Let me wish everybody a very good afternoon. I am especially pleased to be able to join you at today’s BCA-Industry Built Environment Scholarship Award Ceremony to share the achievements of the many bright young minds that are seated in this hall. I would like to congratulate all the scholarship recipients.

A sector that offers good career prospects

Today marks yet another milestone for the Scholarship Awards with a record number of 186 undergraduate and diploma scholarships to be given out. Each and every scholarship recipient here will contribute to the talent pool that we need to support the strong growth that the built environment sector is now experiencing.

The sustained growth, coupled with our ongoing efforts to introduce technology and transform existing processes, offers many exciting job opportunities for new entrants. The nature of work is evolving to become more knowledge-based and design intensive. The sector is also pushing ahead to be at the forefront of innovation in many areas. Besides environmental sustainability, I understand that BCA is expanding the Research & Development (R&D) focus to include construction productivity with the enhancement of the existing $5-million Innovation Grant (iGrant). I believe this is a step in the right direction to enable the built environment sector to transform itself into a knowledge-intensive and technology-driven industry in years to come.

Indeed, the built environment sector has moved beyond bricks and mortar, adopting advanced and productive construction methods like off-site prefabrication and on-site mechanisation. With these, work sites would become cleaner, safer and quieter.

This year, there is a record of 54 built environment firms participating in the scholarship programmes. The built environment sector is looking for young people with the aptitude and right attitude. I’m glad to note that, there are as many as 11 industry firms that are each awarding scholarships to 3 or more students this year. In time, the built environment sector, with the expanding pool of talents, would be led by progressive firms and a competent workforce to steer it to greater heights.

Many progression opportunities, regardless of starting point

The built environment sector offers many good jobs that are accompanied by many progression pathways, both upwards and laterally. For a start, BCA’s comprehensive suite of scholarship and sponsorship programmes provides support for progression across the ITE, Diploma and Undergraduate levels.

In terms of upward career progression, built environment professionals like engineers and architects could pursue professional registration to become Professional Engineers and Registered Architects, gaining greater professional standing. It should be clear, however, that progression is ultimately based on skills and competencies. In the case of Professional Engineers and Registered Architects, the academic qualifications required for accreditation and the competencies required for the job are highly aligned. In other tracks within the Built Environment sector, such as project and site management, competencies built on the job and through training courses support good progression prospects even without the need for further formal academic qualifications. The crux of the matter is that regardless of track, it is the skills, competencies and attitude that are what ultimately will drive success and progression.

In terms of lateral progression, it was just announced last month that environmental engineering graduates with interest in civil and structural engineering works are now given the flexibility of taking up roles as Resident Engineers by way of attending short bridging courses on structural engineering.

Similarly, for those who are keen on areas such as green buildings and Building Information Modelling, or BIM in short, there are various specialist certificate courses to train and build up these in-demand competencies.

Take the case of a BIM modeller for example. By building up his competencies through short BIM courses, he could progress through the ranks to become a BIM specialist, BIM manager, and even a BIM director one day. BCA has shared with me that those who are equipped with these industry-recognised certificates are able to progress based on their competencies rather than academic qualifications per se. We should encourage more of such progression pathways.

It pays to deepen your skills first

And if you are like Ang Kai Zhi, a Diploma Scholar, who sees value in working first to gain experience and is planning to hone his skills upon graduation, you would be pleased to know that BCA has recently launched a sponsorship programme which supports in-service personnel to upgrade themselves through part-time degree studies, as the next step to further training in relevant skills when they decide to do so.

The sponsorship programme provides attractive co-funding to firms which support their employees’ aspirations to pursue part-time studies at local universities while continuing to deepen their skills at the workplace. Chia Siang Chuan, one of the eleven inaugural recipients of the BCA-Industry Built Environment Part-time Undergraduate Sponsorship programme, is a positive example that mid-career upgrading opportunities will not be dampened if one has a positive mind-set and the firm support of one’s employer.

Equipped with a National Technical Certificate Grade 2 from ITE, Siang Chuan started working after completing his National Service. He then went on to obtain an Industrial Technician Certificate from ITE during employment. In 2010, he decided to further broaden his skills by taking up a part-time diploma course. Recognising Siang Chuan’s capacity to assume other responsibilities, his employer, ID Architects Pte Ltd, encouraged Siang Chuan to continue upgrading himself. Backed by this strong support, Siang Chuan, currently a senior architectural assistant, has embarked on a part-time degree course in Construction Management. He is confident that the course would help deepen his understanding and skills in project management and enhance his competency to take on larger roles at work. Progressive firms, like Siang Chuan’s employer, are ahead of the curve because they upgrade and retain their local employees at the same time.

Levelling up human resource practices

Ultimately, the efforts to bring in talent must be complemented by the firms’ good HR practices to make the sector a workplace of choice, as well as to retain employees. Increasingly, employees will be looking at whether companies have adopted practices which will make a difference to their lives and career aspirations, such as proper performance management and training programmes, performance-based remuneration focussed on skills and competencies, as well as a formal awards programme to recognise individual or group efforts at work. On this note, I would like to applaud the joint efforts and commitment of BCA and the key industry associations to raise standards of HR practices across with the recent launch of the HR pledge in May this year.

I understand that BCA is also planning to work with built environment firms, including sponsoring firms and those who have participated in the HR pledge, to offer structured internships to students in built environment courses. As part of the ongoing Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (or ASPIRE), we have found that better, structured internships help to strengthen applied learning and enable students to gain a deeper insight to the sectors they work for. Enhancing the internship experience would also increase the chances of students joining the sector after graduation, and enable them to be ready to take on the challenges on the job.

ASPIRE is a review committee that has been set up, chaired by myself, under MOE, to look at applied study in the polytechnics and ITE. The report will be out soon in the next one to two months. The recommendations will have relevance for those who are studying in the polytechnics or ITE, or who have graduated. It also will have relevance for employers and industries, such as the Built Environment sector, because we are looking to see which industries we can work with as pilot industries to implement some of the ASPIRE recommendations. Broadly, ASPIRE is about helping students to make the right choices, engendering opportunities for our students, and encouraging employers to provide progression pathways not only for students who have just graduated but also for those who have been working for some time. It is really about making sure that there are real skills tied to work, recognising that whatever you do has value, and giving people the opportunity to go further based on what they have learnt and the competencies that they have acquired.

For Undergraduate Scholar, Han Jia Min, her involvement in a construction project during her internship has helped her appreciate the relevance and value of what she learnt in school. The positive internship experience has also reaffirmed her choice to pursue a career as a civil and structural engineer. I understand that she is eagerly looking forward to be part of the action when she graduates next year.

A sector of choice

To the industry sponsors present here, I would like to extend my appreciation, on behalf of the government, for stepping forward to partner BCA in developing the professional and competent workforce needed to lead and transform the built environment sector. I look forward to your continued support in years to come.

To all scholarship recipients, congratulations again on your achievements. The built environment sector promises exciting times ahead for you, providing opportunities to break new grounds and be part of the shaping force of a future-ready built environment. I wish all of you a fruitful and rewarding journey in your careers.

Thank you.