Speech by SMS Tan Kiat How at the International Built Environment Week: CEOs in conversation
Sep 8, 2022
Good morning. A very warm welcome to CEOs in Conversation! It is good to see so many business leaders gathered here in person today, following the two challenging years we have had in dealing with COVID-19.
Our Built Environment (BE) sector is steadily recovering. Construction activity has returned to close to pre-COVID levels and our projected construction outlook remains strong for the next few years. The sector has bounced back impressively, thanks to the efforts of all of you here in this room. Thank you very much for your support and working together to ensure that the sector recovers in a steady manner.
Accelerating Industry Transformation
It is timely for us to take stock of the lessons learned and chart the way forward together. Earlier this week, Minister Desmond Lee launched the refreshed Built Environment Industry Transformation Map (ITM). The refreshed ITM recognises the importance of a value-chain approach and charts our ambition to accelerate transformation in both the Construction and Facilities Management industries under a single BE umbrella. This is important because our BE ecosystem is closely inter-dependent, and transformation must consider the full project lifecycle from upstream planning and design to downstream construction and maintenance.
The ITM was a collective effort by stakeholders across the BE ecosystem. I was privileged to have co-chaired the committee that led the efforts to refresh the ITM, alongside Mr Liam Wee Sin from UOL Group Limited. In fact, many of you here in the room contributed by participating actively in our industry consultations or leading some of the initiatives under the ITM. I thank you for your strong support. All your ideas and feedback that you have given us have been taken into consideration.
Over the past few days at IBEW, we have discussed several ways to champion these refreshed ITM goals. For instance, we had industry experts sharing how we could move towards a low carbon BE ecosystem through design and sustainable finance. We also heard about how we could harness the potential of new technologies in digitalisation, automation and Design for Manufacture and Assembly (or DfMA for short).
Workforce Development as a Key Enabler
Today, my focus will be something that is important and close to our hearts – how we can develop our BE workforce to be future ready because it is the people that must act on our ambition to transform the sector. As CEOs, you play a crucial role in driving transformation by setting the direction and culture within your organisations as well as by guiding and nurturing your employees, one of your most valuable assets in your company, towards transformation goals.
During our ITM industry consultations, we spoke to many partners – industry players, professionals, young leaders, and they told me about their pain points and aspirations for a better BE workforce. They wanted BE professionals to be better respected, and for their contributions, experience, and skillsets to be valued more. They wanted to transform the BE workforce into one that is more productive, digitally savvy, and knowledgeable about sustainability. They also highlighted the desire for better work-life balance, working conditions, salaries and career progression opportunities for themselves as well as their employees.
These are worthy goals to pursue, and we will take steps towards these ambitions. Let me talk about the six “P”s on how we can get there:
The first “P” is Productivity. The industry must take the lead to redesign jobs to achieve greater productivity so that we can continue to meet the demands of a transforming sector.
To illustrate how this could look like, BCA has worked with Ernst and Young to study how job roles in the BE sector could be impacted by emerging global trends and technology adoption, as well as to identify opportunities for us to redesign jobs for better productivity. Ernst and Young will be sharing more about their findings at one of the sessions later today, so do join that session if you can.
One key emerging trend is digitalisation, which has significant potential to improve productivity across all sectors, including the BE sector. But we know that some firms – especially the smaller ones – may not know how to fully tap on this potential. So, to empower firms in their digitalisation journey, IMDA has the “Chief Technology Officer-as-a-Service” platform. This is a one-stop platform, which grants SMEs access to digitalisation resources and connects them to a Digital Consultant.
Utracon Corporation Pte Ltd is an example of a BE company who tapped on the CTO-as-a-Service to automate their manual staff expense claims process. When deployed, this is expected to achieve about 50% time-savings. Utracon also said that this initiative inspired their employees to further innovate and embrace digitalisation. For those of you who are considering embarking on your own digitalisation journey but do not know where to start – do consider tapping on this platform.
