SINGAPORE: The Republic was built on the backs of engineers and has made much progress as a result, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Jul 1), even as he cautioned that Singapore has "a long way to go" in developing deep engineering capabilities and called on the country to do "much more" to overcome its resource constraints.
Speaking at the 50th anniversary gala of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES), Mr Lee said: "Engineers have built our basic infrastructure - public health, housing, transportation networks - helped us industralise our economy and helped us meet many national needs."
He added that the discipline was important not just for the specific knowledge it contained, but for its analytical rigour, discipline and practical approach: "Solving problems and not just describing or lamenting them".
However, with more subjects being available to students in schools, it has become harder to attract outstanding students to study engineering and take on engineering jobs, Mr Lee said.
He added that whether it comes to upgrading infrastructure to adapt to an ageing population, developing new solutions to overcome resource constraints or using "disruptive technologies" to create good jobs for Singaporeans, engineering remains important to Singapore.
As the practice of engineering becomes more sophisticated, the nation needs to keep abreast of changes, Mr Lee said. The traditional fields of chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical engineering are splintering into sub-disciplines and specialist fields such as aerospace engineering and biochemical engineering, and innovation often came from cross-disciplinary ideas incorporating both engineering and non-engineering fields, he explained.
The Prime Minister added that the Republic's strengths in some forms of engineering could be further improved.
"When it comes to building deep-sea drilling platforms, we have world-class capabilities ... but in many other fields of engineering, even where we have developed competence, we are not at the cutting edge."
For example, Germany leads in the area of industrial and precision engineering, while Silicon Valley attracts the "best and brightest" talent from all over the world for computer engineering and countries like China and India are also becoming world leaders, Mr Lee said.
Noting the Government's efforts to promote interest among students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in schools, invest in institutes of higher learning to produce good engineers relevant to the industry and build up engineering capabilities in the public sector, Mr Lee said it was also hoping to attract good Singaporean engineers working abroad back home.
"Beyond having good engineers we need to develop the deep engineering capabilities and a thriving engineering ecosystem with the Government, the private sector and academic institutions working closely together on major complex engineering projects," he said.
"We need to do much more to overcome our resource constraints and create a Smart Nation."