Wednesday 26 November 2014

Big public-sector push to attract, retain engineers

Measures include review of pay and career progression, redesign of work
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

SINGAPORE's largest employer is stepping up efforts to woo engineering talent, as the country needs 1,000 more engineers each year for the next five years to keep public infrastructural projects going.

The Straits Times understands that the Public Service Division (PSD) is reviewing the pay and career progression of its engineers and will inject more variety into the work they do, in order to attract and retain such talent.

The PSD said that it has, for instance, come up with a structured programme to rotate its engineers to various agencies for greater exposure.

More design and operations work will also be introduced so that its engineers do more hands-on work instead of managing projects.

"We recognise that the young enjoy new challenges through variety and change, so we are redesigning some of our engineering work," said its spokesman.

Singapore needs more engineers as it has many infrastructural development projects, such as the underground rock caverns and the airport and port, she said.

But there is a general decline in interest in science and engineering among young people around the world, in places including the United States, Britain, Australia and Singapore, she added.

"This has resulted in fewer engineering university and diploma graduates pursuing careers in engineering," she said.

There are 12,000 public-sector engineers, but no official data on the number in the private sector.

The average monthly resignation rate for architectural and engineering services is 2.1 per cent for the second quarter of this year, latest figures from the Ministry of Manpower show.

This is higher than the 0.7 per cent for the public administration and education sector, and the 1.3 per cent for health and social services.

Industry players say a number of engineering graduates pursue unrelated careers, such as banking. This year, 15,400 people graduated with engineering degrees and diplomas. According to the Ministry of Education, the majority of engineering graduates who are employed in full-time jobs now are in jobs related to their course of study.

The PSD also intends to poll 1,500 engineering undergraduates or graduates, who either did not pursue the profession or who did but joined the private sector.

The survey aims to find out how they view the engineering profession, and identify factors which attract potential recruits and retain existing ones.

Industry experts say things are slowly looking up for engineers.

Salaries have risen by between 12 and 16 per cent over the past five years, said Mr Joe Eades, assistant honorary secretary at the Institution of Engineers, Singapore.

Surveys show that the average monthly pay of engineering graduates who started work last year is between $2,800 and $3,500.

Mr Eades said that five of the top 10 disciplines offering the highest graduate starting salaries are engineering disciplines in Britain, which lacks engineers.

"This has led to many more of the brightest students choosing to study engineering, and we may expect a similar trend here," he said.

Universities here are already seeing more top students applying for engineering courses.

The PSD thinks its new incentives will have a far-reaching influence. "We expect the measures to have some upstream impact on the interest in the study of the sciences. For example, we expect that more students may choose to study science subjects in secondary school, since they are foundational to studying engineering at the tertiary level," said its spokesman.

Engineering by numbers
- This year, 15,400 people graduated with engineering degrees and diplomas.
- Salaries have risen by between 12 and 16 per cent over the past five years.
- Average monthly pay of such graduates who started work last year is between $2,800 and $3,500.

Why engineering grads move on to other jobs
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

IN MAY this year, Mr Teng Han Yong graduated from the Nanyang Technological University with a degree in mechanical engineering.

But it took just five months for him to leave his first job at a local engineering firm.

"The work was monotonous, the pay of my seniors seemed stagnant and they had limited career progression options," said the 26-year-old, who has since become a personal banker.

"About a third of my friends who studied engineering ended up doing something completely different," he added.

Others such as Mr Tan Chin Jiat did take up an engineering job, but in the private sector.

"Like many of my peers then, we had the perception that working in the civil service meant more administrative work instead of hardcore, hands-on engineering work," said Mr Tan, 34, who worked for three years in an oil and gas firm.

But he moved to the public sector four years ago and is now a senior engineer with the Building and Construction Authority (BCA).

Part of his work involves conducting inspections of amusement rides.

"After being on the ground, I realise that the public sector has quite a lot of large infrastructural projects, so there are challenging opportunities as well," he said.

Ms Isabella Yeo, 26, joined the public sector after graduating in 2011.

The senior project engineer with the Land Transport Authority manages the construction of the MRT Downtown Line 3 project and liaises with consultants on design issues.

She said: "I enjoy the work because it exposes me to both the technical aspects as well as managing people."

Better scores now needed for NUS arts faculty
Intake now 1,700, but A-level holders need at least an A and 2 Bs
By Sandra Davie Senior Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Nov 2014

REMEMBER the days when one B and two Cs would get a student into the arts and social sciences faculty of the National University of Singapore?

Not any more.

This year, A-level holders needed at least an A and two Bs, despite the faculty taking in the largest number of students at the university - 1,700 in all.

Two years ago, the minimum grade needed was three Bs.

Faculty officials said they are also taking in more top A-level students, who score at least 3As. This year, they made up 15 per cent of applications, up from 7 per cent in the 2000s.

Faculty dean Brenda Yeoh said the faculty is no longer seen as an easier option.

"The students we have choose to come here because they believe in the merits of studying the humanities and social sciences. Not because they cannot get in anywhere else."

She attributes the higher demand to the wide range of courses on offer and students seeing the value in a broad education.

"Based on admission interviews, students like the wide range of offerings we have. With 17 departments, 20 major subjects, a host of minor programmes and a centre for language studies offering both Asian and European languages, we offer the most comprehensive education in the humanities and social sciences in this part of the world."

To cater to students' interests, the school has added more courses in recent years, including film studies, petroleum exploration, health and social sciences and global studies.

The latter is a multi-disciplinary course which covers areas including political science, economics and sociology.

The faculty's five most popular majors are economics, communications and new media, psychology, sociology and political science.

Professor Yeoh added: "When Yale-NUS was set up, there was initially some worry that the demand for arts and social sciences would go down. That didn't happen. In fact, demand went up.

"Young people are mindful of the fact that there are no more jobs for life and they have to be prepared to switch careers.

"They want a university education that will give them more career options and a broad training that will enable them to go into different fields, everything from teaching, to working in banks and the media, and in civil service."

First-year student Maisarah Abdul Jalil, 19, scored all As for her six A-level subjects at Jurong Junior College.

She said: "Like many young people, I am still figuring out where my interests and talents lie. The arts and social sciences faculty gives you the licence to explore."

National serviceman Sebastian Tan, 19, who chose arts and social sciences over a place in business at another local university, said the winning point for him was the broad-based education in the faculty.

"I hope to sample a whole range of subjects and then major in a hard science like politics or economics with English Literature," he said.

"The combination of subjects will nurture the most important skills of clear thinking and clear writing - required not only for a good job, but a good life as well," he added.


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