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BCA plans makeover for building industry

Aim is to attract more women and locals to take up careers in the sector
Friday, May 23, 2014 - 06:00

[SINGAPORE] The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) is on a charm offensive. It wants to remake the built-environment (BE) sector and lure more women and locals into careers in it.

It has drawn up a five-year plan to change public perception of the industry with a rebranding campaign, to enhance human-resource (HR) practices and to improve the sector's work environments.

BCA is calling for a tender by next month for a branding consultant to come up with and implement a makeover for the industry.

The remaking of the sector began yesterday with a memorandum of understanding signed between the BCA and the Construction Industry Joint Committee (CIJC) to seal the industry's commitment to good HR practices.

The eight associations under the CIJC - representing developers, engineers, architects, builders, surveyors and project managers - will encourage their members to sign a voluntary HR pledge.

BCA is shooting for some 500 BE firms to sign the pledge by 2020. It will hold them to a checklist of good HR practices such as giving enhanced staff benefits and proper training and practising performance- based remuneration.

Lee Yi Shyan, Senior Minister of State for National Development, said the drive for prefabrication and more productive methods in construction will reduce complexity in worksites, making them cleaner, safer and more appealing as workplaces.

Noting that women account for only a quarter of the local workforce in the BE sector, he said: "We need to make a special effort to improve work-life balance, so that younger Singaporeans, including women, would find professions in the built sector attractive."

With locals now making up less than a third of the workforce in the BE sector, BCA hopes to raise it to at least a third.

Mr Lee, who is also Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry, was yesterday at the BCA Awards to recognise BE companies and institutions for their pro-environment and sustainability efforts. In all, 225 BCA Green Mark Awards and two BCA Green Mark Champion Awards were given out.

The Champion Award winners were Keppel Land and Nanyang Technological University.

City Developments received the most accolades this year - 30; these included the top one, the Quality Excellence Award - Quality Champion (Platinum), for delivering quality homes.

Australia's Lend Lease picked up five Green Mark awards.

CapitaLand won the Quality Excellence Award - Quality Champion (Gold); its Interlace condo project was accorded the Universal Design Mark Platinum award.

Neo Choon Keong, BCA's group director for the Manpower and Strategy Policy Group, said the trend towards green buildings and sustained regional demand will open up better career prospects in the sector.

The growth of the BE sector will call for a concurrent scaling up of its workforce; more professionals, managers, engineers, technicians (collectively, the PMETs) will be needed, he added. The day "women (in the sector) can come to work with their make-up and heels" may not be far off, he quipped.

Last month, BCA revised its "Green and Gracious Builder" Scheme to include good HR practices among its certification criteria.

Singapore Contractors Association president Ho Nyok Yong told The Business Times that the association will encourage all its 3,000 member firms to sign the HR pledge.

Straits Construction, which expressed its support for it, said it reviewed its HR practices in 2011. It has since introduced flexible working hours, permanent part-time arrangements and "Saturday Off", which creates 20 non-working Saturdays in a year.

The payoff: its staff turnover has fallen from above 10 per cent to under 5 per cent, said Kenneth Loo, the company's executive director.

Straits Construction is seeking a back-door listing on the Singapore Exchange through a reverse takeover by Transcu this year.

Besides retaining talent with good HR practices, BCA wants to reach out to school leavers and graduates earlier - before it loses the best talents to sectors such as banking.

An estimated 20 per cent of university graduates in engineering are "lost" to non-BE sectors; among polytechnic diploma holders, this "leak" is between 30 and 40 per cent.

BCA hopes to reach out to these students through competitions, career fairs, scholarships, internships and an enhanced career portal; their teachers will be kept abreast of developments in the BE sector through site visits, attachments and networking, to turn them into better student advisers.

About 640 locals were brought into the BE sector through BCA's scholarships, sponsorships and apprenticeships last year; of this number, four in 10 were women.

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