Speech by MOS Zaqy Mohamad at the Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Architecture and the Built Environment 60th Anniversary Dinner

Friday, 12 October 2018

A very good evening. Thank you for inviting me here for your homecoming dinner tonight. 

Let me start by congratulating you on your 60th anniversary. When the School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE) was first established in 1958, you offered just two diplomas in architectural draughtsmanship and building with a then-enrolment of just 86 full-time students. ABE has expanded greatly over the years. Your current enrolment, compared to 86 back then, is now 1,500 full-time students – an increase of more than 15 times from 60 years ago. 

Singapore Polytechnic (SP) is the only polytechnic in Singapore offering the full range of Built Environment (BE)-related courses in architecture, civil engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering and facilities management. 

Your alumni, as Mr Soh shared earlier, has also made significant contributions to our city’s skyline and built environment. They have also given back to the school by returning to share industry developments with the students. I hope that all alumni here will continue to be mentors and an inspiration to our local talents who will be joining this sector in the years ahead.

Some of you present today, including the pioneer batch of graduates from 1963, may have started work in the BE sector when building plans were in hardcopies and worksites were labour-intensive. But the sector has evolved a lot since those days. Along with the adoption of productive technologies such as Building and Information Modelling (BIM), Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), as well as the demand for green buildings, new jobs and roles have been created in the BE sector. These changes impact both existing workers as well as potential new entrants.

This is why we have developed the Construction Industry Transformation Map (ITM), overseen by BCA, which was launched last October. One goal of the Construction ITM is to develop a skilled and competent workforce to support our vision of an advanced and integrated sector led by progressive and collaborative firms. 

ABE as a key partner to implement the ITM  

Under the Construction ITM, we expect to train a total of 80,000 professionals specialising in Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD) and green buildings by 2025. 

ABE’s programmes and courses will equip our students with the necessary skills and knowledge to forge a career in the BE sector. As part of pre-employment training (PET), ABE has engaged industry partners to keep abreast of the industry’s needs and real-world applications to enable your students to be ready for the workforce. ABE has also introduced continuing education and training (CET) courses to build up our workforce’s capabilities and develop the skill sets required by the industry now. We can expect more changes as technologies constantly evolve, and it is also important to continuously fine-tune your programmes and courses to ensure that your students are equipped with the most relevant skills upon their graduation. 

SP is also a member of the Built Environment SkillsFuture Tripartite (BEST) Taskforce. The Taskforce is led by BCA, Institutes of Higher Learning as well as industry stakeholders. The Taskforce looks at ways in which we can build up manpower capabilities to support industry transformation. SP’s structured internship framework and mentoring toolkit have been identified as good practices, which the Taskforce has built on to develop its recommendations. I certainly look forward to further insights and contributions from SP as a Taskforce member. 

You have been and continue to be our key partner in developing our students to be BE professionals, instilling in them a passion for the sector and encouraging them to join us. I would like to share how ABE can continue to support our industry transformation. 

Building up capabilities in ITM focus areas 

First, ABE can build up the capabilities of our students in 3 focus areas under the Construction ITM. For example, we are driving greater adoption of DfMA and IDD in the industry. Digital tools such as BIM facilitates the use of these technologies. BIM improves coordination among different stakeholders such as designers, builders and manufacturers and BIM helps firms visualise detailed building designs in virtual 3D form before they are actually built, minimising potential issues during construction.

I am happy to note that the course content in ABE’s diplomas in architecture as well as civil engineering with business cover these areas. Also, ABE has introduced BIM in your diplomas in architecture, civil engineering, interior design and landscape architecture since 2011; developed short courses in BIM for varying levels through your CET initiatives; and you have also launched a Specialist Diploma in BIM Management, and I understand that this will start this coming Monday! Congratulations, as Mr Soh has also shared, you are also launching a BIM Centre at the end of the year.

To date, you have had 1,000 PET graduates who are BIM-ready, and about 50 participants have been trained via short courses on BIM. These are positive developments, and I encourage you to continue rolling out initiatives that will provide our students with the skills required as the industry transforms.

Also, I understand that you and your partners have established a Smart Facilities Management Lab to tune a building into a smart and responsive home or work place for the user. I look forward to positive results from this collaboration, which will help our future plans, including manpower development, in the area of facilities management.

Creative innovations with technology

Second, innovations arising from the Internet of Things (IOT) and disruptive technologies which have emerged are expected to have an impact on the industry. Unmanned aerial vehicles, low-cost sensors, drones and 3D printing are possibilities in our industry; but these are not exhaustive. While most of these innovations are in the early stages of their development, we need to prepare our workforce for this. While we are seen to be advanced, we are also seeing many other countries speeding up their interest in these areas too. 

For example, ABE can play a role by growing our pool of talents who are adept at using computational design techniques to create smart and sustainable buildings. Algorithms now support designers in their exploration process, and can generate multiple design options as well as complex modular geometric forms within the virtual design space. They also have a predictive mode, which allows designs to be quickly tested and evaluated. This enables designers to discover new design options which may otherwise have been left out due to time constraints or other issues. In this regard, I am happy to note that you have been test-bedding new computational design techniques in your courses. I hope that you will be successful. 

Going international 

Building competencies in productive technologies and IDD can help firms to internationalise. While there is a lot of work available in the BE sector, the reality is that there is only so much we can build here. It is in this context that local firms have ventured abroad, and made progress. 

Based on BCA’s 2017 Internationalisation Survey, an average of $2.55 billion of construction projects were secured overseas in the last three years by local firms. In fact, Singapore companies have had a strong presence overseas. For example, CapitaLand is well-known for its Raffles City developments in China. Its serviced residence business, Ascott, has presence in more than 100 cities. Ascendas-Singbridge and Sembcorp are synonymous with industrial park developments in China, India and Vietnam. Soil Build is one of the largest contractors in Myanmar, while Tiong Seng intends to set up pre-fabrication facilities in Tianjin.

This is very encouraging because it shows that we have the expertise and talent to compete locally and abroad. We need to encourage our students to think international against a globalised setting. In this regard, I am heartened that ABE is making efforts to ensure that our students gain overseas exposure in preparation for the world after graduation.

Students have opportunities to go on overseas study trips, and participate in overseas competitions. Most recently, a team of four students in the Diploma in Civil Engineering course won second place in the undergraduate category of an international competition on the design and construction of earthquake resistant building models using low-cost materials. What is more interesting is because we come from a country that is hardly hit by earthquakes, and our students are able to win a competition on earthquake building design.   

Before I conclude, I just want to thank ABE for your contributions in developing our pipeline of talents, who in turn will go on to shape our built environment. 

To our existing BE professionals, I encourage you to be mentors and role models to the young ones, as well as to join us on this transformation journey. There is a lot to look forward to, and I hope you spread the word to the rest of the industry. 

To current students, there are many fulfilling opportunities in the BE sector as we transform. I hope to see you working in this sector in the future. 

Transforming our sector is a long-term endeavour and effort, which the Government cannot undertake alone. It requires the support of our tripartite stakeholders – the industry, academia, Trade Associations and Chambers as well as the unions. As ABE steps into your 61st year and beyond, I urge you to continue with your efforts to build an advanced and integrated sector, led by progressive and collaborative firms and supported by a skilled and competent workforce. My colleagues at BCA’s transformation office, BuildSG, will also continue to work closely with you on your initiatives to attract more students to take on BE-related courses and reach out to mid-career individuals who wish to join our sector.  

Once again, congratulations on your diamond jubilee! Thank you and have a good evening ahead. 

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