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A Singapore Engineering Lament

By Yeoh Lam Keong

Want to know the real underlying economic reason why we face a shortage of good Singaporean engineers and IT professionals?

Because we have been far too liberal in importing cheaper regional engineers and IT staff for over 2 decades. This has bid down the real wages and working conditions of such professions such that the return on investing in such a tertiary education and career is unattractive to locals.

20-30 years ago, some of the best and brightest sought to study engineering. Now it's become one of the last choices. You can't blame our locals. It's simple labour market economics and rational human capital formation choice.

But it had a huge negative long term impact on local industrial capability compared to other economies like Germany, Switzerland or Japan where good engineers still command a labour market premium and engineering continues to be a highly respected profession. They continue to lead the world in precision engineering and innovation.

This is also reflected in declining local engineering standards in the public sector for eg the SMRT and public housing lift maintenance as well as in the lack of private sector development of specialist engineering products and services. Why upgrade to these activities when we can do quicker operations based on cheap engineering labour and products?

It also created a vicious circle where high end engineering firms now find it difficult to locate In Singapore unless they can hire foreign engineers.

And our leaders bemoan the shortage of good local engineers ? Sigh**

It will take a decade of properly stringent professional immigration policy combined with the right industrial and education policy to fix.

But fix it we must.

This write up was first published on Mr Yeoh's Facebook account and reproduced with permission.

 

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