Principal & CEO, Singapore Polytechnic Mr Soh Wai Wah,
Deputy Principal (ACAD) Mr Lim Peng Hun,
Director of School of MAE Dr Chong Chee Wei,
graduands, parents, lecturers, ladies & gentlemen,
- I am honoured to be here at the graduation ceremony of the School of Mechanical & Aeronautical Engineering Diploma Programme.
- My heartiest congratulations to all graduands. Each one of you has devoted time and energy, made personal sacrifices, to pursue your goal of academic achievement. Through three years of dedication and hard work, and with the support and encouragement of your family, you have successfully and deservedly earned this diploma. My congratulations also go out to your parents and loved ones, who must be very proud of your achievement.
- Like you, I am a graduate of Singapore Polytechnic, having gone through a 5-year apprenticeship programme with Singapore Airlines, which sponsored my studies at the Polytechnic and training for an aircraft maintenance engineer’s licence.
- I would like to briefly share with you my life journey in Singapore Airlines after graduating from Singapore Polytechnic; the career opportunities available in the aerospace industry; a day in the life of an aircraft technician / licensed aircraft engineer; and finally what the future holds for the industry.
- The diploma course at Singapore Polytechnic gave me a strong foundation in basic and aeronautical engineering knowledge and skills. The practical application of theories through project work at the Polytechnic, coupled with technical training at Singapore Airlines, gave me a secure and confident footing to start my career as an engineer in the aerospace industry.
- As you are aware, the aerospace industry is highly regulated, with stringent and exacting quality and safety standards. Not surprisingly, a company in this industry has to be a high reliability organisation. The work in the aerospace industry calls for discipline, precision, attention to details and full adherence to approved processes and standard operating procedures. A single lapse can result in very serious consequences. As we are upholding aviation safety, the very lives of people are in our hands. I learnt my first lessons on the importance of maintaining a high level of professionalism in my years at the Polytechnic, and this has been a foundational influence in my career to this day.
- Singapore is a global aviation hub with more than a hundred international aerospace companies located here. This has created many high value-add jobs and opportunities for our people. The aerospace industry in Singapore is a key growth sector and contributes more than $8.4B annual output and employs close to 20,000 people, of which 90% are skilled. My company, SIA Engineering, and its 17 joint ventures in Singapore contribute to about half of the $8.4B output and employs about 45% of the workforce in the aerospace industry. Many major OEMs have made their regional headquarters in Singapore. These include major players like engine manufacturers Rolls Royce, Pratt & Whitney, General Electric; aircraft manufacturers like Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer; and component OEM like Thales.
In fact, on 20 April 2017, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore unveiled plans to transform Singapore aviation through the Air Transport Industry Transformation Map. This Plan will create better jobs and career opportunities for workers in the aviation sector as well as to support its growth and competitiveness, and create 8,000 new jobs in the sector by 2025.
- There are many exciting jobs in the aerospace industries. Besides technical positions like technicians and engineers where they are typically trained through an apprenticeship programme, other career opportunities include planners, sales engineers, quality engineers, logistics and customer service personnel etc. Apart from the rewards of intrinsic job satisfaction and abundant opportunities for career advancement, salaries in the aerospace industry are very competitive. To give you a quantitative sense, SIA Engineering currently pays its technicians about $50,000 and engineers about $95,000 annually.
A Day in the Life of a Technician / Engineer
- What is the job like for a technician or engineer at the airport? A typical day would start with handling aircraft transiting at the airport: performing inspection and / or defect rectification as well as refuelling the aircraft. They interact with the pilots and cabin crew and ensure that the aircraft is airworthy. The job carries a heavy responsibility as the engineer or certifying technician certifies that aircraft is fit for flight. Depending on the aircraft type, a team handling the transit would comprise 1 engineer or certifying technician with 1 to 3 technicians.
- The engineers and technicians also perform scheduled night stop or phase checks whenever the aircraft is on the ground for a longer duration of time; those working in the hangars would be involved in heavier scheduled checks ranging from a week to 2 months or more.
The interesting part of the job is that there is never a dull moment, especially if you like working with your hands and if you pride yourself in rectifying and resolving aircraft defects. You could also be deployed overseas, at short notice, as part of the Aircraft On Ground (AOG) team to rectify aircraft that are grounded in other countries because of serious defects. There are also opportunities for you to be posted overseas to run the operations in line stations.
- SIA Engineering’s apprenticeship scheme takes in Polytechnic graduates to be trained as technicians over 1 year, and university engineering graduates to be trained as licensed aircraft engineers over 44 months. We are in talks with universities to develop a program specifically for polytechnic graduates so that they can have a shorter apprenticeship to qualify as licensed aircraft engineer whilst obtaining a bachelor’s degree at the end of the studies.
My Life Journey
- For me, it has been a journey of continuous learning and personal development. I worked my way through the hangar floor as an apprentice, then as a licensed aircraft engineer and moved up the corporate ladder into management positions whilst at the same time furthering my studies. I am as passionate about my job now as the day I joined SIA in 1975. I now oversee all the operational divisions within SIA Engineering, which have more than 4,000 staff.
- A fair number of the management team in SIA and SIA Engineering, as well as heads of departments in the aviation authorities and leaders in the Singapore aerospace industry, rose through the ranks of licensed aircraft engineers and are graduates from the polytechnics.
- Aviation is at the frontier of new and exciting technologies that will revolutionise air travel and aerospace engineering. We will continue to see the introduction of new-generation airplanes, such as the Boeing B787 and B777X, and Airbus A350, which will usher in the need for new engineering competencies and skill sets. Many existing jobs will be transformed, and innovation and smart technologies will prevail in the industry.
Our engineers and technicians will soon be using electronic tablets to access aircraft manuals, check status of the aircraft computerised systems before the aircraft arrives at the airport, order spare parts ahead of time for defect rectification, and certify for the work done electronically using hand-held devices. In the near future, the aircraft would be scanned when it comes into the hangars for checks, drones would be used to inspect aircraft and collaborative robots (or cobots) would be deployed to assist humans in changing out heavy components.
We are also planning for the hangars and apron of the future at Changi Airport Terminal 5, where technologies and innovative tools would be widely deployed.
- There will be a need for skill sets like data analysis and operations research, besides the current technical maintenance skills. The SkillsFuture programmes of the various institutes would continually enable us to train and acquire new competencies, and the continual pursuit of skills mastery. Lifelong learning will be the norm.
- In conclusion, I encourage you to continue learning as you start the next journey of your life, whether you are embarking on a career or continuing your studies. As you go through your next phase of life, there will always be ups and downs. Let your dreams take flight and don’t let the fear of falling keep you from soaring.
- Let me end here with a short story of the 4-minute mile run. This run took place on 6 May 1954 at Oxford University. The 4-minute mile was supposed to be impossible but Roger Bannister thought otherwise. For those who are more familiar with the metric system, 1 mile is 1.6 km or 4 rounds of the standard running track of 400 m each round, and 4-minute mile means clocking 1 min per 400 m.
Well, Roger went on to break the 4-minute barrier, running the distance in 3 min 59.4 sec; do you know what happened after that? Roger Bannister’s record was broken 46 days later, and the mile record has since been re-written numerous times.
Roger Bannister BELIEVED. Through positive thinking, planning and hard work, he had made the impossible possible. The biggest obstacle is not external, it is internal. Once Bannister achieved the 4-minute mile, others also believed and achieved. BELIEVE and you will be able to overcome all challenges ahead.
- Congratulations once again on your graduation and I wish you all the best in your careers or studies ahead.