THE public-transport sector is putting more emphasis on manpower development, with the government pumping S$12.5 million into training over the next three years, and operators predicting a higher expenditure on training and recruitment.
The money from the government will go into the Public Transport Manpower Development Fund and be overseen by the Public Transport Sectoral Tripartite Committee.
Many manpower initiatives will primarily target the rail sector, with a focus on attracting diploma holders into the industry, upgrading the skills of mid-career workers and retaining such workers.
These efforts come at a time of Singapore's biggest expansion of its rail network. It also coincides with a transition in the country's public transport industry, in which the strain of capital expenditure is going to be relaxed for public transport operators; this is expected to free up their cash flow, so they can focus more on preventive maintenance and hence improve service reliability.
Land Transport Authority (LTA) chief executive Chew Men Leong said: "Manpower is crucial for the effective and efficient operation of the entire sector. We need good manpower to help us enhance the reliability of the entire rail sector."
He was speaking to reporters on Monday, after launching the manpower initiatives, which are expected to help cater to an increased demand for industry professionals such as engineers and technicians, in light of the doubling of the island's rail network to 360 km by 2030.
The initiatives include the development of more industry-relevant programmes, sponsorship of study awards and training grants, a skills-based progression framework and an industry-wide branding of the sector.
The public transport sector now employs 19,000 workers; Mr Chew projects that it will need up to 300 engineers and 700 technicians every year.
With the introduction of the New Rail Financing Framework and a government contracting model for bus fleets, Singapore's public transport system is shifting towards one under which the government will own operating assets such as trains and buses, and lease them to operators.
Analysts have said this would free up revenue for operators, who can then channel it into preventive maintenance and enhancing services.
The heads of SBS Transit and SMRT Corporation both said after Monday's event that they expect to spend more on manpower.
Chief executive officer of SBS Transit Gan Juay Kiat said that service requirements under the bus contracting model would be higher, so more bus captains would be needed in order to improve the service quality.
SMRT's chief executive officer Desmond Kuek said that, by paying a market premium for engineers, SMRT hopes to attract more middle-management engineers and more experienced ones as well.
Asked whether the proportion of expenditure that goes into staff costs is expected to rise, Mr Kuek replied that the more than 40 per cent of rail revenue now spent on rail maintenance expenses - which include staff and repair and maintenance costs - could go up to 50 per cent by year-end.
"Whatever framework we're in, I think that this is an area that we're determined to keep pressing ahead with," he said.