Singapore to support precision engineering growth with 1,500 vacancies on offer

ENHANCED measures are under way to help Singapore companies in growth sectors "pull apart from the competition", Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said on Monday, even as the precision engineering sector was singled out for attention.

These include a one-off boost to the Scale-up SG programme, which was introduced in mid-2019 to help companies identified as having high-growth potential to expand.

Separately, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo cited the evolving industry demand for skilled labour in an "innovation-driven type of manufacturing activities".

"Given the international competitiveness of manufacturing, the companies that continue to operate here need to level up," she added.

That's as about 1,500 positions, including 980 jobs, have been offered at more than 270 companies in the precision engineering industry since April, under the SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package.

Roughly four-fifths were for professional, manager, executive and technician (PMET) positions, according to the weekly jobs report from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Median salaries are S$1,750 a month for manufacturing engineering technicians, and S$3,350 for industrial and production engineers.

Mrs Teo noted that manufacturing jobs in Singapore have evolved since the 1960s and 1970s, when “a lot of our own people were engaged in work like production operators”.

“Nowadays that would not be quite necessary because the companies have adopted new methods of production and they don’t necessarily need as many people as they did before,” she said.

“In fact, that is the direction that we want to move towards. But if you just look at the opportunities on offer today, eight in 10 are for PMET roles, and those are precisely the kinds of job roles that we also do want for Singaporeans.”

Employers are also hiring for non-PMET roles, such as production operators, welders and pipefitters, the MOM added in its report.

Meanwhile, some 260 jobseekers were placed in precision engineering from April to July. More than two-fifths of these were mid-career workers, who joined the industry under either PMET schemes such as Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs), or Place-and-Train Programmes for rank-and-file workers.

Mid-career workers switching into precision engineering through PCPs largely hailed from the electronics, energy, chemicals, logistics, information and communications technology, and oil and gas industries, the MOM said, without giving figures.

Transferable skills include familiarity with quality management systems and geometric dimensioning, while new skills that could be acquired are precision machine design, and pneumatic and process instrumentation.

In all, the precision engineering cluster employed more than 95,000 workers as at mid-2020, out of 473,000 in the sector overall, according to MOM data.

Said Mrs Teo: “We see manufacturing as still being one of the key pillars of our economy, contributing significantly to our GDP (gross domestic product). We see it as providing good jobs for Singaporeans, both PMETs and non-PMETs, and we also see opportunities for future growth.”

Despite overall unemployment rising from 2.4 per cent to 2.8 per cent in the second quarter, the MOM identified electronics and precision engineering as “areas of strength” in its half-year labour market report, also out on Monday.

These two industries “are likely to expand, driven by sustained global demand for semiconductors and semiconductor equipment”, the ministry said.

Precision engineering grew 11.4 per cent year on year for the seven months from January to July, on demand for pandemic-related products such as ventilators, as well as for remote work and automation enablers such as monitor parts and sensors.

Laying out moves to help "promising companies" grow, Mr Chan said that the government would work with trade associations and national research institutions to help industry players digitalise and build markets "rather than compete on price alone".

The level of government funding under the Scale-up SG programme will also be lifted to 80 per cent until September 2021, up from the usual 70 per cent, as part of "the overall suite of targeted measures" for thriving industries, he added.

The Scale-up SG scheme, which helps businesses develop and execute growth plans, kicked off in July 2019 with 25 participants in the first two cohorts. The aim is to help 50 more companies in the next two years under the enhanced programme, Mr Chan said.

He added that “today, we have the people, we have the talent in Singapore, to build some of these MNCs (multinational corporations) for ourselves”, from production-line operators to engineers and management.

“The market is there for us, the capabilities we have, and now it’s really for us to make sure that we organise ourselves well - even in a downtime like this - to preserve the core capabilities while continuing to seek new opportunities in a very challenging market,” Mr Chan said.

“If we can do this well, then we will once again distinguish ourselves from the competition and pull apart for another few years.”

Mr Chan and Mrs Teo spoke to the press after a tour of semiconductor and electronics industry solutions provider AEM Holdings in Serangoon North. Senior Minister of State for Health Koh Poh Koon also attended, as executive secretary of the Metal Industries Workers' Union.