Speech by MOS Tan Kiat How at the BuildTech Asia Digital Series 2021

Jul 7, 2021

A very good morning to all of you. It is my pleasure to join you in this special edition of BuildTech Asia. I understand that we have over 6000 attendees joining us virtually from across the world. Let me extend a warm welcome to our friends from overseas.

The focus for this year’s event is on how we can accelerate the adoption of smart technologies. This is an important topic, as raising construction productivity is a pressing concern for the Built Environment sector all around the world. According to a 2020 McKinsey report1, annual productivity growth in the global construction sector for the last two decades was only one third of the total economy averages.

In Singapore, we have been working hard to raise productivity. We do this is through a strong public-private partnership. This is something we have been working on since the first Construction Productivity Roadmap in 2010. More recently, we have set out our plans to improve construction productivity under the Construction Industry Transformation Map, or ITM in 2017. Our efforts have borne some fruit. In the last decade, we have raised the productivity of our construction worksites by around 2% per year, or a cumulative 19.5% over the last 10 years.

So we have made good progress over the years due to the hard work and support of all players in the sector. 

However, COVID-19 has dealt us a huge blow. All across the world, not just in Singapore, construction works were severely impacted as countries took steps to manage the spread of the virus.

Supporting the Singaporean Construction Industry

Our priority was to work with the industry to ensure that construction work can continue safely. And technology played an important role. 

For example, we launched the BuildSG-COVIDSafe Platform. This digital platform is used by our firms and public agencies to manage the movement of personnel into and within the worksites. It receives data from devices deployed all over the site, and fuses this with the data from relevant government databases. Employers can more easily ensure that only approved workers who have fulfilled their routine testing requirements can enter the worksites, and thereby keeping these workplaces safe.

We have also tapped on Bluetooth-enabled TraceTogether tokens for contact tracing purposes. This allows us to ringfence any potential cases of infection among our workers early, quarantine close contacts, and break the chain of transmission before the virus spreads more widely.

We could develop and deploy these solutions quickly because of the investments we have made in digitalisation over the years.

At the same time, we introduced measures like regular testing, dedicated transport requirements and vaccinations. These helped to manage the risk of transmission in our construction workforce. 

I am pleased to share with you that today, more than 75% of our COVID-naive workers have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and we have also vaccinated almost 90% of our recovered workers. We are in the process of fully vaccinating all our workers as quickly as we can.

We have also provided significant financial support for our firms. This includes the $1.36 billion Construction Support Package, various Foreign Worker Levy waivers and rebates, and wage subsidies for local employees under the Jobs Support Scheme. We also introduced unprecedented legal mechanisms to support affected firms. For instance, we provided firms with temporary relief from certain legal actions, and a universal Extension of Time to complete projects. We have also required parties across the value-chain to co-share certain cost increases.

Due to these measures, the collective effort of all our firms, we are in a more stable situation as compared to a year ago. We will continue to monitor and manage the situation, including the extended Full Movement Control Order in Malaysia.

As we work to keep our sector going during these challenging times, we will also need to look ahead. And I urge everyone to turn adversity into opportunity, and press on with the transformation of our sector. 

Enhancing Resilience through Industry Transformation

We believe that there are three key themes in the next phase of our industry transformation – first, sustainability; second, automation; and third, digitalisation. Let me share a little about how we are approaching these three themes.

First, on sustainability. We are making a whole-of-nation push on sustainability with the Singapore Green Plan 2030.

We have set ambitious targets to green our buildings under the fourth edition of the Singapore Green Building Masterplan, which we launched in March this year. We have dubbed these targets “80-80-80 in 2030”. 

First, we will green 80% of our buildings by Gross Floor Area (GFA) by 2030. Second, we aim for 80% of new buildings to be Super Low Energy buildings from 2030. And third, we will ramp up research and innovation efforts, so that by 2030, our best-in-class green buildings will see an 80% improvement in energy efficiency over the 2005 baseline. Very ambitious targets. 

We will work with the industry to strengthen our capabilities in sustainability as we work towards building a greener, more liveable Singapore. Our firms will gain a valuable competitive advantage when vying for projects abroad, as cities around the world invest more in sustainability, and they demand green building expertise.

Second, on automation. We will further automate manpower-intensive construction processes by tapping on prefabrication, or Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA) technologies. This would allow us to cut down on our on-site workforce of migrant workers, and create higher-skilled, higher wage jobs with a more conducive work environment that would be attractive to Singaporeans.

Through our Construction ITM efforts, we have doubled the DfMA adoption rate in Singapore over the last three years, from 19% in 2017 to 39% in 2020.

Moving forward, we plan to make DfMA the default building method for larger projects. For example, we will raise the minimum buildability score for large commercial, institutional and industrial developments with GFA of at least 25,000 sqm next year, starting from April 2022. Together with industry partners, we will also invest in our workforce, and train a core of local professionals in DfMA technologies.

And thirdly, we will more leverage digital technologies more intensively. Through Integrated Digital Delivery, or IDD, we are establishing a digital spine that would bring the different stakeholders across the various stages of the building lifecycle together. This will enable a tighter collaboration between these stakeholders, from design, to construction, and even facilities management. 

Let me illustrate. At the design stage, building designers can leverage virtual tools to optimise their designs for prefabrication. This would improve the accuracy of their building designs, and avoid abortive work downstream.

During construction, builders can make use of advanced scanners to remotely monitor their worksites with greater efficiency. The data collected through these scanners could also provide project teams with smart insights on how to better utilise their equipment and workers, and enhance site productivity. 

And even after the building has been built and completed, smart facilities management, or smart FM, can be deployed. For instance, through the remote monitoring and management of building energy systems, building owners can optimise their energy consumption based on building occupancy.

