Sin­ga­pore’s top ac­count­ing firms are on a hir­ing spree

Im­proved train­ing is needed amidst wave of new projects and de­vel­op­ments.

Singapore Business Review - - CONTENTS -

Sin­ga­pore Busi­ness Re­view’s rank­ing of the largest en­gi­neer­ing firms in the city-state re­veal that hir­ing ac­tiv­ity from big firms coun­ter­bal­anced the smaller firm’s staff re­duc­tions with the to­tal num­ber of en­gi­neer­ing pro­fes­sion­als at 375, just one per­son­nel higher than last year’s

374. Sur­bana Jurong re­mains the largest firm with the to­tal num­ber of en­gi­neers at 94 and to­tal staff at 2,985. Their head­count bal­looned by 34% from 70 reg­is­tered en­gi­neers in 2016, fol­low­ing the merger re­ported ear­lier this year with KTP Con­sul­tants.

AECOM Sin­ga­pore re­mains sec­ond de­spite ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a de­crease of four en­gi­neers. Mean­while, CPG Con­sul­tants jumped five spots from eighth to third as it hired 10 more en­gi­neers. This pushed WSP Con­sul­tancy down one spot to fourth with 25 en­gi­neers com­pared to last year’s

33. Wor­ley­par­sons saw the big­gest de­cline in head­count slash­ing 44% of its 25 en­gi­neers in 2016 down to 14. They slipped 6 spots from clinch­ing last year’s 4th spot down to 10th for this year.

The rise of ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, ro­bot­ics, high-tech assem­bly lines, drones, 3D print­ing, au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles and trans­port sys­tems, and aug­mented re­al­ity are also re­quir­ing en­gi­neers to up­skill. The de­mand for en­gi­neer­ing skills has evolved such that it re­quires not only peo­ple who know the trade from his­tory but who are also well versed in the age of big data and an­a­lyt­ics.

Un­der­skilled work­force

De­spite huge de­mand for tal­ent from pub­lic sec­tor projects such as the Mega Port at Tuas, Changi Air­port Ter­mi­nal 5, and MRT’S Cir­cle Line 6, skilled en­gi­neers are not enough in num­ber to carry out the planned in­no­va­tions.

To ad­dress this chal­lenge, some of Sin­ga­pore’s top en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion firms have been try­ing to in­crease the num­ber of highly-skilled en­gi­neers in their tal­ent pools. Over the past year, Sur­bana Jurong wel­comed 24 new en­gi­neers, whilst CPG Con­sul­tants and Aure­con Sin­ga­pore hired 10 and two, re­spec­tively. Steve Liew, coun­try man­ager, Aure­con, Sin­ga­pore said that the city’s en­gi­neer­ing tal­ent pool has shrunk, and con­se­quently, com­pe­ti­tion for the best tal­ent has be­come tighter. Chal­leng­ing eco­nomic con­di­tions are also a fac­tor in set­ting higher ex­pec­ta­tions in terms of skills and qual­ity of work. Price cuts in or­der to com­pete are not the way to go, as they only cre­ate un­sus­tain­abil­ity in the long term. Firms are en­cour­aged to take the more te­dious route of train­ing their em­ploy­ees and cre­at­ing a cul­ture of in­no­va­tion within their ranks.

Dig­i­tal di­vide

Sin­ga­pore’s trans­for­ma­tion into a Smart Na­tion needs a si­mul­ta­ne­ous trans­for­ma­tion of its en­gi­neer­ing labour force. Ac­cord­ing to Ed­win

Khew Teck Fook, pres­i­dent, The In­sti­tu­tion of En­gi­neers, Sin­ga­pore (IES), there is a greater em­pha­sis on deep-skilled train­ing for en­gi­neers and tech­ni­cians to build a fu­ture-ready, deep-tech en­gi­neer­ing work­force. Liew said that dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion is the big­gest change their firm has ever en­coun­tered, grap­pling not only the com­pany, but more sig­nif­i­cantly its clients.

For him, the ques­tion that needs to be con­stantly asked is how to com­mer­cialise the op­por­tu­ni­ties pre­sented by dig­i­tal dis­rup­tion whilst keep­ing them­selves rel­e­vant as en­gi­neers and as a busi­ness.

“A sig­nif­i­cant change is brought about by tech­no­log­i­cal dis­rup­tions that have in­ten­si­fied the need for en­gi­neers to in­no­vate. This trend has picked up pace es­pe­cially in in­dus­tries such as fin­tech and deep-tech en­gi­neer­ing sys­tems, as Sin­ga­pore strives to re­main a lead­ing global fi­nan­cial and high­tech man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­tre in Asia by har­ness­ing tech­nol­ogy and sharp­en­ing its in­no­va­tion edge,” Fook added.

With the on­slaught of ma­jor dig­i­tal de­vel­op­ments, cy­ber­se­cu­rity is also ex­pected to be­come a ma­jor is­sue for stake­hold­ers. Firms are an­tic­i­pat­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of Sin­ga­pore’s Cy­ber­se­cu­rity Bill in 2018, an event that will push the en­gi­neer­ing sec­tor to raise their cy­ber­se­cu­rity stan­dards in or­der to ben­e­fit greatly from dig­i­tal­i­sa­tion.

