WhyItMatters

Tech solution for cleaning woes

The Government is pushing for greater adoption of technology in the cleaning and waste management sectors which have been dogged by staffing issues, such as high turnover rates and the need to attract new workers, over the years.

This has led to a heavy reliance on older local workers and foreign labour.

More than 78,000 cleaning and waste management professionals and over 1,700 companies are in the two sectors, which are part of the environmental services industry.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli has said both sectors cannot continue to operate in their current labour-intensive way as the Singapore workforce ages.

Last week, he unveiled the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map - a suite of strategies and initiatives to ensure the industry remainssustainable, competitive and attractive.

In the coming years, people might see robots cleaning and disinfecting hospitals, or older cleaners donning exoskeletons to give them extra support as they work.

These are just some examples of technology trials that the National Environment Agency is considering piloting at seven organisations.

Given that it is common for Singaporeans and permanent residents over 60 to work as cleaners, the use of technology will certainly make things easier for them.

Technology will also allow for fewer workers to do the same job, freeing others to take on higher-value roles, including as operators who can programme and work comfortably with robots.

There will, however, be a need to retrain workers.

The transformation map also looked at skills upgrading through the launch of a framework which, among other things, provides information on career pathways to facilitate the design of training programmes.

The aim is to attract more Singaporeans, especially younger ones, to the sectors.

Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 18, 2017, with the headline 'Tech solution for cleaning woes'. Print Edition | Subscribe