Desmond Lee and NCMP Leong Mun Wai spar over ways to transform construction sector

SINGAPORE – Singapore’s approach to transforming its construction sector is to remake construction jobs and processes to require a level of productivity and skills which command good salaries that attract locals, said Minister for National Development Desmond Lee.

It does not involve simply raising salaries to attract Singaporeans, Mr Lee said Tuesday (May 11) in an exchange with Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai.

During the debate on amendments to the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, Mr Leong said he was happy to hear that Singaporeans are taking on scholarships and joining the construction sector, but that more locals could be attracted to become general construction workers if wages are more attractive.

“I always find it very uncomfortable and always find it very pitiful to see very strong able-bodied Singaporeans queuing up at F&B outlets to collect food for delivery,” said the Progress Singapore Party MP.

Asked by Leader of the House Indranee Rajah to clarify if he meant for delivery riders to become construction workers, Mr Leong said yes.

Mr Lee replied that the government has a different approach, which is to use automation and mechanisation so that Singaporeans can be builders that command high salaries.

He cited how some Singaporeans are already doing pre-fabrication and casting works, apart from those who are architects, engineers and consultants.

“Singaporeans are doing those (construction) jobs, but it is very different from the kind of job that the member envisions Singaporeans will be doing,” he said.

Earlier in the debate, Mr Lee said it was “befuddling” that Mr Leong had said the built environment sector here has seen little productivity gain over the years.

His ministry had “taken pains” during the debate on its budget to detail its multi-year efforts to transform the sector and create good local jobs, he said.

Mr Lee also cited the Construction Industry Transformation Map launched in 2017, where the Government is partnering the industry in a range of initiatives to accelerate the pace of transformation, including reducing its reliance on foreign manpower.

Part of this plan includes raising the skill levels of foreign workers here, he said.

“At the end of the day, even as we automate, even as we increase productivity… there will still be a need for some foreign workers,” he said. “We hope they’ll be more skilled (and we’ll) keep them here to supplement the core of Singaporeans that we want to build for the sector.”

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