In addition, we will introduce CORENET X to streamline regulatory approvals for building plans across the Whole-of-Government. CORENET X will expedite the processing of submissions by automating the checking of numerous, less complex regulatory rules. The new regulatory approval process under CORENET X will also deconflict regulatory requirements across agencies and reduce abortive works downstream. Taken together, these will generate productivity and cost savings for industry practitioners and regulatory officers when the platform is launched later next year.
Professionalising our BE workforce
The second “P” is Professionalising our workforce. With jobs redesign, employees in the BE sector will also need to refresh their skillsets. For instance, some of the fastest-growing skillsets demanded by BE firms today include Computational Design, Programming and Coding. These speak to how quickly the sector is evolving and digitalising.
I am also glad to see many individuals tapping on WSG’s BE-specific Career Conversion Programmes (CCPs) to undergo skills conversion. Since 2018, close to 200 professionals have tapped on such programmes.
One of the people who have benefitted from this is Ms Wang Wei Lin. Ms Wang works at KTC Group Holdings Pte Ltd as a BIM Modeller and had completed the CCP for BIM Professionals. I had the privilege of speaking with both Ms Wang and her mentor – Mr Jerry Law. They highlighted the need for all stakeholders across the value chain to develop a basic understanding of BIM for the project to benefit. They also spoke about the importance of a supportive environment – company culture, bosses, and fellow colleagues – to groom and nurture talent. So, I encourage employers to consider what more you can do for your staff. If you are inspired by Ms Wang and Mr Law, you can also consider encouraging your staff to embark on the CCP too.
The third “P” – Pay – is closely linked to professionalising our workforce. As our BE professionals develop new skills, it is equally important that they are adequately recognised and remunerated. BCA has been working with the industry on both fronts. To uplift professional standards and improve recognition of BE professionals, our Trade Associations & Chambers (TACs) have progressively launched accreditation schemes for five out of the eight career pathways under the Skills Framework over the past two years. At the same time, the public sector is also working towards recognising accredited individuals as qualified personnel in tender bids for construction and FM services. We hope that these efforts encourage firms to send their employees for upskilling and individuals to consider getting accredited.
As a buyer of construction and consultancy services, the government is also doing what we can to support fair remuneration. We enhanced our public sector construction and consultancy tender evaluation frameworks in 2018 and 2020 to place greater emphasis on quality. This aims to mitigate unhealthy price competition and address concerns of fee diving so that firms can also remunerate their staff adequately. We can all play a part, and I call on all industry partners and leaderships to work together with us on this.
Together, these efforts will help to address the fourth “P” – Perception. Unfortunately, the BE sector is seldom seen as the most appealing sector for jobseekers, especially among the younger ones. We have made efforts to change this by profiling the many attractive professions in the sector and celebrating BE firms that have been recognised for their good human resource practices and organisational development. Earlier this year, 17 BE firms, including Arup, CapitaLand, CDL and KTC were listed amongst “Singapore’s Best Employers in 2022” by the Straits Times. Our Trade Associations & Chambers (TACs) are working hard to rebrand the sector too. For instance, under the iBuildSG In-Service Personnel Workgroup, the TACs are piloting various initiatives to improve working conditions for workers and uplift firms’ HR practices.
But these efforts will take time to bear fruit. I hope to have your continued support as we work to change the perception of our sector towards one that is productive, professional, and progressive, and not one that is demanding, dangerous and dirty. It takes time, but together, we can do so.
The fifth “P” is Partnerships. No one can do it alone, we need partners in this transformation endeavour. I would like to highlight the partnership between the industry and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs). In Singapore, we are fortunate to have IHLs who are sensitive to global trends and actively adapting their course offerings in response to the industry’s evolving needs. Currently, our IHLs offer more than 250 pre-employment training (PET), continuing education and training (CET) courses and modules in sustainability-related fields, equipping graduates and the workforce with skills needed for the growing demand in the green economy. This includes areas such as sustainable built environment, green engineering solutions, green finance, and environmental services.
