Opening address by Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the launch of the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map (ES ITM) 2025 and NEA-Industry Scholarship Award Ceremony, on 16 January 2023
Mr Lee Chuan Seng, Chairman of the National Environment Agency Board
Ladies and gentlement
1 Good morning. I am happy that you have joined us to witness the launch of the Environmental Services Industry Transformation Map 2025, or ES ITM 2025, and the presentation of the NEA-Industry Scholarship to our young talent.
Importance of the Environmental Services Industry
2 The ES Industry is an important pillar of Singapore’s economy, society, and environment. More than 71,000 workers across 1,700 establishments across the industry perform essential services in three areas – Cleaning, Waste Management and Pest Management. They deliver important daily services that protect public health and prevent pollution of the natural environment.
3 Given the ES Industry’s contributions to Singapore, it is important that the Government, industry, trade associations and chambers, unions, and educational and training institutions come together to help drive the transformation of the ES Industry. This will improve productivity, promote growth, and create good jobs for Singaporeans. Through the Future Economy Council’s Resource and Environmental Sustainability Cluster Sub-Committee, which I co-chair with CEO Sembcorp Mr Wong Kim Yin, we are looking to develop and implement Industry Transformation Maps, or ITMs, with all key stakeholders in the cluster, including the ES Industry. This will ensure that the ES Industry is ready and relevant for future challenges and opportunities.
4 The ES ITM 1.0 was launched in 2017 to develop a vibrant, sustainable, and professional ES industry for Singapore and for growing cities in the region. Four years on, our transformation journey has led to many positive outcomes:
a) the industry is seeing rising demand for new technology solutions and innovations,
b) new capabilities such as robotics solutions have been (and are still being) developed with industry stakeholders,
c) there is greater adoption of Outcome Based Contracting, or OBC, and
d) better job opportunities have been created through new talent attraction schemes such as the Career Conversion Programme for mid-career jobseekers and the NEA-Industry Scholarship for inducting young talent into the sector.
5 The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of having a resilient ES industry. It was a challenging period for businesses and the workforce, who continued with their operational routines tirelessly. Many companies and workers went beyond the call of duty to put in extra hours and quickly picked up new skills in sanitation and disinfection to keep pace with new, more stringent hygiene protocols. The union worked swiftly with us to encourage greater understanding from service buyers to maintain reasonable service demands to safeguard the welfare of the ES workforce. Indeed, demand for environmental services increased and evolved during the pandemic, and companies innovated to meet evolving needs as well as adapt to challenges in the workforce. The transformation efforts under the ITM 1.0 have helped to give us a more solid foundation and position the industry to better respond to changes in the market. But with rising demand, and disruption from technology advances, coupled with manpower and other resource constraints, we have worked hard over the last few years but there still remains a lot of work that we need to do collectively together.
Emerging stronger for next bound of industry transformation
6 Looking ahead, demand for environmental services is expected to remain strong as global economic activities resume, traveling begins, and consumption patterns will continue to progressively return to pre-COVID levels. The labour market is expected to remain tight, which would propel the adoption of automation and robotics. Green growth and sustainability goals will drive the demand for materials circularity, as well as decentralise and decarbonise waste management solutions. Enhanced public hygiene standards will spur demand for specialised cleaning and disinfection services, and eco-friendly chemicals for cleaning and pest management. In turn, these developments will create new quality jobs in the ES industry for all Singaporeans.
7 The vision of ES ITM remains relevant today, and we will expand on this vision in ES ITM 2025 – to transform the industry into one that is professional, technology-enabled, and productive. NEA has been working closely with tripartite partners on the strategies and initiatives for ES ITM 2025. In particular, I would like to thank members of the Future Economy Council and the Future Economy Council Resource & Environmental Sustainability Cluster sub-committee, whose suggestions and comments have helped to improve and enhance the ES ITM 2025. With the growth opportunities at hand, we are optimistic about the future and are ready to embark on this next chapter of transformation.
ES ITM 2025 focus areas
8 ES ITM 2025 will focus on four key thrusts. First, to intensify digitalisation, innovation and technology adoption, with the aim of improving productivity and moderating manpower demand. This is a trajectory that we have started on since ITM 1.0, and something we see that have helped us through the last few years of COVID-19, and hence will continue to drive and push further. The ES industry will be positioned as one that turns national and industry challenges into value creation opportunities through research, development, and innovation. It will prepare ES firms for emerging opportunities in growth areas (both locally and internationally) such as robotics and automation, resource recovery, circularity of materials, and carbon capture from waste management.
9 On the digitalisation front, the ES ITM 2025 will support the development of solutions to enable data-driven ES operations and delivery to improve productivity, operational efficiency, as well as alleviate manpower challenges faced by the industry. These efforts will accelerate the industry’s digital transformation efforts, such as increasing adoption of digital solutions, and identifying and growing Digital Leaders in the industry.
