Speech by 2M Indranee Rajah at the Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) Annual Dinner
Oct 24, 2023
Good evening. Thank you for the warm invitation to join you for SCAL’s annual dinner and celebration of its 86th anniversary.
SCAL has come a long way since its establishment in 1937. You have been a steadfast partner that has worked with us, through thick and thin.
a. I would like to express my appreciation to SCAL for the role that it has played in Singapore’s development and its strong support and partnership in good times and tough times.
Current state and future trends
The theme of tonight’s dinner, ‘Construction: NEXT’, is timely as it calls on us to look ahead to the future of construction and the Built Environment (BE) sector. This is pertinent to the “Build” pillar of the Forward SG exercise that the 4G ministers have been working on.
The Built Environment sector has an important role to play in taking our nation forward.
Every generation of Singaporeans has had to contend with difficult challenges in our journey to bringing Singapore to where it is today. These are well documented in MM Lee Kuan Yew’s book: “From Third World to First”.
We are no exception. There are many challenges confronting us in this post-pandemic world but let me just touch on three which are most pertinent to you.
First, climate change. Climate change is an existential threat, not just to us, but to the world and the whole of humanity. Already, we are seeing the changes in the weather patterns and feeling the heat - both figuratively and literally! Our buildings account for over 20% of Singapore’s carbon emissions, hence greening them is key to mitigating the effects of climate change.
Second, manpower constraints and labour shortages. Every sector is looking for people. The Built Environment sector in particular is in need of skilled labour.
Third, geopolitics and wars are adversely impacting political stability, security, energy supply, logistics and supply chains, with knock-on consequences on the economy, inflation and materials. This will inevitably affect the cost of doing business.
The question is, how can we – by which I mean all contractors, SCAL and the Government – work together to overcome these challenges, prosper in business, bring Singapore forward and write yet another chapter of the Singapore story?
This is our mission. We have a responsibility to do it well, both for ourselves and for future generations of Singaporeans, who will inherit and benefit from what we build.
To do it well, we will need to address the following issues:
b. How can we approach construction differently, so that it becomes more robust and resilient, and the BE sector as a whole can be transformed?
c. In the light of manpower constraints, how can we become more productive, more efficient and more cost effective with limited human resources, including accelerating the adoption of technology and automation to replace labour-intensive processes?
d. To combat climate change, how can we rachet up our capabilities in sustainable construction?
The good thing is that we have already started working on these issues. Let me briefly touch on these, and also outline upcoming moves.
Transformation under the BE ITM, and the Role of Contractors
We launched the BE Industry Transformation Map (ITM) last year, which was co-developed with many industry partners, including SCAL. It serves as a roadmap for the industry to navigate challenges, and turn them into opportunities.
The BE ITM has identified three key transformation areas, each covering a major phase of the building lifecycle. Let me set out how contractors play an important role in each of these.
The first big change we must make is to get BE stakeholders to collaborate right from the outset. This is intended to reduce conflicts, inefficiency and friction while being fair to all the parties involved. We are driving the adoption of collaborative contracting to facilitate this shift.
e. Collaborative contracting aims to align all project parties in a contractual value chain to common project goals, so that we can share risks more fairly and equitably, and better tackle unanticipated events.
f. It will also allow you to innovate and test out new technologies, with the assurance that risks and rewards are shared.
Next, we must also make changes at the construction stage, where contractors are most involved.
g. You may recall we started the drive for Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) technologies about a decade ago. This includes using technologies like Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC), which allows construction components to be fabricated off-site and assembled on-site, which achieves both time and manpower savings.
h. Today, DfMA is the mainstream building method for all large projects. So that is progress made.
