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Singapore Institute of Technology on track to produce more rail engineers

Singapore's fifth autonomous university had four applicants for every vacancy in its new Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering programme.

SINGAPORE: The demand for rail experts is set to rise as Singapore moves to expand its rail network to 360 kilometres in the next 15 years. Some of that demand will be filled by a new rail engineering course offered by the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). 

Currently, most rail engineers take mechanical and electrical engineering degrees before they are familiar with trains. However, the new full-time applied degree programme, which kicks off in September, will allow students to have some knowledge of the industry before entering it.

Earlier this year, SIT signed agreements with the Land Transport Authority and transport operators and the Non-Destructive Testing Society of Singapore to create a more industry-relevant curriculum. The industry partners were also involved in designing SIT's Integrated Work Study Programme (IWSP).

"Basically they are more ready for the job," said SIT Programme Director Professor Simon Yu, of potential graduates. "Together with IWSP, before they graduate, they know the trades pretty well and what they're looking for, and the moment they join the company, they know what to do already.

"There are many engineering problems that are 'uniquely Singapore' because of our high-humidity environment, like the rusting problems and sometimes it might affect the joints”, he pointed out. If students are only taught how to replace parts when something is wrong, it would be "meaningless" if that is all they know to do, he said. 

“So we teach them all the fundamentals. They do not just know how to take it away. They know the problems, (and) straightaway, can think of a better way. That is how we generate innovative ideas."

Ms Vivienne Khoo, who is enrolled in the new Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering programme said she is drawn to the real-world applications the course will provide. “I'm hoping to learn how to manage energy resources for the transportation system in Singapore. We have a growing population. So actually, I'm quite interested to learn how we're going to do it and yet not waste further resources”.

Mr Jason Tang's background is in multimedia and IT, but the self-professed train and bus enthusiast said he is confident he will do well in the course with the help of lecturers. “Since young, it is my hobby. I go around Singapore mainly to take buses and train and when there is any new service launched or train implementation, (such as the) new Circle Line, I'll be there to take a look."

While the programme may be new, the institute said it received nearly four times as many applications for the 75 vacancies on offer. However, applicants were not selected based on their academic grades alone.

Prof Yu said the faculty interviewed more than 200 applicants to find out whether the students are "truly passionate" about Singapore's transport system. He said the institute has done an "extensive industrial scan" to see if the industry would be able to take in the graduates and offer them a competitive salary as well.

""We talked to many, many companies, not just the big ones, but also the smaller ones that are supporting the big ones, to see if there is enough demand to absorb our graduates. That is the reason why we are taking in 50 to 75 students. And the industry is more than comfortable to absorb them."

He said the industry needs "new blood", as many of Singapore's rail engineers are now in their late 40s and early 50s, with many expected to retire within the next 15 years.

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