Driving Innovation through Industry Partnerships

And we will have to work closely industry partners to achieve all these outcomes.

To this end, we have institutionalised a new form of industry-led partnerships between the public and private sectors, which we call the Alliances for Action, or AfAs for short. The AfAs adopt an agile approach to address large problems by breaking this down into smaller, actionable parts.

For instance, the recently concluded Digitalising Built Environment AfA focused on securing the commitment of at least 300 industry stakeholders, to implement chosen digital platforms that are interoperable with one another. The idea here is to start small by getting the more progressive firms onboarded onto a common digital ecosystem. And to achieve this, the AfA had played a leading role in developing standards for a Common Data Environment. 

These standards have been integral in establishing the foundation for interoperability between the various digital solutions, as they specify what digital information is required for a project, and how it can be structured. 

In the spirit of partnership, we have also established the Built Environment Accelerate to Market Programme, or the BEAMP, to accelerate the deployment of innovative solutions in the Built Environment. The BEAMP also provides mentorship opportunities for solution providers, and helps them grow their business networks.

Today, I am pleased to announce that we have awarded 11 new projects, across eight different solution providers for the third cycle of the BEAMP.

For instance, the firm VRCollab has developed an augmented reality tool that will allow project teams to visualise and rehearse the on-site installation of the prefabricated elements, before starting construction. This would reduce downstream issues with installation, as changes can be made by designers to avoid such issues. The tool will also allow workers to remotely access Building Information Modelling (BIM) designs and data on-site, which would assist them in the construction of the building.

These collaborative efforts with the industry are crucial if we are to successfully transform. 

However, our construction industry is still facing significant headwinds. We have had to take quick action to quarantine workers and stop works to manage the spread of cases in the industry. This has affected worksite productivity.

The industry is also grappling with a significant manpower crunch. The number of workers has decreased by about 15% compared to pre-COVID levels. Firms are unable to bring in sufficient new workers as we had to implement tight border controls to safeguard public health. The shortage of workers has led to cost increases for firms, as well as project delays.

Given this situation, we have worked with the industry to retain the workers we already have in Singapore. For example, Singapore Contractors Association Limited (SCAL) has set up a manpower exchange to match interested employers with workers whose work passes have expired with a previous employer, but who are willing to continue working in Singapore. 

We have also provided more flexibilities for firms to bring in new workers where possible. 

For instance, we recently allowed for new construction workers from China to enter Singapore to work first, and then obtain their skills certification locally in Singapore. BCA is working with the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to review other flexibilities together with the industry.

That said, the fundamental issue is that the inflow of workers remains very limited. The resultant delays have already affected many stakeholders, including homeowners. The development of public amenities such as hawker centres and train lines have also been delayed.

It is not sustainable for us to continue with the current restrictions indefinitely, especially since COVID-19 may never fully go away. Thus, it is important to find new ways to bring in workers, but with necessary risk management strategies built in to maintain public health.

On this note, I am heartened that the industry has adopted an AfA approach, to take the lead in developing an innovative pilot to bring in migrant workers safely, in partnership with our agencies. This approach comprises a tightened end-to-end process to minimise the risk of importing COVID-19 cases.

It involves protocols such as a stringent COVID-19 testing regime for workers over a 14-day period in dedicated facilities at their source countries, before their departure for Singapore. Upon arriving in Singapore, workers are subjected to the prevailing Stay Home Notice (SHN) requirements and public health measures for incoming travellers.

The firms also take pains to take care of the welfare of our workers.

Our trade associations have worked with their overseas partners to ensure that their needs are provided for.

In Singapore, we will do the same in our SHN facilities, and will take steps to look after their health and mental well-being.

As a start, our trade associations have started bringing in workers from Malaysia for the marine shipyard industry two weeks ago to test this end-to-end process. They are adopting a cautious approach so that the plan is to start small, as this would allow our agencies to monitor the effectiveness of the protocols, and work with them to adjust the protocols accordingly. 

I am glad to share with all of you that the preliminary data suggests that the end-to-end process has been effective, given that there have been no imported cases arising from the pilot thus far. A similar process will be tested in India to bring in a small number of workers for the construction industry.

If these efforts are successful, we will partner the industry to explore scaling up the process in a sustainable manner.

Although this will take some time to bear fruit, I commend the can-do spirit that our trade associations and industry firms have displayed throughout this effort. Their willingness to work closely with each other and public agencies to find innovative solutions, will be integral in ensuring that we are able to overcome the current challenges facing us.

Such partnerships will be crucial for us to secure the future growth of the local Built Environment sector moving forward.


In conclusion, let me just say that across the world, we continue to make progress in raising technological capabilities and productivity of the construction industry in many countries around the world.

The future remains bright for us if we turn this crisis into an opportunity, and work together with industry partners, associations, firms, our workforce to develop our capabilities in the growth areas of sustainability, automation, and digitalisation.

On our part, the government will continue to support our firms to build these capabilities, through initiatives such as the BEAMP and financial support schemes under BCA’s BuildSG Transformation Fund.

I am acutely aware that for our local firms, we are still dealing with an immense crisis of manpower shortages. This would remain our immediate priority, as we continue to work with you to explore ways to bring in workers safely.

I seek all of your strong support to continue working together with us, to transform our industry for the new normal where COVID-19 is endemic.

The smart technologies available here at BuildTech Asia 2021 will help you on your transformation journey. You can also check out the various webinars and panel discussions over the next two days.

I wish all of you a very fruitful conference ahead. Thank you.

1 McKinsey & Company, The Next Normal in Construction (Jun 2020).