SINGAPORE - Certain companies in cleaning, waste collection and pest management will be encouraged to broaden their services beyond one environmental service sector amid labour constraints.
This was one aim outlined by the National Environment Agency (NEA) on Monday at the launch of its refreshed plan to improve productivity and raise standards in the environmental services industry by 2025.
NEA said it envisages that by building on the capabilities of companies with sufficient resources, about 10 per cent of them will expand into more than one environmental service sector.
This comes as the industry grapples with a declining workforce, exacerbated by a manpower shortage in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which saw many cleaners and waste collection attendants returning to Malaysia.
The pandemic, however, also helped to reduce the industry’s reliance on manual labour as companies adopted more forms of technology, such as robotic floor sweepers, NEA noted.
NEA’s refreshed plan to transform the industry aims to create more than 1,600 professional, managerial, executive and technical jobs by 2025.
These roles include those of data analysts and sustainability managers as the agency looks to support green growth areas in the industry.
Speaking at the launch of the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map 2025 at the Environment Building in Scotts Road, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Koh Poh Koon said: “The environmental services industry will be positioned as one that turns national and industry challenges into value creation opportunities through research, development and innovation.
“It will prepare environmental services firms for emerging opportunities in growth areas, both locally and internationally, such as robotics and automation, resource recovery, circularity of materials… and carbon capture from waste management.”
With the introduction of the Progressive Wage Model for the cleaning and waste management sectors from July 1, more than 44,000 resident workers are expected to benefit from upcoming wage climbs and upskilling opportunities, he added.
The industry now comprises about 1,700 companies and has more than 71,000 workers.
The plan to transform standards in the environmental services industry was launched in 2017, with the pest management sector included in the map about two years later.
In 2020, a study of the pest management sector commissioned by NEA and Workforce Singapore brought up issues such as varied quality standards, in part due to low entry barriers, as well as a manpower shortage that was compounded by the poor public perception of such jobs.
Adoption of science and technology was also slow owing to duplication of efforts in research and development by both service providers and suppliers, and concerns over efficacy and returns on investment, the study found.
President of the Singapore Pest Management Association Albert Lee said the refreshed plan, with initiatives such as the NEA-Industry Scholarship Programme, will help attract young talent.
“For the past decade, the labour pool in the pest management sector has been declining as we compete for the same workforce as those working for logistics and delivery platforms, which initially offer a higher pay,” he said.
“This transformation plan helps outline future career paths that we can tap, as well as opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises to optimise and digitalise their processes.”
Ms Goh Fang Wei, executive director of the Waste Management & Recycling Association of Singapore, noted that while digitalisation and automation will reduce reliance on manpower, attracting younger workers will still be important for the future of the industry.
She said the refreshed map shows the younger generation that waste collection requires skills and there are also many esteemed positions available. “It’s no longer like the older generation used to say: ‘If you don’t study or don’t do well, you become a garbage collector.’”
As part of the industry’s transformation, all government agencies have been required since May 2020 to adopt outcome-based cleaning contracts in new tenders.
These specify outcomes, whereas traditional manpower-based contracts fixed the number of workers deployed. Outcome-based contracts give cleaning companies more flexibility to optimise manpower, technology and processes amid a declining workforce.
To date, about 40 per cent of large service buyers have shifted to such contracts, said NEA, adding that it intends to encourage greater adoption of such contracts in the private sector.
Under a programme to foster collaborations between NEA and the industry, more than 35 companies have also successfully exported their technology solutions overseas.
Among them is local cleaning robot company LionsBot International, which designs and manufactures robots here and has deployed 1,500 robots worldwide. About 400 of these robots clean places in Singapore, including shopping malls, schools and MRT stations.
Mr Dylan Ng Terntzer, co-founder and chief executive of LionsBot International, said that where professional cleaning robots are concerned, “Singapore has the highest number of cleaning robots for a city”.
“NEA’s focus on technology growth really helped to accelerate adoption and acceptance of cleaning robots in the whole ecosystem,” he said.