De­spite huge de­mand for tal­ent from pub­lic sec­tor projects such as the Mega Port at Tuas, Changi Air­port Ter­mi­nal 5, and MRT’S Cir­cle Line 6, skilled en­gi­neers are not enough in num­ber to carry out the planned in­no­va­tions.

Sin­ga­pore In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy is now of­fer­ing de­gree pro­grammes in Sus­tain­able In­fra­struc­ture En­gi­neer­ing and Telem­at­ics to train more en­gi­neers in mod­ern trans­port en­gi­neer­ing to ad­vance our trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture.

Fook said that Sin­ga­pore has seen the cre­ation of tri­par­tite col­lab­o­ra­tions such as the Built En­vi­ron­ment Skill­sfu­ture Tri­par­tite task­force aimed at bring­ing to­gether in­dus­try, gov­ern­ment and the In­sti­tu­tions of Higher Learn­ing (IHLS). “We send our bright young en­gi­neers ev­ery year to univer­sity cam­puses to share his pas­sion and ca­reer jour­ney. Through this, we hope to at­tract more grad­u­ates from en­gi­neer­ing faculties to join en­gi­neer­ing as a ca­reer,” Liew said.

Ed­u­ca­tion first

Mean­while, uni­ver­si­ties are also catch­ing up to the trends. Fook said that IES is see­ing more en­gi­neers trained in sub-dis­ci­plines and spe­cial­ist fields such as aero­space en­gi­neer­ing, bio­chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing, phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and mecha­tron­ics in the work­force.

“IHLS are also de­vel­op­ing more cur­ricu­lum and pro­grammes be­yond elec­tron­ics, me­chan­i­cal, civil and chem­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing to sup­port our evolv­ing econ­omy. For ex­am­ple, the Sin­ga­pore In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy is now of­fer­ing de­gree pro­grammes in Sus­tain­able In­fra­struc­ture En­gi­neer­ing and Telem­at­ics to train more en­gi­neers in mod­ern trans­port en­gi­neer­ing to ad­vance our trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture,” Fook added.

Fur­ther­more, Sin­ga­pore also needs to prize its tech­ni­cians, who are a key group in the en­gi­neer­ing value chain. Fook said Sin­ga­pore has seen a grow­ing need to train and cer­tify these tech­ni­cians with ini­tial ef­forts al­ready launched by the gov­ern­ment. To sup­port ef­fi­cient pub­lic bus trans­port, the Land Trans­port Au­thor­ity (LTA) and other part­ners, in­clud­ing IES, in­tro­duced new cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for bus tech­ni­cians in or­der for them to be more pro­fes­sional and com­pe­tent.

“These tech­ni­cians and tech­ni­cal pro­fes­sion­als will be reg­is­tered by

IES and placed put on a path­way whereby their cer­tifi­cates will be recog­nised re­gion­ally in ASEAN and in time, con­verted to pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions akin to en­gi­neers,” Fook added. De­spite chal­lenges in staffing, firms con­tinue to clinch sig­nif­i­cant projects as the econ­omy tries to sta­bilise.

Aure­con’s two ad­di­tional en­gi­neers are a re­sult of the com­pany win­ning size­able new projects in data cen­tres and uni­ver­si­ties. Liew added that this is also part of their strat­egy to main­tain a steady num­ber of en­gi­neers for its clients. In par­tic­u­lar, Aure­con has been suc­cess­ful in its in­fra­struc­ture ad­vi­sory pro­ject with the Sin­ga­pore gov­ern­ment, to help Mau­ri­tius plan and build their first light rail sys­tem. The pro­ject, which has pro­gressed to the de­sign and con­struct stage, is in line with the firm’s strat­egy to de­sign bet­ter futures and make a real dif­fer­ence in the com­mu­ni­ties in which they work.

Build, build, build

Aside from Aure­con, other firms are also see­ing more projects in the pipe­line. Ac­cord­ing to Wong Heang Fine, group chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer at Sur­bana Jurong, the com­pany con­tin­ues to ink con­tracts for mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary projects across di­verse sec­tors not only in Sin­ga­pore, but in the en­tire re­gion. “Our new projects in­clude col­lab­o­ra­tion with Viet­nam’s Phu Long on mas­ter­plan­ning, coastal en­gi­neer­ing and pro­ject man­age­ment, en­gi­neer­ing de­sign ser­vices for the Yan­gon-man­dalay high­way, a new fresh food dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre for NTUC, and a hous­ing town­ship pro­ject in Yun­nan, China,” Wong said.

“2018 will be an ex­cit­ing year for en­gi­neer­ing. Mount­ing pres­sure for Sin­ga­pore to fuel its eco­nomic growth will open up many op­por­tu­ni­ties for en­gi­neers and the high tech in­dus­try to con­trib­ute and be suc­cess­ful. En­gi­neer­ing will re­main a key en­abler to es­tab­lish and un­der­pin the growth of fu­ture tech­nolo­gies which will con­trol the way we live, work and play,” IES’ Fook said.

Aure­con is help­ing Mau­ri­tius plan and build their first light rail sys­tem

Sur­bana Jurong’s land recla­ma­tion pro­ject for Pasir Pan­jang

Na­tional Cen­ter for In­fec­tious Dis­eases, one of the ma­jor projects of CPG Con­sul­tants

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