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BUILDING & ENGINEERING | Krisana Gallezo-Estaura, Singapore
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Singapore's 15 largest engineering firms 2014

Singapore engineers burn out as services boom

When you hear Singapore engineers complain about their employment situation, it may be hard to take those gripes seriously given their industry’s rosyprospects. The engineering services sector’s contribution to Singapore gross domestic product is expected to grow by 5% to 6% annually until 2020, according 

to the Singaporean-German Chamber of the Industry and Commerce. The forecast comes with expectations of higher salaries and stable employment but as practice conditions reach highly stressful levels, engineering firms are finding it harder to retain staff.

This trend is reflected in Singapore Business Review’s second year of ranking the largest engineering firms, which reveals a minimal increase in the number of employed professional engineers. Total employment of the 15 largest firms this year reached 360, only five higher than the 355 reported in 2013. 

Surbana International Consultants, which once again led the pack, has added 8 to their headcount, but most of the rest have either retained or decreased their numbers. This slow staff expansion can be partly attributed to high engineer burnout.

Efficiency and efficacy

Our channel checks with major players have found that, while innovation has greatly improved the industry, which now accounts for around 35,000 jobs in Singapore, it has also created a distressed labour force.

Engineers are faced with the enormous challenge of constructing both efficiently and effectively, says Teh Hee Seang, chairman of the T.Y. Lin International, a firm which retained its 19 headcount.

Even beyond construction, in the built and infrastructure industry, engineers buckle under the pressure due to challenging practice conditions, says Tan Shao Yen, managing director at CPG Consultants.

The total engineering staff strength in CPG Consultants remains robust with an approximate increase of 20% from 2013 to 2014, although the number of registered professionals has reduced due to employee turnover.

Engineers of today are facing greater challenges due to more stringent building regulatory requirements, an increasing complexity of projects and the rapid changes in technology. 

Some may regard these factors as setbacks and thus perceive the profession to be very challenging. However, we do recognise that these aspects are necessary to ensure the progression of the industry.

Competition for talent

On top of the higher rates of work burnout, engineering firms also have to grapple with intense talent competition within the industry. Shao Yen says the resulting high rate of worker turnover dampens the quality of skilled labour in the industry.

“The increased demand for infrastructure projects have also led to the industry ‘cannibalizing’ its own talents, leading to a ‘merry-go-round’ of engineers within the industry. The rapid and high turnover of staff will always post obstacles to institutional knowledge retention and management. However, we are not alone to be plagued by such challenges as it appears to be a common phenomenon that affects mature economies.”

“If we aim to participate in meeting Asia’s urbanization development demands, the shortage in experienced engineers will pose a serious constraint,” he says. 

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