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Speech by Ms Indranee Rajah, Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance, at the National Engineers Day 2016 Closing Ceremony

24 Jul 2016
“Developing the Next Generation of Engineers for our Future Economy”

Engineer Chong Kee Sen, Immediate Past President, The Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES),

Ms. Jasmine Foo, Chairman, National Engineers Day 2016 Organising Committee,

Distinguished guests,

Students and parents,

Ladies and gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to everyone.

1                 I want to thank the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES) for inviting me to this event. It’s always a great delight to be amongst engineers, amongst those who have been making lives better. It is an even greater delight to join an event full of young people who are using their technical knowledge, determination, and creativity to create solutions to address real life problems. You give us hope for the future.

Developing Singapore’s Future Economy

2                 Over the past 50 years since Singapore’s independence, it has been this ability and will to innovate that has lifted our nation above land and resource constraints, enhanced productivity, and moved us up the economic value chain. Our engineers have played a significant role in the industrial and services sectors – from manufacturing to marine to building – which have helped to meet many national needs, and brought about economic progress and job creation.  

3                 As a country, we need to remain competitive in the global economy. And for that to happen, we need to see continued breakthroughs across various sectors, both new and existing. We need to keep in step with technological advances and set our sights on what more we can do. The Government has set up the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) to examine these issues, so that we can continue to create good jobs and opportunities for Singaporeans.

4                 As engineers, you play an important part in the development of today’s economy and in spearheading the future economy. One of the key themes that the CFE has been exploring is how we can make innovation more pervasive, and to capture greater value from innovative products and services.

5                  Engineers are well positioned in this effort. Engineers have the technical expertise to make existing solutions more efficient and the tools to devise entirely new ways of doing things. You are uniquely poised to be change-makers and innovators in your respective industries.

6                 At the same time, the CFE also recognises that a deep skillset, while critical, is not enough. You need more than that. It will take grit, creativity and a commitment to interdisciplinary collaboration to build novel solutions that will solve tomorrow’s problems.

7                 Let me cite you a good example of an innovative engineering achievement in the healthcare industry that was among the recipients of the IES Prestigious Engineering Achievement Award 2016 yesterday. Researchers from the National University of Singapore have developed highly flexible and wearable sensors to monitor health conditions in real time. These tactile sensors, which use liquid as a novel sensing element, can be mounted on the skin to provide data on hand movements, grip strength or localised foot pressure without causing discomfort.

8                 This has opened up many healthcare applications. For example, the sensors can help clinicians track stroke patients’ recovery process during rehabilitation. They can also be embedded into prosthetic limbs to measure the pressure they exert on the user while in use. The team is currently working in collaboration with other departments in NUS to find a way for these sensors to work without a power source, and with local hospitals to develop them for multiple uses. These sensors have the potential to make a real impact in the healthcare sector in Singapore, and in other ageing societies where demand for healthcare is growing.

Building Up Engineering Talent and Capabilities

9        We want to see more of such innovations, and to do this, we should ensure the next generation of engineers in Singapore have the analytical capabilities and practical approach to problem solving.  There’s been good progress in our education system. Our students are nurtured in the STEM subjects – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – at different levels of learning, and our universities produce well-trained and industry-ready engineers.

10        In a speech just a few weeks back at IES Golden Jubilee Gala, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed these very issues – stressing the need to develop deep engineering capabilities, in order to take Singapore further. Singapore engineers have achieved much, and there is more uncharted terrain to conquer. 

11      At the broader national level, we have also embarked on the SkillsFuture journey, where the emphasis is on building a future based on skills mastery and lifelong learning in every job. This journey starts at the schools.  Students in secondary schools are now guided by trained education and career guidance counsellors to make informed post-secondary education choices. They will continue to receive similar guidance in ITEs, polytechnics and universities for their career choices. In addition, besides local university students, those in ITE and polytechnics can apply for overseas internships and work-and-study programmes. This will help them enhance their readiness to assume international assignments in the future.

12      Developing our people lays the important groundwork for Singapore to seize opportunities across the globe as they unfold. It’s innovation, driven by deep skills and interdisciplinary collaboration, that will help us to devise solutions to issues like climate change, land scarcity, water shortage, energy challenges, and an aging population. These are challenges affecting many cities and countries around the world. But the solutions will not only help us to overcome our own constraints. They can also be exported around the region and the world, becoming drivers of growth for our economy.
Grooming the Next Generation of Engineers

13      But the best knowledge and ecosystem in the world will not mean anything if our people have no desire to innovate and to improve lives. The greatest engineering feats in Singapore came to be because at some point in the past, someone looked at a challenge and said, “I believe I can use my engineering skills to create a solution that is better than this”.  So as a society, we need to embrace an inquisitive attitude, a creative disposition, and a willingness to take calculated risks in order to make lives better. The CFE is also looking at how we can, as a society, inculcate these values and attitudes from a young age.

14      Activities such as the National Engineers Day (NED) and the Energy Innovation Challenge (EIC) are great starting grounds. They show our students what engineers have done to change our past and what they themselves can do to change our future.  The hands-on experience will also give our students a taste of the huge sense of satisfaction extended by an engineering career. Participating students in the Innovation Challenge have been paired up with experienced engineers, who have acted as mentors throughout their projects. This is an excellent arrangement as it gives local engineers a chance to guide potential successors, as well as provides the opportunity to groom our next generation of engineers. A big thank you to IES for the good work!

15      On this note, I wish to congratulate all the awards and prize winners. I would also encourage all students to follow your passion and continue your pursuit of knowledge and skills in engineering to create a great future for yourselves, and a brighter future for Singapore.

Thank you very much!