Speech by Minister Lawrence Wong at the iBuildSG Scholarship and Sponsorship Ceremony

Jan 22, 2019 19:00

I am very happy to join you for this iBuildSG scholarship ceremony and Happy New Year to one and all. 

Let me also congratulate all 448 of our scholarship and sponsorship recipients. This is the first time that we have brought together recipients enrolled in both full-time Pre-Employment Training and part-time Continuing Education and Training courses. We brought together everyone from the ITEs, polytechnics and universities. It is the biggest number of recipients we have had in one award ceremony so far. All of you have done well; you have done yourselves and your families proud! 

The Singapore that we live in today is certainly one of engineering marvels. It is reflected in our skyline – be it in the city centre or our housing estates, private and public. When some people think about the construction of these buildings, they still think of it as being labour intensive and low-tech. But we know that this is no longer the case. 

The construction industry, or the whole built environment sector from architecture to engineering to the construction itself, is rapidly changing. It is changing all over the world including in Singapore. 

Certainly, in other industries, we often hear about technological disruptions – new technologies coming in to disrupt traditional companies. You hear this in transportation, where you have Uber (which is no longer in Singapore) and Grab replacing traditional taxis; in finance, you hear of e-payments and Fintech disrupting traditional banking services; and in real estate, you have PropTech that is disrupting traditional real estate services. 

For construction, is there any tech that is changing and impacting the industry? In fact, the construction industry has been slower, compared to many other industries, in taking on new technologies. This is so around the world, but the situation is changing. 

Technology is now beginning to change the way we design and build, particularly in the construction industry. Venture funding in the BuildTech space is increasing. In other countries around the world, more and more venture funding is coming into what we call BuildTech. 

Traditional companies are also changing the way they build and starting to invest in technologies. For example, where workers once had to build the building components mostly on-site, we now have automated processes to pre-fabricate them in off-site factories. Construction is becoming more like advanced manufacturing. These components can be assembled on-site much more quickly, relying on less manpower and generating less dust and noise. 

Where different parties – architects, engineers and contractors – used to work in silos and in very labour-intensive processes, we can now bring them together on the same digital platform, through the Building Information Model (BIM). Through this, we are able to optimise design, pre-fabrication, construction and facilities management processes to reap time and cost savings across the entire value chain from design to engineering to building and later on, facilities management. 

Our own companies are also evolving their practices. To make all these happen, our people are at the heart of this industry transformation journey. How far we are able to develop and advance our BE sector ultimately depends on the quality of our people.  We need BE professionals with skills and competencies to support the sector and help transform the sector.

I am very happy to announce that the Government will be committing additional resources to support manpower development. In particular, we will be putting in an additional $72 million over the next two years to support manpower upskilling in the BE sector.

Beyond additional resources, we have to look at other ways in which we can support capability development in the sector. I would like to share three broad areas which we are working on. 

First, we will continue to sponsor deserving students to take up BE courses in our Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs). One of them is here with us, Chew Xiu Zheng. He is currently a third-year civil engineering student at NUS. Even while he was in school, he was already contributing to the industry and helping to improve processes within his company. He worked with his coursemates and the industry to develop an intelligent, self-balancing system for the lifting of Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction (PPVC) modules. This system helps to further improve productivity, as it requires minimal human interventions to manually balance the modules. 

Congratulations to Xiu Zheng on this successful project, as well as for being awarded the BCA-Lum Chang iBuildSG Undergraduate Scholarship. He is one of many undergraduate scholarship recipients today. 

To continue to support students like him, we will be enhancing the post-graduation development programme which provides funding support for graduates to continue to upgrade their skills after graduation. 

Currently, this programme is open only to polytechnic and ITE students. There is no reason why it should not be extended to university students. Even if you have a university degree, it does not mean that you do not have to continue learning and improving your skills. In fact, at all levels – be it at ITE, polytechnic or university – graduation is not the end point. Graduation is just the beginning for lifelong learning.   

Hence, we will extend the post-graduation development programme to university graduates as well. In particular, all awardees will receive a $3,000 training grant which will enable them to attend courses to upgrade their competencies and skills after graduation. They can also look forward to receiving an incentive of $7,000 one year after completing their bond. These are things we are doing to help support more deserving students to take up BE courses.

Second, we will continue to support the training of technical personnel as well through the Building Specialist Sponsorship programme. The Building Specialist Sponsorship is offered by BCA together with companies, to attract, upgrade and retain Singaporeans in jobs at the specialist, supervisor and foreman levels.

We have with us today, also, some recipients under this scheme. One of them is Mohamed Ashriey, who is a Technical Supervisor at Chevalier Singapore Holdings Pte Ltd. He is now completing his in-house training courses provided by his company. He is concurrently taking a part-time Nitec in Facility Technology and Higher Nitec in Mechanical Engineering to further build up his knowledge in lift and escalator maintenance. We all know it is not easy to juggle work and family at the same time, but Ashriey is not only doing work and family; he is doing work, family and studies together. There are many demands to manage and we hope this award would encourage him to go even further in his career. 

We will also be enhancing the Building Specialist Sponsorship programme by extending the sponsorship period from 2 to 3 years. We hope this will allow students to attend longer courses such as the part-time Nitec, Higher Nitec and post-ITE development courses.

Third, we will form a new iBuildSG Tripartite Committee to look at ways to attract, develop and retain Singaporeans in the BE sector. This Committee will comprise members from our IHLs, Trade Associations and Chambers, the unions and other key stakeholders. The Tripartite Committee will work with IHLs to update their curricula so that it will be industry-relevant.  There will also be more opportunities for students to take part in structured internships, supported by meaningful learning outcomes and effective industry mentorships. 

We want a Tripartite Committee that will help guide the sector, bringing the academic institutions, industry and unions together so that we can all make sure that the training provided by our institutions is relevant and companies can also benefit in the process.

These are some of our strategies to look at strengthening our manpower capabilities in the BE sector. I would say that it is indeed an exciting time to be in this sector. The industry worldwide is undergoing rapid changes. Our companies too are evolving – be it a developer, an architectural firm, an engineering firm, a consultancy or a contractor. Whatever you are in, I think you would recognise that the technologies are evolving and the industry is changing. There are many more new and innovative ways of doing things. 

There are new start-ups in the BuildTech space. Existing companies, too, are pushing new technologies and raising their productivity levels. In the process, many of them are becoming more competitive and they are now in a better position to expand and do projects overseas too. 

The Government is doing more; our companies are changing too. But we also need all of us as Singaporeans, as individuals, to support this effort. At the end of the day, as I said earlier, how far we go in industry transformation does not just depend on the Government or the companies. It also depends on all of us as individuals. 

To all our award recipients, all of you are a crucial part in our transformation journey. I hope the awards will motivate you to work even harder and to do your very best. I am confident that they will enable you to seize the many opportunities that lie ahead of you, and enable you to lead the sector to greater heights. Thank you very much and have a good day ahead.