I am happy to be here this afternoon at the BCA Industry Built Environment ITE Scholarship Award Ceremony. I want to congratulate 122 ITE scholarship recipients who have worked hard to get to where you are. I am glad you have decided to take up exciting opportunities in the Built Environment sector. I wish you all the best in your studies, and look forward to your contributions in the coming future.
Skills for a Changing Future
To all of you who are on the threshold of embarking on your chosen career, the working world that you will be going to join soon will be vastly different from what it was a mere decade or two ago. Many of you know that our present and future is being vastly changed by new technology and global economic shifts, and we have to prepare ourselves to not only survive but thrive.
What can we do? Through the SkillsFuture movement, we are starting to work towards a future where everyone has the opportunity to build on their strengths, develop skills that enable them to maximise their potential, and contribute to society, regardless of their starting point. We all need to move beyond being just competent in our current jobs, towards mastering deep skills, especially the right skills to remain relevant and take on jobs of the future. Simply put, skills are the key to our future.
What are these skills? Broadly, skills mean more than just knowledge. What matters is not just what you know, but how you use what you know: applying it in different situations and conditions, and gaining valuable experience along the way. Skills are not just ‘hard’ skills, like technical or work know-how; not simply applying mathematics or understanding the principles of engineering and the sciences, which are often associated with the Built Environment sector. Skills also include ‘soft’ skills, such as attitude, leadership, communication skills, teamwork, ability to work across cultures, deal with people, solve problems, and achieve desired outcomes. These are all equally important, and are in high demand across all sectors, including the Built Environment sector. To thrive, you will find that learning over a lifetime, and making structured learning a part of your career, is crucial to mastering skills in the Built Environment and elsewhere.
A Transforming Built Environment Sector
Mention the Built Environment Sector, and images of construction sites come readily to mind. But the sector has moved far beyond brick and mortar. It encompasses buildings and places, and everything else that is found in between. Drawing on varied disciplines like design, construction, engineering, maintenance and project management, the sector is getting to be more knowledge-driven, skills-based and technologically-advanced. While they rely on their training to think, innovate and make-create, Built Environment professionals also need to constantly adapt to changing needs and norms, and they will have to learn, unlearn and relearn new knowledge and skills. Through their willingness to pick up and excel at new skills, we get to enjoy a truly modern built environment: high living standards, where we can live, work and play in a safe, sustainable, inclusive and high quality built environment.
What has changed? Did you know that Built Environment professionals are using technology to create and share information on the job through innovative new technologies? Information on what was required and what was satisfactory is crucial in ensuring that the finished project matches what was planned. Previously, pen-and-paper plans and drawings were in widespread use until they were replaced by two-dimensional computer aided design. Recently, many companies have adopted three-dimensional Building Information Modelling (BIM), and employees are picking up new BIM skills to keep pace with the changing work processes. The technology allows building professionals of various disciplines to design and explore the building project digitally through an integrated process, even before it is built. BIM facilitates coordination among building professionals, enabling stakeholders to have a clearer understanding of the project and it enhances their ability to make better informed decisions throughout the building’s lifecycle. The sharing of information along a project life-cycle and beyond can also help all parties resolve issues early, reduce work errors, and improve efficiency and productivity.
Good Career Prospects in the Built Environment Sector
With the current transformation of the Built Environment sector, there is now even greater demand for Built Environment professionals with the right technical knowledge and skills. Based on BCA’s bi-annual employment survey 2014, about half of the firms surveyed are planning to hire this year. Together, they will play a significant role in Singapore’s economy and national development, as construction activities are vital to our economic growth. Coupled with sustained developments locally and in regional markets, there are many bright career prospects. Jobs available in the sector run the gamut from professional, managerial and executive (PME) types, to technical and associate professional (TAP) types, to supervisory and foremen types. Besides training to be a BIM modeller or specialist, those wishing to enter the sector can also train to become an architect, energy consultant, engineer, surveyor, project manager, supervisor, to name a few.
Multiple pathways are available for students wishing to deepen their skills and progress in their career. High quality pre-employment training offered by the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), polytechnics and universities provides a good head-start for those wishing to join the Built Environment sector. Upon graduation, the sector also provides Continuing Education and Training (CET) support for those planning to develop specialisations through workplace learning and industry-certified courses and specialist diplomas, all of which translate to industry recognition of competency and skills mastery.