Next, we are making the push for Advanced Manufacturing and Assembly (AMA). This seeks to introduce newer robotics and automation (R&A) technologies to make our construction processes, both on- and off-site, even more productive.
i. Some progressive contractors have already started making use of robots for painting, drilling and grouting works on-site.
j. For example, Teambuild is trialing the use of a robot for painting and skimming works at its Grove Spring BTO project in Yishun.
k. With this robot, the bulk of the painting and skimming works for the internal units in the BTO project can be automated. This greatly reduces the manpower and time required at site, as workers only need to do minor touch-ups of the finishing works.
l. Contractors operating off-site precast facilities have also invested in equipment such as pallet circulation systems and rebar bending machines to automate the precast production process.
m. I encourage more contractors to adopt DfMA and AMA. The Government has various schemes to support your investment in technologies, such as the Productivity Innovation Project (PIP) and the Investment Allowance Scheme (IAS). Do speak to BCA to find out more.
The third ITM area is Sustainable Urban Systems, which aims to accelerate our transition to a low-carbon BE sector.
n. This focuses on managing emissions and energy efficiency at the operations and maintenance level of a building.
o. As contractors you can make a difference and help combat climate change by advocating and adopting greener construction practices.
p. For example, please consider using Low-Carbon Concrete instead of regular Ready-Mix Concrete, or using electricity instead of diesel to power your construction equipment on-site, if you are not already doing so.
New Initiatives and Next steps
The next big step, as you know, will be the launch of CORENET X, one of our key ITM initiatives. CORENET X is a new platform that will revolutionise our regulatory approval process for building works.
q. CORENET X is underpinned by the same philosophy as collaborative contracting – which is to coordinate early to avoid delays and conflicts downstream.
r. Project teams will be required to coordinate their design upfront, and make a consolidated Building Information Modelling (BIM) submission to all regulatory agencies. At each submission gateway, agencies will provide a consolidated response.
s. This will put all relevant parties on the same page to avoid miscommunication, and achieve time savings by eliminating unnecessary re-work.
t. CORENET X will be rolled out progressively with a soft launch in December 2023. We are among the first few in the world to have such a platform and I have no doubt that others will watch this with interest.
u. What is heartening is that the industry has been actively involved in the design and development of CORENET X throughout the process. Woh Hup is currently trialing CORENET X with a live project with its consultants, which has allowed us to gather useful feedback from the project team.
v. However, I think we all know that this is only the beginning. In order for the platform to work to its full potential and for you to reap the full benefits, we will need all our partners across the BE sector on board. Do reach out to your consultant partners to see how you can get involved in the upfront design coordination process.
w. As with all new things, there will be a period of adjustment. For CORENET X to work well, there has to be a change in mindset, as well as changes in processes for the regulatory submissions.
x. But just as with other improvements, you will benefit from it, and in the longer run those benefits will be compounded and yield even higher returns.
y. I therefore ask for your support for CORENET X, and urge you to get your firms ready to use it to get the maximum mileage out of it.
Dispute resolution is another area in which we can do better. As many of you know, disputes can add significant time and cost to a project, and the outcomes of court cases or arbitration may not always be favourable to you.
z. As such, I am glad to see the Dispute Consultation Clinic launched tonight. This will help crystallise issues early and upfront and provide a non-adversarial path to resolution which will save time, cost, and help to preserve commercial relationships.
SCAL has also worked with us to raise skills and competencies in the construction workforce to align with our industry transformation efforts.
As we shift towards more off-site production, there will be more career opportunities available in facilities such as our Integrated Construction and Prefabrication Hubs. For instance, we will need more production managers, quality assurance managers and factory managers.
I am happy to note that SCAL has worked with BCA on a new Construction Management (Production) Accreditation Scheme to validate and recognise the skills and competencies of BE professionals.
I hope that firms will make use of the accreditation scheme to help your own employees to upgrade, and acquire essential skills and competencies for better career progression. Helping them to grow and develop encourages talent retention, as well as a happier and more productive labour force.
As you can see there is much to be done. However, we can take reassurance in the knowledge that we are doing this together.
SCAL has been a critical partner in our transformation journey and I am grateful to SCAL for its strong support. I would also like to thank all the progressive contractors who are leading the way.
On our part, the government will continue to support you, and we look forward to working closely with you to accelerate the transformation of the BE sector and push for sustainable construction, even as we build our future Singapore together.