Speech by MOS Zaqy Mohamad at the Professional Engineers Board (PEB) Day of Dedication

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Let me begin by congratulating the 257 newly registered Professional Engineers (PEs), Specialist PEs, and ASEAN Chartered PEs; and the 12 outstanding graduates receiving the PEB Gold Medal Award.  

You have responded to a calling and have chosen an exciting career. Your predecessors helped build Singapore into a vibrant and endearing city. It is now up to you to build on their legacy.

Future trends and challenges

Going forward, several trends and challenges will shape the course of your work. First, climate change will be a key driver for more resilient and energy-efficient infrastructure. We will need to design and build infrastructure that can withstand stronger winds, more intense rainfall, and rising sea levels. To do our part for climate change, we must also ensure that our buildings are energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly.

Second, our population is ageing. This means that our infrastructure needs to be designed with accessibility in mind. This can only be done through thoughtful and empathic design. It also calls for higher standards of engineering quality, so that amenities like lifts and escalators remain reliable and accessible, even as usage intensifies.

And third, the fourth industrial revolution is generating demand for new types of infrastructure and systems, and disrupting the engineering industry by introducing new ways to build. For instance, digitalisation has led to the development of tools like Building Information Modelling (BIM), which enables Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD). 

IDD integrates stakeholders and processes throughout the building lifecycle – from design to construction to operations & maintenance – using digital technologies. A number of our construction companies have already embarked on this and have used it on major projects in Singapore.

At the design stage, IDD facilitates cross-domain collaboration amongst architects, engineers, developers and builders, to achieve optimised design. The digital design can improve site productivity by enabling automated off-site fabrication of standardised components, and coordination of on-site assembly. Finally, upon project completion and delivery, digital asset management enables real-time monitoring of building performance. This facilitates the use of data analytics to power the move towards predictive and preventive maintenance, and enhance facility management outcomes.

The world is changing quickly, and we must keep up. The PE industry will need to keep abreast of these trends, and continue to develop deep engineering expertise to support Singapore’s development in the future.

PEB’s role in developing the profession

In this regard, the PEB plays a crucial role in advancing the profession, and ensuring that it stays relevant and competent. 

For instance, to enhance the resilience of our critical infrastructure, Protective Security engineering was introduced as a new Specialist PE (SPE) branch earlier this year. Er. Ang Choon Keat, founder of Prostruct Consulting, is amongst the first batch of Specialist PEs in Protective Security. He has more than a decade’s experience in blast consultancy works, across a variety of infrastructure types. I hope that as a newly minted SPE, he will continue to lend his expertise in making Singapore a safer and more secure place.

On top of PEB’s efforts, PEs should also take the initiative to continuously challenge and upgrade yourselves. The pursuit of excellence is a lifelong endeavour. And I’d like to touch on two key aspects of this pursuit, namely service and innovation.

Professional engineering as a service

First, engineering is essentially a professional service to society. Your work revolves around finding smart solutions to pressing problems. It has a direct and lasting impact on people’s lives. Building houses comes to many people’s minds when we mention engineering. But good engineers don’t just build houses – they also contribute to the building of a strong nation. Indeed, many amongst you have played an instrumental role in Singapore’s nation building journey.

On this note, I would like to make a special mention of two distinguished members of your community. They have devoted their illustrious careers to the betterment of the engineering profession, and ultimately, the transformation of Singapore into a modern city. 

Er Dr Cham Tao Soon is a name that would be familiar to many. During his early career as a professor at NUS, he helped set up the university’s Faculty of Engineering. He then went on to become the Founding President of NTU, and continued to build up the university over the next 22 years. In fact, I myself was a student at NTU when Er Cham was President. Subsequently, Er Cham also became the Founding Chancellor of UniSIM, and played a key role in the formation of the Singapore University of Social Sciences. With so many IHLs under his belt, it’s no wonder that Er Cham is also known as the “Educator of the Century”! 

Another outstanding PE I’d like to mention is Er Tan Gee Paw. Er Tan joined the Civil Service in 1967, shortly after Singapore gained independence. Over his lifelong public service career, he helped solve many of our engineering problems. And he is perhaps best known for the development of our now world-class water infrastructure. In 2003, Er Tan’s team delivered NEWater, which was a major step forward in Singapore’s journey towards water self-sufficiency. While developing our water infrastructure, Er Tan also built up a globally competitive water industry, which continues to generate opportunities for Singapore companies and engineers today.

Er Cham and Er Tan are truly trailblazers. In this regard, I am pleased to announce that they have both been conferred the Distinguished PE Award. Given out by PEB once every two years, this prestigious award honours distinguished members and role models of the PE profession. It is a recognition that our two esteemed engineers deserve. Congratulations to you both, and thank you for your contributions!

Like the four Distinguished PEs before them, Er Cham’s and Er Tan’s success stories serve as an inspiration for all engineers. In this regard, PEB will be publishing a book next year to celebrate the achievements of the six Distinguished PEs to-date. It will document the journeys and contributions of these PEs, with the hope of motivating new and aspiring engineers to follow in their path. I look forward to its publication.

Innovation as key to unlocking future potential

The second point I wish to make is on innovation. Earlier, I mentioned some trends that are disrupting the engineering industry. With an innovative mindset, we can turn these disruptive forces into opportunities. 

For instance, automation and robotics are already contributing to safer, faster, and higher quality construction in countries like Japan. Sustainable building methods and materials, such as prefabrication technologies, are also gaining traction around the world. These trends are broadly in line with the focus areas under our Construction ITM, namely IDD, Design for Manufacturing and Assembly, and Green Buildings. Such innovative technologies hold the key to transforming our built environment industry. 

To encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in the engineering profession, the PEB will be launching an “Innovative PE Award” next year. The new award aims to recognise PEs who demonstrate innovation while delivering outstanding results, for instance, through the creative use of transformative technologies to solve difficult problems; or, by pioneering new and unique business models in the provision of engineering services.
The award will be presented once every two years, alternating with the Distinguished PE Award. I hope that this will spur more innovative engineers to champion the ITM, and help unlock its full potential.

In closing, let me express my heartfelt appreciation to the PE community for your contributions to our built environment. Congratulations once again to all the new PEs and award winners. I look forward to continuing our nation-building journey with you.

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