Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at the Public Service Engineering Conference
Speech by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister in charge of the Civil Service at the Public Service Engineering Conference on 2 June 2016 at ITE College Central
Engineering an Exciting, Meaningful and Rewarding Future
1. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
2. I am delighted to join the 1,300 public sector engineers here today for our first Public Service Engineering Conference. You are part of the 7,700-strong corps of engineers in the public sector.
3. Engineers have contributed much to build the Singapore of today – powering us, moving us, connecting us, keeping us safe, greening our island nation. The LNG Terminal on Jurong Island, the SAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay, the JTC Cleantech Park, PUB’s Deep Tunnel Sewerage System, Gardens by the Bay are just a few physical examples of what engineering does for us. There are many, many more.
4. And public sector engineering is set to become even more exciting, meaningful, and rewarding, as Singapore enters our next phase of development.
5. Exciting possibilities abound for our engineers in the Public Service. Already, technology is transforming the way we live, work, and interact with one another, in profound ways. Further technological advances can help the Public Service deliver better services to Singaporeans, and adapt to the challenge of a Singaporean workforce that is plateauing in numbers, but better educated and more skilled. These include the smarter and more integrated delivery of services through the Internet of Things, services which are more readily accessible on the move with wearable computing devices, more tailored and timely services through analytics and artificial intelligence, and a helping hand from robotics.
6. As public sector engineers, you have an important role to play, to leverage on technology in a strategic way. Our engineers are expected to not just design and implement solutions for issues specific to a particular service or domain, but to draw together information and technologies from different agencies and sectors, and to build the enabling technological infrastructure for our nation, so that we can develop comprehensive and integrated solutions for Singapore.
7. For example, with better data sets, planners from URA and various government agencies can access and visualise different sets of data such as demographics, road networks, and people and traffic flow, to make more informed urban planning decisions, both at the national and local level. These include planning for infrastructure needs such as roads and drains, and also, with better insights, where to better locate social facilities such as parks, hospitals, eldercare facilities, and childcare centres. By using technology well, our engineers can make better use of our limited land resources, do better and more integrated planning, and optimise our infrastructure.
8. To support our Smart Nation initiative, we are building and leveraging a more comprehensive nation-wide network of sensors which will bring together data from different sources and locations such as traffic junctions, bus stops and taxi queues, perhaps street lights, now potentially a strategic resource rather than a cost centre. The data and information can be brought together for agencies to study, analyse and adapt. Our engineers can then build an intelligent and adaptable transport system which uses data to empower commuters and adjusts to their needs. The data collected from the sensors can also be integrated and analysed, to anticipate, mitigate and prevent problems. For example, it could be used to monitor and manage the flow of human and vehicular traffic on a real-time basis, during mass events and to respond in times of emergency.
9. These are just some of the exciting things that our public sector engineers do, which use technology strategically to make Singapore an even better home for all of us. And as we gather our engineering corps together in these discussions, I hope all of you will find ways to work with your fellow engineers and public officers across the different agencies, as well as partners from academia and industry, to seize opportunities and tackle challenges in this exciting, technology-driven future.
10. As engineers, you are not just working with technology, but also making a positive impact on the lives of Singaporeans – whether social, economic, environmental or other aspects. This is why the work that public sector engineers do is deeply meaningful.
11. Quite a lot of the good work done by engineers happens out of sight. Often, nobody reports what you do because when somebody takes notice of what you do, that means something has gone wrong. When everything goes right, nobody bothers about it. A lot of work goes into it, but it is not always appreciated. Beneath the Marina Bay area lies the world’s largest underground district cooling system. It not only reduces the equipment and space needed for dedicated cooling systems for each building, but also provides a more energy-efficient means to cool our buildings while emitting less carbon, equivalent to what would be emitted from 10,000 cars each year. The 20 giant chillers, eight kilometres of pipes, 25 cooling towers, and 79 heat exchanges, are ingeniously hidden away with innovative engineering, so that all of us can enjoy an unobstructed view of the bay. So in this case, what people do not see has also allowed us to see more.
