Channel NewsAsia

Image makeover needed for Singapore's engineering sector

Fewer students are applying to engineering school in local universities while trained engineers are going for non-engineering-related careers, prompting industry players to call for the industry to shed its "boring, nerdy" image.

SINGAPORE: As Singapore pushes towards a more services-oriented economy, more prospective engineering students and trained engineers are being lured to other sectors. To buck the trend, industry stakeholders are calling for an image makeover to make engineering appealing again.

Universities in Singapore have seen a decline in the intake of engineering undergraduates. Compounding this drop is the fact that more engineering students choose a different career path upon graduation.

Every year, both the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) contribute more than 1,000 engineering graduates to the workforce. However, about 1 out of 5 of these would go for non-engineering-related careers.

According to some industry players, the trend is largely due to a perception of jobs available for these engineering talent in the manufacturing sector, and more collaboration between schools and the manufacturing industry is needed.

Dr Moh Chong Tau, Honorary Secretary at the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, told Channel NewsAsia: "SMF engages and networks with our members to continuously evolve this area, and to make members aware of what the market requires. And how do we train ourselves to create more productivity-driven, innovation-driven (jobs), as well as ensure there is always transformation in the industry to make it more sexy for students to join us?"

On its part, the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) is looking to foster greater outreach and nurture more talent for manufacturing, especially in the area of new technology.

EDB Managing Director Yeoh Keat Chuan said bio-technology manufacturing, for instance, has a "very strong pipeline" of new investments coming up, which would result in 700 to 1,000 new jobs over the next three to four years. 

"And we have a programme that works with companies to train (engineers) not just in Singapore, but overseas. We've created 150 new positions outside of Singapore to train Singaporeans so that they can develop the skill sets before coming back and rejoining the industry," Mr Yeoh said.

NUS said one way of changing the current perception of the industry is by establishing a manufacturing fellowship programme to bring national recognition to careers, leadership and R&D.

Beyond that, though, is to instil genuine interest and passion among students.

"The first thing we need to do is remove this stigma that engineering is boring and nerdy. So the first thing we could do is to make it cool and exciting to be engineers. In reality, engineering is exciting as it can be about real-life problems, of third-world issues and can help enhance the quality of living for all of us," said Associate Professor Ong Soh Khim, from the Faculty of Engineering at NUS. 

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