Opening address by SMS Tan Kiat How at the Professional Engineers Board Symposium
Aug 31, 2022
Er. Lim Peng Hong, President of the Professional Engineers Board
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good morning. It’s very good to see all of you. It has been a while since we had a physical gathering. I would first like to express my thanks to PEB for organising this Symposium. This is a great opportunity to exchange knowledge, engage in valuable discussions about the future of engineering and build relationships for deeper collaboration.
Strengthening the Sector
The COVID-19 pandemic has had profound impacts on the built environment sector, such as supply chain disruptions, manpower shortages and fluctuating material prices. Many practitioners, such as yourselves, have had to step up by providing additional services and changing the way we work, so that the wheels of our sector can continue to turn and works progress safely and steadily. I thank all of you for your collective efforts in overcoming these very tough challenges over the past two years.
Today, the sector is seeing encouraging signs of recovery, notwithstanding certain headwinds ahead of us. Construction activities have returned to close to pre-COVID levels and BCA has projected a construction demand of S$27 billion to S$32 billion this year, which is comparable to the demand pre-COVID. The medium-term outlook is also looking up, especially with mega projects like Changi Airport Terminal 5 starting construction within the next few years.
However, even as we move beyond COVID-19, we have to be cognisant that we are entering into a different chapter in global affairs – one that is more uncertain and volatile. PM Lee spoke about some of these challenges at this year’s National Day Rally. At the same time, there are exciting opportunities in the coming years as we transform our cityscape to be one that is more vibrant, more inclusive and more sustainable.
Many of these exciting possibilities were outlined in the Long Term Plan Review that was announced by URA. For example, the developments at Changi T5, Tuas Megaport, and the new Paya Lebar Town as we move the airbase out, which is significant – 800 hectares of land to be freed up, that’s the size of the Bishan town, and it could provide up to 150,000 dwelling units of private and public housing, equivalent to Sengkang and Punggol combined. The Built Environment sector plays a crucial role in all these projects. How we respond to these challenges, mitigate the risks and capture new opportunities will be critical.
That is why we need to press on with transformation, even as we continue to monitor the health of the sector. Building on the lessons learnt during COVID-19, we have plans to accelerate our transformation journey and provide support as needed, to uplift the sector and capture more opportunities for the future. We will share more about this at the upcoming International Built Environment Week that starts next Monday, and I hope to see you there.
Engineering a Sustainable, Green and Innovative Singapore
As Er. Lim Peng Hong mentioned, engineers have played a crucial role in the development of Singapore over the last five decades. You have maintained a high level of public safety in our built environment and used your engineering creativity to overcome many of our nation’s constraints. Through this, you have instilled a strong sense of public confidence, trust, and pride in our vibrant modern city.
As we move into the next 50 years, we will be confronted with more pressing challenges, including the threat of climate change. Climate change is an existential threat for a small, low-lying island nation like Singapore. From rising sea levels to warmer temperatures – these are serious impacts that we need to mitigate and adapt to. Everyone has a role to play in the fight against climate change, including all of us in the Built Environment sector. It is thus encouraging that the theme for the Symposium is “Engineering a Sustainable, Green and Innovative Singapore”.
To do our part, the Government launched the Singapore Green Plan 2030 in March last year. It is not only a plan to tackle climate change as a nation, but to also unlock new opportunities, which will enhance our competitive advantage by riding this green wave.
Under each of the five pillars of the green plan – City in Nature, Energy Reset, Green Economy, Resilient Future and Sustainable Living – there are abundant opportunities for the engineering profession. Allow me to elaborate on some of these.
First, under Sustainable Living, we will reduce our carbon footprint in the transport sector by encouraging the use of public transport. As part of this effort, we will expand our rail network from about 230 km today to 360 km by the early 2030s. This means that there will be demand for engineers to design and build various components of our future MRT lines, such as tunnels, stations and interchanges, as well as signaling and communication systems. Engineers with experience working on these projects, especially Specialist PEs in tunnel engineering, will also be well-positioned to capture international opportunities in underground infrastructure.
