|S$250m fund to help construction sector innovate, improve quality of jobs|
|Wednesday, 10 March 2010 14:27|
SINGAPORE : The National Development Ministry has revealed details on how a S$250 million fund will help the construction industry increase its productivity.
The money comes from the newly—created National Productivity Fund. For a start, S$1 billion will be injected into the fund, which is expected to support industry—wide productivity initiatives over the next five years.
On Monday, Parliament heard that the key is to improve the quality of jobs to attract locals into the sector.
A structure called formwork is used as a mould for the casting of concrete floor slabs.
Traditionally, the structure is made of timber. But with this new lightweight aluminium system, it takes half the manpower to cover the same area.
The aluminium formwork system can also be re—used many times, resulting in more environmentally—friendly construction. It is lightweight and allows for easier handling by workers.
An aluminium structure takes about half the time to complete, compared with the old method.
This is yet another example of innovation at work.
It is about three times more expensive than the traditional timber formwork, but that is where the S$250 million fund can help.
Companies can use this fund to buy or lease such high—tech equipment, or to re—engineer their workflow.
For the industry as a whole, the government will provide financing to help build capabilities through the use of new construction methods and improve productivity across the value chain.
And for workers, the money will help defray the cost of upgrading their skills.
John Keung, CEO, Building and Construction Authority, said: "Our local workers can make use of this funding to upgrade themselves to become core trade workers. These are mostly higher value, higher paying jobs."
A scheme introduced last year — Construction Registration of Tradesmen (CoreTrade) — to nurture a pool of skilled local workers in the industry will be expanded to cover trades such as drywall installation, fire protection systems, and lift installation.
Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State for National Development, said: "We will also explore new classes of CoreTrade personnel such as construction supervisors, which can cater more for locals. The BCA is enhancing its outreach to students who form the potential pipeline of new local construction personnel in higher value trades or in supervisory positions."
Ms Fu added: "It is also about raising career prospects, and this is where I think we have really put in a lot of attention to look at how we can build a scaffolding for all our Singaporean workers, so that when (they) enter the industry, there is a training roadmap for (them).
"And with the better training and certification at the end of it, there is licensing, you can be licensed as a tradesman as well as a supervisor, and that ultimately will put you in a very good position for better paying jobs.
"But in addition to that, I think the industry is reaching a very exciting phase because of concerns over environment and this new focus on green technology. I think this is very exciting for young persons; they find that there is a calling to do something better, to improve the environment for Singaporeans, as well as the world as a whole.
"The ability to add value in making our buildings more efficient, in terms of energy and resource, making our buildings more appealing, for example, and this whole area of urban design has now attracted a lot of attention from our younger prospective employees."
But given the nature of the industry, there will also be emphasis on getting foreign workers trained.
Ms Fu said: "We must admit that this industry is not one that we can depend entirely on locals to fill the jobs that are available, so we need to now look at the group of foreign workers that are working in the industry.
"(I think) in the past, we have always viewed foreign workers in the construction industry as being transient in nature, and we have not put emphasis on the training of foreign workers. I think this is going to change. We will look at improving the experience and skills of foreign workers as well.
"We are not saying that we are going to have all of them staying in Singapore for the long run, but we are looking at building a core group that perhaps will provide guidance, as well as necessary supervision in the industry.
"The changes we are making in the foreign worker levy is also helping us reach this goal. We are, for example, having another tier of foreign worker levy that is a lower amount — targeting foreign workers with experience or certification. So if you have been here for four years and you have accumulated certain certifiable skills, you will qualify for a lower foreign worker levy."
Other initiatives include introducing a new postgraduate scholarship programme to develop expertise in complex civil engineering and building works, as well as a new centre to champion innovation in the construction sector.
There is particular attention on the construction industry because it is lagging behind in terms of achieving optimal productivity.
For example, the productivity level for the industry here is only about half compared to Australia and one—third compared to Japan.
It is vital to improve the numbers because the construction sector is seen as a key pillar of Singapore’s economy. — CNA/ms