Who wants to be an engineer?

By October 10, 2017Current

TL;DR – Desperately seeking engineers to fix our trains.

Another weekend, another train disruption.

Must we come to accept regular train disruptions as a fact of our lives? No. It’s not something that we need to accept. It’s not something that can’t be solved. But we do need enough good quality engineers to work on the problem.

Ah. But this is where the problem gets really difficult.

The engineering profession has not received the tender loving care it needed and still needs. Years of neglect has resulted in Singapore facing a shortage of engineers.

There are many reasons that led to this shortage of engineers. These include a lower salary compared to other professions (e.g. banks pay 30% more). Other factors include the lack of effective career planning and job rotation. For instance, not all engineers want to remain engineers, but may want to become senior managers.

Desperately seeking engineers

Thankfully there are now initiatives to rectify this situation. These include government initiatives to provide more structured career advancement and boost salaries of public sector engineers.

There’s even a website and Facebook page dedicated to creating more awareness about engineering as a profession and helping to create cool vibes for engineering.


Thankfully, the government isn’t the only one doing their part in trying to recruit, retain, and develop engineers.

In 2014, the Institute of Engineers Singapore (IES) and NTUC came together to launch the Young Engineers Leadership Programme (YELP). It’s a national initiative aimed at nurturing young engineering talents into future leaders who are able to address global challenges, by equipping them with the necessary leadership skills and technology management knowledge.

A batch of young engineers just went through the third run of the five-month-long programme for promising young talents in the field. The most recent intake of YELP received overwhelming response with 105 young engineers signing up for the programme. The YELP had initially only planned for 60 places. And yes, in case you’re wondering, they did manage to accommodate everyone.

These engineers received their certificates of completion at a graduation ceremony held at the NTUC Centre downtown last Thursday (5th Oct 2017).

The guest-of-honour of the ceremony was Mr Patrick Tay, Assistant Secretary General of NTUC and also Director of Future Jobs, Skills and Training (FJST).

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At this graduation ceremony, Mr Tay reminded the participants that the government has come out and openly said that manufacturing will remain one of the main pillars of Singapore’s economy.

Mr Tay also pointed out that there are numerous exciting developments that engineers can look forward to. This included the amendments to the Professional Engineers Act to raise the standards of engineers and make it easier to them to work abroad. With all these developments, Mr Tay is very optimistic about the career and future of engineers. So much so that he said:

“My dream is that my son can be an engineer so that I can sit in the audience and see my son get his certificate when he completes the YELP.”

Engineers need soft skills to complement technical skills for career progression

Indeed, young engineers see the potential in their careers. But they recognise that in order for them to progress, they would need more than their technical skills. They also need a range of soft skills. This includes skills such as understanding the personalities of other people as well as the working and communicating styles of different personality types. And that’s exactly what the YELP offers.

Mr Amber, an engineer from Infineon who participated in the recently concluded run of the YELP told us that he particularly found the sessions that taught him people skills to be most useful. He enjoyed the interactive sessions and the engaging discussion with the speakers who are experienced engineers in their own rights. He also appreciated the networking.

His views were echoed by fellow engineer, Tessa, who shared with us that she was sent to attend the programme by her company after working there for slightly over a year.

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Tessa had gone into the programme with no expectations, but now five months later, she has already completed the course and is grateful of the interpersonal, communication and other soft skills that she has acquired. Like the other graduands we had spoken to, Tessa told us that these are skills that can help in their everyday lives, including in building personal relationship and networking.

The YELP is just the first step for engineers to gain the softer skills and leadership know-how, so what’s next for these young engineers?

To help ensure that the networks the participants built during the programme will continue after the programme, IES has set up an alumni club for YELP participants.

The Chairman of the Young Engineers Committee of IES, Mr Ong Eng Teck, shared with us that they hope to keep the ties warm through the alumni club, and also to help the graduates of these programmes gain access to closed-door dialogue sessions with the management whenever IES organises learning journeys to companies.

That’s not all. Built upon the success of the YELP, IES has again teamed up with NTUC to develope the Advanced Engineers Leadership Programme (AELP).

In designing the AELP, Mr Mervyn Sirisena, Vice President of IES, was mindful that it has to offer something that isn’t available elsewhere. It was designed to be an experiential course, where participants can see what can be achieved through good engineering leadership and be inspired. He said:

“Our engineers must be able to dream, then be prepared so that they can seize the opportunities to achieve those dreams.”

Unions are working hard to convince companies to send engineers for training

It’s great that there are now programmes to help engineers have better career progression. But these programmes can only succeed if employers are supportive of their engineers to take part in the programmes. That’s why the unions regularly speak to different employers about sending their engineers for various training programmes, including the YELP and AELP.

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Mr Tan Richard, General Secretary of UWEEI and also a member of NTUC’s Central Committee, told us that they have been going around to different companies to convince them of the need to train their workers.

They do so by emphasizing two points. Firstly, technology is rapidly changing the way things are done. Engineers need to be trained to be prepared to for the future. Secondly, if companies want to move up the value chain, improve productivity, and increase their profit margins, they would need to train their workers.

Engineers are vital for our survival and prosperity

Judging from the number of participants in the YELP, it seems that the unions have been quite successful in convincing companies of the need to send engineers for training. Hopefully, all these effort will help us to attract better talented people into the engineering profession. Because this is vital for the continued survival and prosperity of Singapore.

And yes, we really need our trains to run smoothly.


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Joey Wee

Author Joey Wee

I am nice, most of the time!

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