expand our ambition to do more here in Singapore and in the region, for sure we want to increase that number (of eight hires)."

Mr Andy Liew's work involves overseeing the entire operation's value chain - from the time the crops are seeded to the produce being packed and sent to supermarkets. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF MANPOWER

Mr Andy Liew, 42, who is Sustenir Agriculture's farm superintendent, was a mid-career hire from the food business when he joined the company in May 2020.

Starting out as a farm operator, he was in charge of harvesting the vegetables and did plant care. However, his "positive mindset and willingness to learn" got him quickly promoted through the ranks to his current role, said Mr Moy.

Mr Liew's work involves overseeing the entire operation's value chain - from the time the crops are seeded to the produce being packed and sent to supermarkets.

Through the CCP, which is facilitated by RP, one has two career pathways - as an agri-tech specialist, or an agri-tech operator. Course fees are fully sponsored by the employer.

To enter the programme as an agri-tech specialist, PMETs will undergo six months of structured class and on-the-job training, with a starting pay of at least $2,500.

Job functions may include leading a team of technicians to achieve target yield and output, and producing a report detailing yield estimation on a timely basis for the supply management of produce.

For the agri-tech operator, one will go through three months of training, with a starting pay of at least $2,000.

Job responsibilities include growing vegetables to meet timely and quality output targets, and preparing nutrients and other supplies for cultivation.

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