Second, under Resilient Future, we will protect our coastlines against rising sea levels. To do this successfully, we will need engineers with expertise in fields such as soil mechanics, flood management and environmental hydraulics to develop and implement our coastal protection plans. This includes conducting coastal adaptation studies and designing coastal protection structures that not only incorporate nature-based solutions, but also reimagine how such infrastructure can potentially integrate community and recreational uses.
Third, under Energy Reset, to support Singapore’s transition to cleaner energy sources and more efficient use of energy, our engineers will need to develop specialised skills such as integrating solar panels with buildings and infrastructure, and using intelligent energy distribution systems to optimise energy use.
There are many exciting opportunities, engineering challenges that require skills, innovation and working together, so that we can overcome the constraints we face, like what we have done over the last 50 years. I strongly encourage all of you to explore these emerging fields and pursue the necessary skills to seize these opportunities.
Engineering as an attractive profession
To support Singapore’s green agenda and our industry transformation efforts, we need a sustainable supply of good, passionate, talented, and enterprising engineers.
We recognise that a key area of concern for the engineering profession has been that of talent attraction and retention. For aspiring engineers, the Government is strengthening our efforts to encourage more students to pursue an engineering career. For example, PEB ties up with our universities to conduct PE exams so that more local undergraduates can take them before they graduate. Students can also participate in BCA’s iBuildSG Built Environment Formation Programme, an industry preparatory programme which aims to help students better understand the BE sector and give them a better appreciation of the sector’s contributions to building our modern city.
Take for example Umar Abdul Aziz Bin Ahmad Shamsuddin, an engineer at WSP Consultancy, designing MRT stations along the Jurong Regional Line. Through the iBuild BE Formation Programme, Umar had the opportunity to learn from industry giants and other BE professionals, and to visit sites built with new building technologies. These opportunities have inspired him to keep learning to keep pace with new technologies and construction methods. So I encourage our students to likewise also take up these opportunities.
For our practising PE talents, we acknowledge that a rewarding and meaningful career is one with progress and opportunities for growth. To facilitate more structured career progression pathways, BCA, SkillsFuture Singapore and Workforce Singapore have worked with industry stakeholders to develop a Skills Framework for the Built Environment. For engineers, you can use the Framework to identify training programmes that are relevant to your desired job roles and levels, in line with your career interests. For employers, the Framework can help you to identify desired skillsets and invest in these areas to support the career development of your engineers. We are also ramping up training programmes for our ITM areas under the BCA Academy.
In addition to building capabilities and careers, we are also leveraging technology to lighten the load on our engineers. The Government is taking the lead on this. For example, the upcoming CORENET X platform will streamline the regulatory approval process for building plans and provide new tools such as a model checker to reduce the need for manual checking of selected rules. We will push the boundaries even further through research and innovation under our Cities of Tomorrow R&D programme. For instance, we are developing tools to assist engineers in identifying non-compliances with standards and regulations, which will help them save time when carrying out checks.
However, the Government’s efforts alone will not be enough. I call upon engineering firms to join us in this endeavour – to redesign jobs to increase productivity and improve the work-life balance of your engineers, and to reward them in their upskilling journey.
The challenges facing the profession will take time to overcome but are not insurmountable. I am confident that if we pull together in the same direction, each playing our respective roles, we will be able to overcome them and build a steady pipeline of engineering talent to support our ambitions for the future.
To conclude, I would like to thank all of you again for your contributions over the last few years in helping us tide through and emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has underscored the interconnectedness of our BE ecosystem. It was through the collective efforts of the sector – developers, consultants like yourself,builders, sub-contractors, specialist trades, regulators, all coming together to tide through these very challenging times, that we overcame the challenges as one nation, and one sector.
It is this spirit of solidarity and mutual support that we must continue building as part of Forward Singapore. In an increasingly uncertain, volatile and changing world, we must strengthen our social compact so that we can progress together towards a brighter future. I encourage all of you here today to participate actively in the Forward Together discussions when they are ready, and to continue to contribute ideas as we work together to transform the BE sector.
Thank you once again for inviting me to the Symposium today. I wish you a fruitful Symposium, and I look forward to insightful discussions today.