Soon, workers from Philippines, Sri Lanka to meet construction needs in Singapore
SINGAPORE, Jan 2 – At a time when the construction sector is starting to find it difficult to get foreign workers to cope with the construction boom, even amid the tighter foreign labour quotas, the authorities are identifying new source countries for construction workers.
The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) told MediaCorp that two test centres will be set up in Sri Lanka, while approval is being sought from the Philippines to establish test centres there.
The BCA hopes to bring in skilled construction workers from both countries to boost supply and diversify Singapore’s foreign labour sources, which are now mainly China, India and Bangladesh. The authorities want to be less reliant on these countries, to the industry’s relief.
Noting that China is also experiencing a construction boom, Singapore Contractors Association Limited president Ho Nyok Yong cited the country and “some parts of India” where supply of workers is slowing.
And beyond the numbers from these expanding economies, there are other difficulties “in sustaining the current sources of workers”, noted Shaik Mohamed, director of Mini Environment Service, which does sub-contracting services.
“In terms of the quality, the attitude, a lot of factors ... it’s definitely very different from 10, 15 years ago,” he said.
BCA Group Director (manpower and strategies policy) Neo Choon Keong told MediaCorp that it is working with the industry to open up new sources from a “resilience perspective ... notwithstanding efforts to reduce the numbers of foreign workers overall”.
Demand for construction workers here is expected to remain strong at least over the next five years, with major housing and public transport projects in the pipeline. More healthcare facilities are also being built.
In a recent report, the National Population and Talent Division said it expects the demand for low-skilled foreign construction workers to increase from some 250,000 in 2011 to about 280,000 in the next two to three years.
The BCA said most Sri Lankan and Philippine workers speak English, which will help improve communication at construction sites.
Dr Ho agreed: “Communication is quite an important issue, so in terms of safety, in terms of understanding, that would help.”
Those who want to work here will have to go through a rigorous training regime in their home country: A full-time programme lasting between three and six months while they stay in a training centre.
Only seven in 10 workers would eventually pass the test.
There are now 26 overseas testing centres in China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Myanmar. Industry players said, though, that it is hard to project the numbers that would come in from the two new countries.
“With the training timeframe that was mentioned ... I don’t think they’ll be able to do it in terms of thousands, (but) probably a few hundreds at a go,” said Shaik.
Construction company Progressive Builders will operate one of the two test centres in Sri Lanka, and managing director Ng Yek Meng said that for a start, workers will be tested in 12 construction skills, such as steel reinforcement work, tiling and plastering.
These tests are to ensure that the workers coming to Singapore are of a certain standard. This could, in turn, help raise productivity.
“Some of the workers, especially if they come from agriculture, don’t even know how to operate certain equipment.
“The test is quite stringent not only in Sri Lanka but for all source countries ... This is how we can sieve the good ones and the bad ones,” said Ng.
The test centres in Sri Lanka are expected to be operational in six months’ time. Besides bringing in better quality construction workers, the BCA has a comprehensive training framework to continuously upgrade them. Some 12,000 foreign construction workers have upgraded their skills through these programmes. —Today