Er. Dr. Lee Bee Wah’s speech during debates on the PMO’s Budget
I graduated in 1985 as a civil engineer. When I entered university, this was a much sought-after discipline: top science students either studied medicine or engineering. Many of my seniors proudly told me of their contribution and involvement in nation-building: they practically helped build Singapore.
As Singapore enters the next lap of its nationhood, do we still have people who can do this? We will need many computer engineers and IT experts to make us a Smart Nation. We need engineers to develop our waters. We need engineers to keep our MRT system, our airports, our seaports working and in tiptop condition. We need engineers to build smarter homes, maintain a clean supply of water and even security systems for protection of our country. In fact, it’s estimated that half our economy relies on input from engineers. Do we have enough engineers to bring our country to the next level?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. In 2015, among the top ten jobs that went unfilled for six months, four were engineering related. Our engineering faculties are unable to attract enough locals and have to fill their ranks with foreigners. One local student has even joked that when he says he’s from engineering, he has to quickly specify he’s Singaporean, or people will assume he’s a foreigner. How did the situation get so bad?
First, there’s the perception that studying engineering is boring and tough. Students have to slog for long hours.
Next is the renumeration. Those engineers who have accountant, lawyer or doctor wives told me that their wives earn more than them. Hence, many left their engineering careers.
Many also feel being an engineer is tough. Not only do they have to spend long hours on the job, there is also the feeling that when things go wrong, everyone blames the engineers. But when things go right, they’re forgotten. There is no recognition. In fact there is a saying: a scientist can fail all his life, he just needs to have one success to win a Nobel Prize. Whereas engineers have to do it right all your life, but you just need to have one failure to end up in jail. Jin boh hua (it’s not worth it). It is timely for our government to relook into the pay, career path, job scope of engineers and recognition in the civil service.
To maximise the government’s efforts, I urge the government to also influence the private sector through the contracts it awards. When asking for engineering-related tenders, instead of simply awarding to the lowest tender, engineering innovation and local Singaporean core workforce should carry much higher weightage. Thank you.