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Speech by Mr John Keung

FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2015 (SESSION 13)

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


  1. A very good morning to all. I am pleased to be here at the 55th Singapore Polytechnic Graduation Ceremony. Let me first extend my heartiest congratulations to all the graduands who will be receiving your diplomas today.

  2. I am sure all of you are excited about embarking on your journey in the built environment sector, which is a key pillar of Singapore’s economic and national development. Soon after Singapore became independent, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew had said, “Over a hundred years ago, this was a mud-flat swamp. Today this is a modern city. Ten years from now, this will be a metropolis. Never fear.” Indeed, Singapore has since become a glowing showcase of a metropolitan city-state today and the built environment sector has played a key role in bringing about such a dramatic transformation.

  3. As we look back and celebrate the significant achievements and contributions of the sector and its professionals in the last fifty years of nation building, there is even more to look forward to in the next fifty years – SG100.

Strong Career Prospects and Exciting Opportunities

  1. Experiencing one of its longest growth runs, the built environment sector is set to enter its golden era and witness sustained construction demand in the longer term with many mega projects like the expansion of Changi Airport, extension of the rail network, building of a mega sea port at Tuas, and redevelopment of the Tanjong Pagar and Paya Lebar areas. These are amongst many others in the pipeline. The Jurong Area, which is only a stone’s throw from this campus, would also be undergoing a complete transformation with the siting of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail terminus linking our two capital cities. Overall, we foresee that, for many more years to come, construction demand will remain strong with $26-$33 billion worth of projects every year, two to three times more than what it was just 10 years ago in real terms.

  2. Beyond Singapore, there is also an abundance of opportunities for built environment professionals in the region. With the rapid urbanisation and increasing global attention on the importance of sustainable development in the region, the Asian Development Bank has estimated that there is about S$10 trillion worth of infrastructure projects in the pipeline. And the good news is, Singapore is well-placed to serve as the region’s infrastructure hub.

    Riding on Singapore’s strong credentials of successful overseas collaborations like the China-Singapore Suzhou Industrial Park, Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-city and Sino- Singapore Guangzhou Knowledge City, our local firms have more recently ventured beyond China, securing mega master planning projects in India and Africa. These are clearly early signs for things to come in future years.

Being the Shaping Force to Meet Changing Needs and Challenges

  1. So what do these mean to you? These major local and regional developments present numerous career opportunities to young talents like yourselves, who are much needed to support the sector’s robust growth, rejuvenate the workforce and become the future leaders of the sector. So, how good is the career prospect in the built environment sector?

  2. In a recent BCA manpower survey, about half of the firms surveyed are planning to hire this year, with many job vacancies for fresh graduates. The Graduate Employment Surveys conducted by the polytechnics also reflected that graduates from the built environment related courses were among those who were highly employable and were drawing salaries above the average.

  3. While a booming built environment sector and a good career prospect are important, we do need to build in a responsible manner, going forward. So, what are our responsibilities? Firstly, to mitigate climate change, built environment professionals have to discharge our environmental responsibility and look into adopting more green building design and eco-friendly building practices. Long-term adaptation measures are also required to protect our coastal areas against the threat of rising sea levels. Secondly, we also need to discharge our social responsibility and cater to the needs of the fast-ageing population.

    There is definitely a need for more inclusive and age-friendly building and management solutions in both new and existing buildings through Universal Design. This is to enable everyone to move around independently and to participate fully in community life with dignity. A prerequisite for an inclusive society is an inclusive built environment, no less.

  4. Thirdly, other than environmental and social responsibilities, the built environment sector also plays a big part in ensuring the long-term survival of Singapore as a nation by meeting its long-term need for space. It is well known that we have limited land. We need to constantly look for innovative ways to meet our need for space. We will need to build taller and deeper. As we continue to push the boundaries of building and infrastructural developments through new and advanced engineering solutions, innovative solutions, such as exploring the use of underground spaces to complement those above-ground have to be sought.

    With the successful completion of engineering feats like the Jurong Rock Caverns and Marina Coastal Expressway, Singapore could one day see its underground space being transformed and extensively connected, much like the underground ‘cities’ in Japan, Canada and many other parts of the world.

On-Going Transformation of the Sector

  1. Fourthly, we also need to fundamentally change the way we build. The status quo with our high degree of dependency on workers, including foreign workers, in the built environment sector is simply unsustainable. We must move the industry to one that is more knowledge-based, productive and technologically advanced. One of the key operative changes is to move as much of construction work off-site to the factories and to mechanise as much as possible on-site operations. We need to embrace the approach of “Design for Manufacturing and Assembly”, DfMA in short. We need to do as much precast and prefabrication as possible.

    We need to bring in new processes and technologies such as prefab, pre-finished volumetric construction (PPVC) or building the Lego way for suitable projects to build faster and better with fewer workers on site. Working conditions on site would correspondingly be more conducive by becoming safer, cleaner and quieter, minimizing disturbance to the existing neighbourhood.

  2. Complementing the wider adoption of DfMA and mechanisation on site, the sector is also swiftly moving from two-dimensional (2D) drafting towards full adoption of threedimensional (3D) Building Information Modelling, or BIM in short, for the entire lifecycle of a project, starting from the planning and design stage to the maintenance of the constructed building. The beauty of BIM technology is how it allows stakeholders across the entire project value chains to explore planning and design digitally through an integrated process prior to construction.

    The sharing of information across a project’s lifecycle would certainly help all stakeholders resolve issues early, reduce work errors, and improve efficiency and productivity.

  3. Further leveraging on the benefits of BIM, we will also be pushing the adoption of Virtual Design and Construction, or VDC in short. This is an integrated approach that combines BIM and advanced management methods to increase profitability, improve reliability and predictability before project execution and raise project efficiency to a higher level. If done well, it will revolutionize the entire development and construction process.

  4. At last year’s National Day Rally speech, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of building a Smart Nation. At this point, you may be wondering how the Smart Nation vision is relevant to the built environment sector. The connection is simple. We cannot have a smart nation without smart buildings.

    For example, incorporating user-centric smart Facility Management features into green buildings and precincts will enable us to optimise energy usage and facilitate building maintenance. Buildings will need to be designed and built to be more responsive to actual user behaviour and changes in the built environment. In short, a Smart Nation needs to have smart buildings.


  1. The built environment sector has come a long way and I hope I have given you a glimpse of what has happened in the sector in the last ten years or so and what is to come. Each and every one of you is standing right at the edge of a major transformation of our sector. We need you, our young talents, to share the leadership in the transformation of our sector, changing the way we build, making the sector environmentally and socially responsible, achieving the vision of a Smart Nation, and expanding the frontier upwards, downwards as well as outwards for Singapore’s long-term survival.

  2. There is no better time than now to partake in these exciting times and be part of the “transformers” for our sector. Your knowledge and skills acquired in your three years at Singapore Polytechnic are your asset and your youth brings along with it fresh perspectives to respond to new challenges. As you continue to deepen your knowledge and sharpen your skills in your path ahead, I call upon all of you to rise to the challenge of building upon the legacy of our predecessors and continue shaping Singapore’s built environment to make it future-ready. So, my challenge to you is to dream big, stamp your mark in the built environment, and see your efforts manifest and stand tall for all to see.

  3. Congratulations once again to all graduands. I wish you a rewarding and exciting journey in the built environment sector.

    Thank you.

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