This speaks to the close collaboration between our IHLs and the industry, which has been developed over time thanks to individuals on the ground. Take Mr Er Ang Hooa, the Executive Director of Keong Hong Construction Pte Ltd as an example. With his 44 years of industry experience, Mr Er helped ITE shape the curriculum for one of the first Work-Study Diplomas in Mechanical & Electrical Services Supervision. His company – Keong Hong – has also been actively grooming ITE students since 2018. It offers traineeships in the Work-Study Diploma Programme, which provides students with industry exposure as part of the curriculum.
Two of its Work-Study Diploma trainees – Muhammad Syabil bin Baharudin and Muhammad Amirul Asraf bin Indera Aswan – are still happily working with Keong Hong today! I am pleased to share that Syabil was also recently promoted to Senior M&E Coordinator. The stories of Syabil and Amirul are inspiring because they highlight the possible career pathways and progression opportunities in the BE sector. With the right support and mindset, anyone can grow, equip themselves with new, industry-relevant skills, and do well in the industry.
Our IHLs are always on the lookout for more firms to offer traineeship, internship, and employment opportunities for their students. I hope to see more of such collaborations, so if you think this is something you want to be involved in, do get in touch with BCA and they can link you up.
On that note, I am pleased to announce that the Singapore International Facility Management Association (SIFMA) and Members of the Architecture, Building and Construction Sector Coordination Team (ABC SCT) will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding today. Their MOU will pave the way for greater collaboration between FM companies, polytechnics and ITEs to attract, engage and nurture students in FM-related work. I congratulate all the partners on this very meaningful MOU.
Finally, the last “P” is for People, which includes all of you leaders here in the room, leaders in the industry, as well as supervisors, team leads and people doing the work. Leaders play a key role in transforming our BE workforce.
I met Mr Richard Kuppusamy who is a leader who exemplifies and supports continuous learning in his organisation. An architect by training, he pivoted into Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) and Construction Technology mid-career. Today, he heads LendLease’s Digital business unit. He also championed the set-up of LendLease’s Digital Graduate Programme. This created opportunities for fresh graduates to gain experience using software in various BE roles. Thanks to his efforts, Lendlease has recruited several talented and passionate individuals, like Mr Loh Jun Han who is self-taught in several programming languages. LendLease continues to encourage and support Mr Loh by providing opportunities for him to further his learning and career development.
Beyond the head and the hand, leaders must also consider the heart. All of you play an important role in developing a culture of care and compassion for your workers. Sunray Woodcraft Construction is a company that espouses these values. It maintains a strong family culture and places emphasis on demonstrating sincere care and appreciation for its people through numerous engagement activities. Its leadership team makes a deliberate effort to engage their staff on the ground, despite generational, educational, and linguistic differences. What brings everyone together is sincere care and concern across the company, and this is what makes a company strong – a culture that allows the company to continue reinventing itself and innovate to break new grounds and thrive.
These are just some examples of great leadership in our BE community. And I share them because I hope they will encourage and inspire you. You are not alone on this journey; there are others who are also trying and doing new things. Let us share best practices and progress together as a community.
The Government will continue to work with the industry to support leadership development for the BE sector. For instance, more than 300 industry leaders are under the BuildSG Leadership Engagement and Development (LEAD) framework, where they can benefit from various training programmes and development opportunities. We hope that these efforts can groom the next generation of business leaders in Singapore’s BE sector.
In closing, I would like to thank all of you for your support and participation in the BE ITM efforts. Beyond working together to achieve our transformation objectives for the BE sector, we hope to continue this spirit of co-creation and collaboration to chart the way ahead for Singapore as a society.
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong announced in June that we are embarking on an exercise called “Forward Singapore” with our citizens, to explore how to strengthen our social compact and build an endearing city and home for years to come. The “Build” pillar is one of the six pillars for this exercise, and our BE sector will naturally be involved and will be crucial in this conversation about what we want to achieve together as one Singapore. I hope to have your continued support in this journey. Thank you very much.