Mr Zaqy Mohamad taking a photo at the event with attendees from the industry

Talent transformation: Improving Singapore’s built environment and empowering its professionals

17 Sep 2019



Speaking to more than 300 C-suite leaders at IBEW 2019’s Breakfast Talk for CEOs, Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Zaqy Mohamad highlighted Singapore’s aspirations in developing a built environment sector that is productive, high-tech, and future-ready. These aspirations need to be supported by a core group of committed and forward-thinking sector leaders.

Laying the foundation for sector-wide transformation

Mr Zaqy noted that the iBuildSG Leadership Engagement and Development (LEAD) Framework, launched in May 2019, was developed for this purpose, with specially curated LEAD Horizon & Milestone Programmes to support emerging and senior-level industry leaders in three areas:

  • Sharpening their focus on innovation
  • Cultivating collaborative leadership
  • Instilling a global mindset for internationalisation

Building a pipeline of talent

Besides grooming new leaders, Mr Zaqy highlighted the need for a pipeline of new talent to support Singapore’s transformation efforts. He explained that BCA, with the support of companies as well as trade associations and chambers, has been attracting top students to join the sector through structured internships, the iBuildSG scholarship and sponsorship programmes.

Mr Zaqy also urged the audience to lead the change in their firms. “Workforce development is crucial in our transformation journey. As decision makers, C-suite leaders like yourselves are in the best position to drive this. This will help our sector remain competitive locally and regionally,” he said.

Panel insights into sector practices and talent development

Distinguished industry leader Mr Liew Mun Leong, Chairman of Changi Airport Group and Surbana Jurong also gave a keynote address, before continuing the conversation with a panel consisting of:

  • Mr Philip Ng, CEO, Far East Organization
  • Mr Hugh Lim, CEO, BCA
  • Ms Pauline Goh, Chairman, CBRE (Southeast Asia)
  • Mr Wong Chee Herng, Group Managing Director and CEO, Straits Construction Group
  • Mr Mukund Sridhar, Partner, McKinsey & Company (Moderator)
mr-philip-ng-mr-mukund-sridhar-mr-liew-mun-leong-mr-norman-ip-minister-zaqy-mohamed-mr-hugh-lim-ms-pauline-goh-and-mr-wong-chee-herng(From left to right) Mr Philip Ng, Mr Mukund Sridhar, Mr Liew Mun Leong, Mr Norman Ip, Minister Zaqy Mohamad, Mr Hugh Lim, Ms Pauline Goh, and Mr Wong Chee Herng
The panel discussion began with the issue of price versus quality attributes in construction tenders. Mr Liew commented that the quality attribute component had to be given more weight, with Mr Wong agreeing. The latter said he was heartened to see the government adopting the price quality method (PQM). “I think this has actually created a lot of investments into non-price elements such as quality and safety,” Mr Wong says.

Mr Lim shared that public agencies have been awarding between 70 to 90 per cent quality score for consultants.

The role of digitalisation

The discussion also touched on the role of digitalisation in the built environment sector. Mr Liew told the audience that Jewel at Changi Airport could not have been built without digital advancements: “6,000 pieces of glasses, and each piece of glass is a different dimension…we can never do it without technology.”

Mr Liew explained that with the use of BIM, architects could change layouts within minutes to facilitate design. He also highlighted the use of drones to supervise projects at Tuas Mega Port.

Ms Goh shared that digitalisation is also important for end-consumers, and that globally, CBRE spends about $170 million annually on its Digital and Technology platform.

Introducing and retaining talent

On manpower, Mr Liew noted that there was a lack of new engineers joining the sector, citing pay and society's perspective towards the profession as factors contributing to the decline. Pay is not great for engineers in Singapore, and there needs to be a change in society’s perspective towards the profession as well.

Mr Ng also highlighted that there was a need for good maintenance and management personnel within the built environment.

The panel ended on the agreement that organisational leadership would be crucial to the needed changes in coming years. Mr Wong said that changes would have to begin at the top, for the whole organisation to be aligned towards common goals.

Amid the wider discussion of the panel, a clear trend emerged: Industry leaders see a growing demand for more engineers and growing opportunities for engineers to expand their skill sets. But throughout the process, organisations like BCA and the trade associations – as well as private sector companies – should be prepared to lead the change.

About International Built Environment Week

The International Built Environment Week (IBEW) is the first fully integrated event in Asia Pacific that covers the entire built environment life cycle and value chain. Jointly organised by the Building and Construction Authority and Reed Exhibitions and supported by 12 Trade Associations and Chamber, the event offers the perfect platform for industry leaders and professionals from the global built environment to exchange ideas and experiences, widen networks and discover new business opportunities. 

The inaugural IBEW was held from 3 to 6 September 2019 at Sands Expo & Convention Centre, Singapore.  Themed ‘Transforming the Way We Build’, the event showcased today’s best practices and tomorrow’s innovations in the areas of environmental sustainability, construction productivity, digitalisation and smart facilities management.

Key highlights included a three-day International Built Environment Conference, specially-curated tours to some of the best-in-class projects in Singapore, four co-located trade shows, networking events and student engagement programmes.  IBEW 2019 also featured special events such as the Breakfast Talk for CEOs, an exclusive forum for C-suite executives from the built environment; and BE Connect, an international business-matching platform for buyers and investors from the region to network and engage with top urban solutions providers equipped to meet their interests.

For more information on IBEW, visit www.ibew.sg.


The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) champions the development and transformation of the built environment sector, in order to improve Singapore’s living environment. BCA oversees areas such as safety, quality, inclusiveness, sustainability and productivity, all of which, together with our stakeholders and partners, help to achieve our mission to transform the Built Environment sector and shape a liveable and smart built environment for Singapore.