Speech by Minister Desmond Lee at the BuildSG Lead Summit 2023 on 11 May at Sands EXPO and Convention Centre

Thursday, 11 May 2023

1. A very warm welcome to the BuildSG Leadership Engagement and Development (LEAD) Summit 2023.

2. We set up LEAD in 2019, and the purpose was simple: we wanted LEAD to help us build a core group of committed, forward-looking leaders who can catalyse and drive positive change in our Built Environment sector. This is especially important as we chart our way forward, after the unprecedented disruptions caused by the pandemic.

3. I am therefore very glad to see so many of our sector leaders here with us this morning.

Transforming Towards Greater Resilience

4. The last three years have been extremely tough on you and your firms. Because of the effort you put in and the sacrifices that you have all made, as well as your strong partnership with Government, the construction sector has achieved greater stability today. You are catching up on the backlog of work caused by COVID-19, while also embarking on new projects. In the coming years, we anticipate a stable demand for construction.

5. Having said that, I don’t think any of us expect the way ahead to be smooth sailing. With geopolitical tensions growing and a very uncertain economic outlook, we must prepare for challenges and headwinds that can disrupt our sector yet again.

6. That is why we must press ahead and implement the strategies under our Built Environment Industry Transformation Map (BE ITM). We must decisively change the way we design, build, and maintain, so that we become more resilient, more productive, and more competitive.   

7. At the same time, emerging technologies and developments present exciting opportunities for sector transformation. We must keep learning from the best – both in Singapore and around the world; both from the Built Environment sector and from other industries as well.

8. Just for example, I recently visited the NEST (NEST) Research Institute, or what we call the Next Evolution in Sustainable Building Technologies Research Institute in Zurich. It is an integrated facility that allows new and innovative methods of design and construction as well as new and renewed building materials to be tested under realistic conditions. it is basically a building core, and it carries load on each platform, and you just plug-and-play different modules.  You plug in a module for a couple of years, test bed IT, test bed innovation, test bed collaborative approach, in the module, in near real time conditions. And that itself is quite impressive.

9. What really struck us was not just the products or the technologies that the Swiss have come up with or that building where you test modules, but the way stakeholders across the value chain – researchers, material manufacturers, and builders, including small- and medium-enterprises – how they come together, to build alliances together, to collaborate, to push the boundaries, and create something of value that is greater than the sum of their individual parts. This in a way reminded me of what we did during COVID, through the setting up of Alliances for Action (AfAs).  

10. The visit left all of us quite excited about the potential and possibilities for our own Built Environment sector and what can be achieved if we continue to work together.

11. I am therefore very encouraged to see alliances of progressive firms working hard to transform your value chain. Some of you will be sharing insights into your transformation later during this Summit. I hope to see many more firms coming on board this journey.

Building a Resilient, Future-ready Workforce

12. One vital ingredient for transformation is our people – our Built Environment workforce. We must adopt a holistic approach to build up our talent in our Built Environment. Let me outline three broad strategies; it will not be comprehensive, but just three of the key areas we want to focus on.

Attraction – Engaging talent early

13. First, we must attract talent into our sector. Manpower is very tight, workforce is very tight, talent is very limited. We must start with our young.

14. BCA’s iBuildSG club and the Built Environment Formation Programme raise awareness and interest among students about our sector. BCA does this through workshops, learning journeys, competitions, and internships.

15. The key is we want to change people’s perceptions, starting with the next generation, and show them how our sector is changing and transforming.

16. People think that construction is dirty, dangerous, and demanding, and it still involves mostly manual tasks. But actually – all of you would know – so much has changed, and so much will change There are a lot more career opportunities in the sector that are exciting and tech-enabled through the building lifecycle. For instance, collaborative, digital design of buildings through Building Information Modelling, and advanced construction using robotics and automation.

17. Things have also changed in the Facilities Management  industry. Today, we are beginning to use a lot more Artificial Intelligence , Internet-of-Things  devices, and cloud-based technologies to carry out Facilities Management works.

18. These transformations provide us with the opportunity to comprehensively rebrand the Built Environment sector. So please join us in this effort. This will help us to attract a pipeline of talent, from students to mid-careerists.

19. We know that one of the key challenges in attracting talent to our sector is remuneration, and we have been working to address this; this is a work in progress. For example, we have worked with the Trade Associations and Chambers  to put in place accreditation schemes to better recognise the skills and competency of Built Environment professionals. This aims to allow workers the ability to negotiate for fair remuneration.

