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Marine and offshore engineering sector to diversify growth, go digital, add new jobs by 2025

SINGAPORE — The beleaguered marine and offshore engineering sector can be “cautiously optimistic about its longer-term prospects”, Mr S Iswaran said, due to opportunities presented by digitalisation and new growth areas such as the booming liquefied natural gas (LNG) market.

SINGAPORE — The beleaguered marine and offshore engineering sector can be “cautiously optimistic about its longer-term prospects”, Mr S Iswaran said, due to opportunities presented by digitalisation and new growth areas such as the booming liquefied natural gas (LNG) market.

The Trade and Industry (Industry) Minister was speaking at the launch of the Marine and Offshore Engineering Industry Transformation Map (ITM) on Thursday (Feb 22).

The roadmap is meant to help the sector capture long-term growth opportunities, to eventually contribute S$5.8 billion to Singapore’s gross domestic product, and to create 1,500 new jobs by 2025.

Several initiatives were announced to make the sector more attractive to Singaporeans, including the launch of a skills framework and a new diploma course.

Industry players have been talking about low pay and the lack of career pathways as key reasons for the struggle to attract new blood.

Mr Iswaran said that one way to attract new talent, as well as those looking to make a mid-career switch into the industry, is to create high-value jobs.

Companies can do this by leveraging their expertise in engineering, and develop solutions such as remote monitoring and predictive maintenance through new technologies.

“It’s not just about doing what we’ve done in the past, but doing it differently through digitalisation,” he said.

First announced in Budget two years ago, ITMs come under the S$4.5 billion Industry Transformation Programme, which aims to boost restructuring efforts for 23 industries, including aerospace and financial services. To date, 22 ITMs have been launched.

Mr Iswaran said that since oil prices collapsed from its peak of US$112 per barrel in 2014 to below US$30 in early 2016, the marine and offshore engineering industry is still trying to recover from the slump. “While prices have recovered to some extent, oil companies remain cautious in their exploration and production activities.”

He noted that companies can also diversify into other growth areas including the LNG market, which will see its global expenditure expected to exceed US$280 billion (S$370 billion) by 2021. Similarly, the global offshore wind market is projected to exceed US$130 billion by 2023.

Using the example of Keppel Offshore & Marine, Mr Iswaran said that the company has made use of its existing capabilities to carry out complex offshore conversion projects and deliver the world’s first converted floating liquefaction vessel. Large enterprises here “can lead the way in restructuring and diversifying”, he added.

TACKLING MANPOWER NEEDS

To provide workers with information on career pathways and new job roles, as well as the skills needed to remain competitive, Mr Iswaran also launched the skills framework for the industry on Thursday.

From this April, the Institute of Technical Education will offer a new Work-Learn Technical Diploma in marine and offshore engineering. Similar to the Earn and Learn Programme, which has been rolled out in polytechnics, trainees doing the diploma course will work and study while being employed by a sponsoring company.

Noting that the industry’s workforce has dwindled by some 20 to 30 per cent since oil prices collapsed, Mr Tommy Goh, president of the Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering Employees’ Union, said that the manpower situation has yet to improve because the sector is having a high attrition rate of 10 per cent yearly.

Mr Goh, who is also a senior supervisor at Wartsila, which manufactures and services power sources and other equipment in the marine and energy market, added that it is tough attracting new entrants because jobseekers prefer “exciting work with lucrative wages”.

Still, he is optimistic that digitalisation can create jobs in areas such as robotics, which could entice the young to join the industry.

Aside from drawing in new hires, the sector should also focus on training its existing workers so that their skills remain relevant. Mr Abu Bakar Mohd Nor, president of the Association of Singapore Marine Industries, said: “We should not forget about them and must ensure they can move up the career ladder after going through the skills training.”

One employee who has undergone such training is Mr Shawn Koh, 36, senior electrical engineer at Sembcorp Marine. Since his company is venturing into the LNG market, Mr Koh — whose previous job role focused more on oil operations — enrolled in a six-month Professional Conversion Programme for marine engineers last December to learn about gas operations from the exploration stage to distribution.

“I need to broaden my horizon,” he said. “With the new knowledge, I’m confident that I’ll remain relevant.”

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