10 Second, we will nurture promising firms to seize new opportunities and growth areas outside of Singapore. NEA will continue to work with ready Singapore-based companies and agencies such as Enterprise Singapore to build up the companies’ capabilities to internationalise. I am heartened to note that companies have already started to position themselves for overseas growth. Let me share an example of a Singapore SME that specialises in industrial waste and wastewater treatment, Zerowaste Asia. This enterprise received strategic investment from Keppel Seghers and developed carbon capture technology that complemented Keppel Seghers’ portfolio of solutions. This opportunity expanded the company’s global reach as a provider of solutions for sustainable urbanisation. Another example is Ministry of Clean Pte Ltd, an SME which capitalised on the demand for disinfection during the COVID-19 pandemic to launch “Airtumtec Pro”, a long-lasting self-disinfecting surface coating product. This made-in-Singapore product has enabled optimisation of frontline cleaners, allowing them to adopt higher-value roles. It was eventually exported and used in Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines. It shows that companies are prepared to innovate and offer solutions that meet market’s demand needs in an efficient and sustainable way. We will continue to support companies through global networking platforms such as the biennial CleanEnviro Summit Singapore, or CESG, organised by NEA for thought leaders, policy makers and industry captains to converge and co-create sustainability and clean environment solutions.
11 The next edition of CESG will be held in June 2024 at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre as an international marketplace for our ES companies to showcase their capabilities as well as to form partnerships with international innovators and solution buyers. Hopefully, with travel resuming fully by 2024 across the different parts of the world, we hope that the summit will be a platform for networking.
12 Third, we want to grow the number of productive firms that enhance service delivery capacity and resilience. I strongly urge service buyers to adopt the OBC model when procuring cleaning services. This is done by adjusting procurement practices to focus on outcomes instead of deployed headcounts. This facilitates the adoption of technology, and optimisation of work processes and manpower deployment, thereby improving productivity. The Government has taken the lead by requiring Government Procuring Entities to adopt OBC for procurement of cleaning services since May 2020.
13 In raising industry standards and optimising resources for operational efficiency and resilience, NEA will continue to collaborate closely with industry partners and stakeholders to drive the adoption of OBC amongst private service buyers in the cleaning sector, and work with the Singapore Pest Management Association, the Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore, and other industry stakeholders to develop a set of OBC guidelines for the pest management and waste management sectors.
14 The fourth thrust centres on our most precious resource – our people. We will create quality jobs and improve job prospects for the workforce. NEA has collaborated with the Ministry of Manpower and Workforce Singapore on a Jobs Transformation Map, or JTM, for the Cleaning and Waste Management sectors that was completed in 2021. We analysed how workforce transformation efforts have performed since ES ITM 1.0, and developed a manpower development roadmap from 2021 to 2035. The roadmap has helped to shape the Jobs & Skills pillar of the ES ITM 2025, where we aim to create more than 1,600 quality jobs for the ES Industry, especially in the highly-valued areas of engineering, data analysis and environmental sustainability roles. These are valuable roles that offer exciting career opportunities for Singaporeans. I invite you to view the exhibition panels later, to learn about the key findings and recommendations from the JTM.
15 While we put the wheels in motion to drive industry transformation, the younger generation will need to take over the driver’s seat in future to sustain and improve on these efforts that we have started. The NEA-Industry Scholarship is a key ES ITM programme to attract young talent into the industry. Into its second cycle now, this is a public-private partnership programme where NEA and sponsoring companies co-fund scholarships on an 80-20 model.
16 Today, we will meet four bright talents who will be joining the ES Industry upon graduation, and taking on roles as admin executives, operations executives, and management trainees. One of our scholars, Mr Saumya Pravit Rai, is currently pursuing a diploma course in Robotics and Mechatronics in Nanyang Polytechnic. He will join Primech A&P Pte Ltd, a cleaning services company, as a management trainee upon graduation. Saumya believes that robotics is a key driver in automation and will have an increasingly important role in cleaning and disinfection services. He appreciates the criticality of professional cleaning services in safeguarding Singapore’s public health, especially in high-risk areas like hospitals. It is heartening to know that passionate young individuals, like Saumya, will soon join the industry to push boundaries in technology adoption. To our new scholars, you are the future of the industry. I hope you will make full use of this opportunity to grow personally and professionally, and contribute meaningfully to this industry.
17 While we look to the future of the ES Industry, we must also acknowledge and appreciate the hard work and dedication of existing workers. We need to ensure that they too share in the future of the industry transformation. To improve prospects for lower-wage workers, we will continue to develop career conversion, job redesign and upskilling programmes to prepare mid-career switchers, as well as those in the existing ES workforce, for professional growth in the industry. Mr Ramlan bin Mustapa, a veteran with 20 years of pest management experience, is now a Senior Foreman at Aardwolf Pestkare (S) Pte Ltd. He has proven himself to be an experienced pest management professional, trusted to handle technical challenges and issues such as repairing equipment and conducting pest proofing. He also mentors new trainees and guides his teammates. He actively gains new knowledge and competencies, even taking part in a company competition on innovation. His team created an effective and reusable Fruit Fly bait using an all-natural organic formulation and won! Mr Ramlan was also awarded another accolade recently – the Environmental Services Star Award, an ES ITM initiative to recognise the commitment, work excellence, and contributions of the top exemplary ES employees.
18 With the introduction of the Progressive Wage Model for the Cleaning sector, and the soon-to-launch Progressive Wage Model for Waste Management sector come July this year, we expect over 44,000 resident workers to benefit from wage enhancements and upskilling opportunities. We look forward to more inspirations like Mr Ramlan, where senior workers gamely embrace lifelong learning and go on to encourage and inspire their younger colleagues in their work.
19 Let me conclude. The ES industry has come a long way, but there are many more opportunities and more work to be done together. Let us continue our strong tripartite partnership to drive these transformation efforts collectively, to build a vibrant, sustainable, and professional ES industry that is ready for the opportunities and challenges to come.
20 Thank you.