BRAVING NEW WAVES TOGETHER
Celebrating 40 Years of ASMI
Premier Centre For Ship Repair And Conversion
Glowing Prospects For FPSO Conversion
A Complete Maritime Community
Developing Human Capital
Leveraging On Technology
Battle For Hearts And Minds
BRAVING NEW WAVES TOGETHER
Developing Human Capital
Singapore’s success in the international marine and offshore community is due in large measure to the people in the industry. With their visions and their dogged determination, they have harnessed Singapore’s advantages to turn this island nation into a marine and offshore centre of distinction.
Over the past four decades, there were some close calls as Mr Lim Boon Heng, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, recalled at the naming ceremony of a new rig in June 2008, “The shipyard industry has gone through very very trying times in the past. It is correct to say that at one point, the industry was on the verge of extinction. The industry survived. Why? It is because of the people we have in the industry. In the 1960s and 1970s, some of our best young minds went into the industry. This has been a critical factor for survival and success. I must also say that these good minds were complemented by very stout hearts. There was a will to survive.”
In the early years, the government committed national resources to ensure that there was sufficient trained manpower for every level of the organisation. In 1972, SASAR introduced a five-year apprenticeship scheme for the rank-and-file workers. Generic training programmes were developed collectively under SASAR and later under ASMI, and implemented to build up core skills in marine trades.
For those in supervisory positions, a diploma education in shipbuilding and offshore engineering at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic was available. For potential leaders, a tertiary education in marine engineering and naval architecture in the United Kingdom was made possible through government scholarships.
Singapore was able to reap the benefits of this early commitment. As the industry thrived, it helped to break the back of Singapore’s unemployment problem. By 1978, the industry had crossed the S$1 billion mark in revenue, up from S$100 million in 1968. By 1981, it had doubled to S$2 billion.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, then Deputy Prime Minister said in his speech at the Model Workers Award presentation ceremony for marine workers in 2002, “Singapore has thus far been able to hold its strong position in the marine business because we have a dedicated workforce... However, this will only be sustainable in the long term if we make the effort to constantly upgrade the skills level of the industry’s workforce, and more importantly, to inject flesh blood into the industry.”
In more recent times, the government has introduced a number of specialisation programmes and courses to ensure that the industry has a steady flow of local talents for its evolving technological and operation needs. The marine and offshore engineering specialisation programme was offered to final year mechanical and production engineering students in Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2004, at the initiation of the EDB. Two years later, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and the EDB introduced the Oil and Gas Technology specialisation programme at the National University of Singapore (NUS).
In 2008, the Higher NITEC (National ITE Certificate) in Marine Offshore Engineering course was launched by the ITE to train technicians and supervisors for the industry, and help ease the critical shortage of local supervisory staff in the industry. In the same year, Ngee Ann and Singapore Polytechnics partnered the University of Newcastle in the United Kingdom, to offer the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Naval Architecture course in Singapore to help address the industry’s need for naval architects.
Systematic Programme of Development
Training did not lapse during the recession, though the focus was directed towards getting workers to be multi-skilled. With the recovery in the late 1980s, the need for manpower development and training gained added urgency. ASMI assumed greater responsibility for manpower development. In collaboration with the Institute of Technical Education (ITE), generic training programmes in various trades were developed for the rank-and-file workers.
In 1991, the Public Trade Tests (PTT) system was introduced to train and certify the workers’ skills. Till today, regular tests are held at approved test centres administered by ASMI. Now called Skills Evaluation Test (SET), the certification system serves as the barometer for trade skills competency for production workers. ASMI and the ITE have continued to work closely to set skills standards and develop curriculum for the various trades.
As project management skills have gained in importance with the increasing number of conversion projects undertaken in Singapore, ASMI has collaborated with Ngee Ann Polytechnic to conduct marine project management courses for the industry’s supervisors and managers.
In 1998, ASMI launched the Certified Marine Supervisor scheme to upgrade marine supervisors and foremen to a recognised industry standard. Those with relevant trade and supervisory experience, trade qualifications, formal training in shipyard safety supervision, marine supervision and project management could apply for accreditation by ASMI.
The ASMI SUPER V programme was introduced in late 2005 to augment the industry’s local supervisory pool. Under a two-year three-step progressive training programme developed jointly with the National Trades Union Congress and the Workforce Development Agency, mid-career workers with no relevant marine skills are being employed as trainee supervisors, to be reskilled and trained for supervisory positions in the industry.
In 2008, the scheme was expanded to attract ITE graduates in non marine-related courses. The ASMI SUPER V2 scheme offers an 18-month conversion programme to prepare such graduates for a career in the industry.
Developing NTS Workers
When the industry recovered from the recession, it found itself having to compete with other industrial sectors for workers with the success of Singapore’s industrialisation programnme. Foreign workers were recruited to fill the many vacancies companies had available. “On the production side, traditionally there are more people who are needed than Singapore can provide,” said Mr Wong Peng Kin.
With Singapore’s small population, the industry would not have been able to achieve its present status if it were not for the foreign workers. Foreign workers account for over 70% of the industry’s workforce, which reached a record of 131,000 in 2007. The foreign workforce has become an integral part of the industry’s workforce. They form the bulk of the production workers in the industry.
As skills certification is a requirement in the industry, a condition often dictated by customers, the foreign workers are also put through relevant training and testing programmes to equip them with the required trade skills. This has resulted in a skilled and disciplined workforce. Today, these non-traditional source (NTS) workers, principally from five countries – India, Bangladesh, China, Myanmar and Thailand – work alongside their peers from Singapore and Malaysia.
It is to the industry’s credit that it has managed to absorb vast numbers of foreign workers into its ranks and assimilate them with minor hitches. “Foreign workers have given us a new lease of life. We have used foreign labour and worked it to our best advantage,” said Mr Chia.
In 1987, the major shipyards got together to offer scholarships collectively under the ASMI’s umbrella to ensure a regular stream of trained talents into the industry. The first scholarship was awarded to students enrolled in the Shipbuilding and Offshore Engineering diploma programme in Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
As scholarships have proven to be an effective means to attract and nurture the promising young for a career in the marine industry, ASMI and its member yards have since rolled out several scholarship schemes to fund studies in polytechnics and universities, both at home and abroad.
In 2008, the ASMI scholarship programme was expanded to include ITE students to encourage them to join the industry at the technician and supervisory levels. By 2008, ASMI members had awarded a total of 560 scholarships, amounting to more than S$7 million.
As the quality and commitment of its people is one of the industry’s key success factors, succession planning has begun in earnest. “Succession planning has become a priority for the industry going forward,” said Mr Chia. The industry will need its fair share of talented and skilled people who have the motivation, commitment and drive to sustain its growth and maintain its leadership position.
Promising men and women are being handpicked through a stringent selection process and sent to tertiary institutions. Those with management and leadership potential are being identified and groomed through training and development to further raise their performance levels.
The current environment is ideal for this purpose, Mr Wong Weng Sun noted. The booming market creates a pressure cooker environment for aspiring candidates, testing the limits of their capabilities. They can benefit from the good counsel of the pioneers, who have gone through their own baptism of fire.
This successful transition will enable Singapore to sustain its lead for years to come as the centre of choice for marine and offshore projects.
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