12. Our public sector engineers also use technology to redefine problems and solve them in novel ways. This requires not just technology, but insights into how operations are conducted and how human beings behave. For example, SCDF’s myResponder app alerts members of the public who have signed up as Community First Responders, to help cardiac arrest cases in their immediate vicinity. The app itself is not cutting-edge technology, neither is an AED. But by linking up the cardiac arrest patient, with the AED, and a nearby person who is trained to use the AED, we are able to redefine the problem from one of how fast I can get an ambulance there, to one of reducing the time taken to respond to a cardiac arrest case by using the nearest person who is trained – a bystander. Rather than just waiting for an ambulance to arrive, this app has allowed Singaporeans to be part of the solution and to help save lives. This brings technology, AEDs, apps, communications together, but also requires the redefinition of the problem, in order to find better, more efficient and more inclusive solutions.
13. As issues and challenges become more inter-connected, our engineers also need to look beyond your own disciplines and agencies to develop better innovations that may cross the boundaries of agencies, or the intersection of different technologies. I will cite an old but still relevant example, because the issue still rears its head and can potentially reach us anywhere in the world. When the SARS virus first appeared in 2003, our defence engineers in DSTA and Singapore Technologies quickly adapted a military thermal imager to create the Infrared Fever Scanning System. It reliably detected people with fevers quickly and unobtrusively at our hospitals and airports. This rapid adaptation of military technology for use in healthcare helped greatly in our fight against SARS, to overcome our fear of being among crowds, and allowed us to get on with our daily lives. Today, the system is still used at many airports and border checkpoints around the world as the first line of defence against the spread of infectious diseases such as H5N1, Ebola and MERS.
14. I hope these examples will inspire more out-of-the-box thinking by our engineers to do meaningful work with impactful results.
15. The exciting and meaningful opportunities that I just spoke about also give rise to a rewarding career for our public sector engineers. The Public Service will support you on your career journey. And by rewarding, I don’t just mean reward in terms of remuneration. For public sector engineers, just like all public officers, your satisfaction comes from seeing other people, seeing Singapore and Singaporeans better off because of the work that you do. Your work satisfaction and happiness come from seeing others being satisfied.
16. In April this year, I had announced a 20% increase in starting salaries on average for good engineers joining the Public Service. Public agencies also reviewed the salaries of our serving engineers, and will raise them where needed, to ensure that public sector engineering salaries remain competitive at every job level, and not just at the starting level.
Deepening engineering expertise
17. Beyond pay, several agencies such as DSTA and JTC have established career roadmaps and competency development frameworks to help their engineers build deep engineering expertise. Other agencies are also developing career roadmaps for their engineers.
18. We have also set up Centres of Excellence to consolidate and strengthen Public Sector engineering expertise and develop communities of practice among our engineers. These Centres of Excellence will allow the public sector to draw on appropriate engineering expertise from across the public sector for a particular project, and not just on engineers from one particular agency or industry implementing that particular project. Our engineers will also have opportunities to work on inter-agency projects, so that you can contribute beyond your own agency’s work, and develop integrated solutions that may cut across multiple agencies. Our engineers will also have the opportunity to work with leading experts in research institutes and the private sector, both local and overseas, to exploit technologies and develop innovative solutions to meet our needs.
19. We need our engineers to think across boundaries. Because quite often, when you think only within your domain, your own agency, your own project, or your own field of work, we may miss the synergies that may arise from a larger integration, a more system-level integration of that entire process of work. So we need engineers to think more in terms of system engineering.
Building a strong engineering community, led by Engineering Leaders
20. The Public Service is also building up a strong engineering community, led by Engineering Leaders – who have deep expertise, are able to develop cross-agency solutions, and pull together and lead teams from across the whole of government to get the best outcome. Our Engineering Leaders will need both technical depth and management breadth.
21. To systematically develop these leaders, our engineers who have performed well and shown high potential, will have opportunities to be posted across related agencies to better appreciate and tackle whole-of-government engineering challenges.
22. Our Engineering Leaders will mentor young engineers, and provide a conducive and supportive network where our public sector engineers can share experiences and build deep expertise. I know that many of you will have benefited from mentors who advised and supported you in your careers. I certainly have. I encourage you to pay it forward, and help to develop a professional, capable and strong public sector engineering community.
23. With competitive salaries, good career development opportunities and a strong community, we hope that engineering in the public sector will provide rewarding careers for you, and for many more Singaporeans.
24. This afternoon, you will hear from fellow engineers about their experiences and the many exciting challenges and projects in the Public Service. Reach out to one another to find new inspiration, and how you can contribute to each other’s work.
25. May today’s conference spark new ideas so that all of you can play a part to engineer a more exciting, meaningful, and rewarding future for Singapore and Singaporeans.
26. Thank you.