New farming programme to develop skills in agri-tech

Move is part of national effort to meet goal of producing 30% of nutritional needs by 2030

At 42, Ms Christine Ping Dodd is venturing into farming after taking a six-month training programme in agriculture technology (agri-tech).

She and five fellow trainees will pilot a new vertical farming start-up to grow vegetables and herbs in repurposed shipping containers.

It is a far cry from her previous senior management position in a tech firm that she quit in 2019 to spend more time with her young son.

Ms Dodd was among 119 trainees in a new agri-tech training facility near Joo Koon MRT station, which was launched yesterday to develop talent for the industry.

It is part of the national effort led by the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) LearningHub to meet Singapore's goal of producing 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030 for the country to become food-resilient.

NTUC LearningHub chairman Eugene Wong said at the launch that training is an important part of ensuring the country's agricultural goals are met.

He said 97 per cent of some 300 survey respondents felt it was important for Singapore to produce its own food.

Almost 90 per cent of respondents who are not in the agri-tech sector said it is a promising industry for career growth and development, which Mr Wong said was key to the decision to create a training facility.

The full-time programme will teach the basics of growing crops, farming technology, farm operations, automation and business, as well as how to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into farming operations.

The training was planned in collaboration with sustainable technology firm Netatech to prepare trainees for jobs in agri-tech business, operations management and other specialised roles.

Mr Wong said around 20 trainees from its pioneer programme that ended this month have secured jobs in agriculture and other sectors. The programme started in March, ahead of the official launch.

NTUC LearningHub is also in talks with about five companies to try to secure at least 80 jobs for the current cohort, he added.

All traineeship openings for the next two batches have been filled.

NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng, who was guest of honour at the launch, said: "(Today) marks the start of creating a viable ecosystem in a sunrise sector that brings hope and answers to a national need, creating new business possibilities for entrepreneurs and employers."

Ms Dodd said the start-up, which had help from Netatech, aims to place the containers on vacant land awaiting redevelopment to maximise land use and produce food for nearby residents.

She said: "Food is something you can't run away from. I saw the panic in supermarkets during Covid-19 and knew it was important for Singapore to be self-reliant.

"I hope to make a difference and contribute meaningfully to Singapore's food security vision."

Those interested can register for NTUC's suite of programmes at ntuclearninghub.com/sgunited-skills-programme

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2021, with the headline 'New farming programme to develop skills in agri-tech'. Subscribe