I understand that BCA also has a comprehensive suite of apprenticeship, scholarship and sponsorship programmes which provides support for progression, both upwards and laterally, across the ITE, polytechnic and university levels. In fact, BCA has shared with me that the current ITE Scholarship scheme will be enhanced to provide greater skills deepening and progression opportunities in partnership with industry firms for ITE graduates joining the Built Environment workforce, which is aligned with the national SkillsFuture movement. Designed as a post-ITE development programme, the graduate recipients will undergo structured on-the-job training under mentorship with their sponsoring firms to build up their skills competencies. The programme would also comprise part-time industry-recognised training in areas such as BIM, design or construction supervision. Through the programme, graduates will acquire valuable work experience and take on greater roles at work, possibly progressing as CoreTrade Supervisors or BIM Specialists, coupled with higher remuneration and better job prospects.
These multiple pathways offer flexibility, where the upgrading could be taken either full-time or part-time, or in small modules over a period of time. Instead of pursuing further studies immediately after your junior college, polytechnic or ITE, you may find that working first and then pursuing further studies could be better. This brings to mind the story of 28-year-old Muhammad Roszaly, who has completed BCA’s apprenticeship programme and attained a trade diploma in electrical technology. After graduating from ITE with a Higher Nitec in mechanical engineering, Roszaly first worked as a Mechanical and Electrical (M&E) technician with a private company for two years, where he learnt through his mentor the maintenance of lifts and air-conditioning. Through the apprenticeship programme, he then joined his present company, China Jingye Construction Engineering (Singapore). He steadily deepened his skills at his workplace, developing site supervisory skills under the able mentorship of his M&E co-ordinator. Roszaly is now proficient in monitoring progress of works, carrying out inspections, checking for defects and managing site staff, contributing purposefully to the Built Environment industry.
Making an Informed Education and Career Choice
Like Muhammad Roszaly, I hope all of you will also stay open to exploring the available pathways, seize opportunities, and keep up with trends and in-demand skills sets for the Built Environment sector, as well as other sectors. Consider all options to make an informed choice. It also boils down to being aware of what interests you and what you think you do best. A career in the Built Environment sector may be right for those whose aptitude lies in being creative, problem-solving, and if you enjoy design, technology, rising to challenges, contributing to making the world a better place and are computer-savvy. It would be good too if you have a keen interest or are strong in mathematics, mechanics, computing, communication, design and management, because these subjects form the core of many Built Environment sector courses. The strong skills foundation that you acquire as you undergo training will put you in high demand from employers, in Singapore and potentially elsewhere also. Since the skills sets are transferrable across sectors and countries, there are far more options available for capable individuals to progress based on their mastery of skills and experience.
A Case of Towering Inspiration
So the challenge to you is to dream big! Currently, the tallest skyscraper and structure ever constructed in the real world is the 829.8-metre Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Back home, the 290-metre tall Tanjong Pagar Centre will be the tallest building in Singapore when it is completed in 2016. If you have played with building blocks when you were young, you would know the sense of accomplishment when you were able to stack the blocks higher and higher without them falling down. You may have intuitively recognised that behind the successful completion of buildings like Burj Khalifa, the whole team of designers and builders must have relied on their deep expertise to overcome a multitude of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Today, Burj Khalifa, as well as local awe-inspiring feats like the Marina Coastal Expressway and Marina Bay Sands, stand as monuments to the creative and productive energies of the human race, inspiring us all as they physically break away from conventional limitations in architecture to change the realm of possibilities.
Make Your Contribution to Singapore’s Built Environment
You know good buildings and places when you encounter them – not just aesthetically pleasing, but functional, user-friendly, inclusive, environmentally sustainable – in short, liveable. Singapore has had a very liveable environment, but this was not always the case. Many pioneers were living in crowded shophouses or rural kampongs, not the kind of experience we have come to expect in our modern-day residences and estates. As we celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary this year, it is timely to take a step back and marvel at how much our Built Environment pioneers have transformed the face of Singapore, and appreciate just how far we have come as a nation. Take not the opportunities you have been given for granted. As your forebears and pioneers have done before you, put your skills and experience you will gain to good use, and rise to the challenge of building on the legacy to carry on for the next 50 years, and shape Singapore’s built environment for the betterment of lives going forward.
Congratulations once again to all scholarship recipients. I wish all of you the very best as you build up a deeper level of expertise in your respective fields and I trust that you will have a rewarding and fulfilling career in the Built Environment sector. Your greatest asset will be your skills, and you will find many opportunities to sharpen them and become amazing professionals who help to build a brighter future not only for yourselves but for your loved ones, the community, and the nation.