Sunday, June 01, 2008

ST Forum: Engineers' body will work to draw top brains into industry

From the ST Forum on 2 June 2008:
Engineers' body will work to draw top brains into industry

I REFER to the article, 'His worry: Is Singapore becoming high cost, low tech?' (May 22).

In it, Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, a former top civil servant, highlighted the importance of Singapore ensuring that the best and brightest students become engineers. He was quoted as saying: 'How do you become a knowledge-based economy except through science and technology? As a result, if the cream of the education goes to Shenton Way instead of technology and industrial parks, I think we are done for.'

Coming from someone with a strong economics background, this statement is especially significant.

The Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES) shares Mr Ngiam's view.

In another article, 'Engineers have role in community building' last Monday, our president, Ms Lee Bee Wah, said that, in order for Singapore to take the next leap, we need a core group of very good engineers. This is because technology will play an important part in the next phase of our development.

She also expressed her hope that top students will make engineering their top choice at university.

Engineers have made significant contributions to nation building and improving the quality of life in Singapore. Almost every aspect of our daily activities, be it at work or at play, involves the work of engineers.

As Singapore moves towards a more knowledge-based economy, engineers will be called on to perform ever more complex and cross-disciplinary tasks. It is for this reason that schools and other institutions need to strive continually to ensure that our bright and talented youth do not turn away from taking up engineering as a lifelong career.

IES will continue to work with government agencies, engineering industry stakeholders and educational institutions to explore ways to attract top students into engineering.

Chong Kee Sen
Honorary Secretary
Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES)

The reason why top students don't want to go into engineering is actually pretty simple - engineers in Singapore are paid less relative to people in finance, law or accountancy. Engineering is one of those things in Singapore that get outsourced very easily. Furthermore, it is extremely easy to import engineers from India and China. Therefore, job security is minimal in Singapore.

Singapore students are not stupid. After years of conditioning, the Singaporean has become the archetypal rational Homo Economicus. To compete more effectively in the job market, they have to use their comparative advantage (relative to competitors from China and India), which would be soft skills like their command of the English language and familiarity with the local culture. Fields like Law and Business remain local bastions where Singapore students can call their own. Witness the collapse of the computing as a discipline in our local universities. A much sought-after degree in the heydey of the internet boom, it is now avoided by local university applicants mindful of the fates of their predecessors languishing in a job market saturated with Indian IT workers. As for engineering, even the best local graduates from local universities are headhunted by banks in their recruitment drive and they gladly let their heads be taken.

So what if Singaporean 14 year-olds have the best math and science scores in the world? There are always foreigners with better math and science skills than you who are willing to work for less. However, there aren't that many foreigners with English skills better than the average student. Yet. And those with enough English skills wouldn't even bother to use Singapore as a stepping stone.

For now, there is no stopping the gravitation of local students towards the non-sciences and the non-engineerings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Much as i would like to hope, i cant see any changes happening if the current situation is left to the market forces. Unless the government starts to push some initiative to start to appreciate the value of engineers (hopefully in the renumeration area), we will definitely continue to see talent drain from the engineering cohort.