20. As a major buyer of construction and consultancy services, the Government has reviewed our tender evaluation approach to place greater emphasis on quality in our projects. This aims to mitigate unhealthy price competition so that firms can also remunerate their staff more fairly.

Development – Nurturing a future-ready workforce

21. Second, we must nurture a future-ready Built Environment workforce, because things are changing so rapidly.

22. For leaders like yourselves, BCA has worked with IHLs and industry to develop programmes to empower you to drive change. Events like this morning provide opportunities for industry leaders to network and collaborate. Get together to discuss the latest technological developments and innovations in our sector, and embark on similar projects within your organisations.

23. Under the LEAD banner, BCA also reaches out to young leaders and facilitates international exchanges with leading global firms through the LEAD Horizon and Milestone programmes.

24. We work closely with industry and IHLs to ensure that our curriculum is up-to-date, so that our students graduate with relevant skills for the workforce. For example, the BCA Academy and industry have launched Integrated Work-Study Diploma programmes. They combine classroom teaching with industry attachments, covering both key horizontal skillsets, such as digitalisation and sustainability, and domain-specific skillsets.

25. For existing workers, we launched the Skills Framework to empower and encourage individuals to take ownership of their career journeys. This framework sets out the skills and competencies required for various job roles in the our sector, outlines the possible career pathways, and shares a list of available training programmes.

26. That said, like many other sectors, jobs and skills in the Built Environment sector will continue to change. This not only presents an opportunity to attract new talent, but also requires substantial change management, job redesign, and reskilling of our existing workforce. 

27. To better help the sector navigate through these changes, BCA conducted a study with Ernst and Young to understand the impact of industry transformation on our workforce. I am glad that the study has been completed, and the report has been uploaded on BCA’s and Workforce Singapore’s websites for you to peruse.

28. The report sets out recommendations and also lists resources that firms and workers can use to better prepare for changes ahead of us. For instance, the report describes how specific job roles may change, and the skills that are needed for our workers to transition between job roles. Our firms can use this to chart out plans to prepare a future-ready workforce. Our workers can also use this information to steer their careers.

29. The study has also reaffirmed our approach to continuous learning, given the changing nature of jobs in our sector.

30. In this regard, I would like to announce that the BCA Academy (BCAA) will take on the role as the dedicated Continuing Education and Training (CET) Centre for the Built Environment sector.

31. This will strengthen our efforts to develop critical transformative skillsets for the sector, such as robotics and automation, as well as smart and integrated facilities management.

32. In addition to training for individual workers, the CET centre will also support capability and capacity building for leaders as well as enterprises.

33. Beyond existing Career Conversion Programmes (CCPs), which support upskilling and reskilling of individuals who are already employed in the Built Environment sector, the BCA Academy will introduce courses under the SkillsFuture Career Transition Programme (SCTP) to help mid-careerists from other sectors wanting to come into our sector.

34. I encourage you to approach the BCA Academy as the new CET centre to find out more about its new offerings for the sector.

 Retention – Creating a conducive work environment

35. Third strategy: our firms need to create a conducive workplace to retain our workforce.

36. Good, forward-looking HR practices reassure our workers that their efforts are appreciated, and that they are supported in their careers. This is absolutely crucial to employee retention.

37. There are many good examples of progressive firms with good HR practices in our sector. When we speak to our BCA officers to find out why they continue in the sector and why they leave; more often than not it is HR. Take for instance Teambuild, who was recognised as one of Singapore’s Best Employers in 2023. Teambuild has its own career mentoring programme for fresh graduates and provides their employees with support for reskilling and upskilling.

38. I encourage firms in our sector to take the time to review your HR practices. Do so as leaders of your firms. One good way to start is to make use of the Human Capital Diagnostic Tool by the Institute for Human Resource Professionals, to identify areas for improvement.

39. As leaders, you play a critical role in talent retention. You set the values and direction of your organisations, and have the power to establish good workplace culture.


40. So in conclusion to all our leaders here today, you are our transformation champions for the Built Environment sector. I hope we can continue to work together to attract, to nurture, and to retain talent in our sector.

41. Working together, I am confident that we can strengthen the resilience of our Built Environment sector and workforce, and be ready for the things that may come.

42. Thank you, and have a meaningful session this morning.

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