Photo of crowd during train breakdown from Twitter

“For year, I always thought Singapore is far ahead of Hong Kong.”

We hear it from the cow’s mouth; it was a rare admission of failure from a member of the ruling party aristocrat who would often trumpet about how first world Singapore is. Minister Khaw Boon Wan’s complacency is however typical of the entitled majority who are blind to the many latent failures contributing to the lack of engineering expertise in Singapore.

Singapore have a lot of engineers. Heaps of them in fact, but not competent ones. Even SMRT had to invite engineers from Taiwan and the country’s defence science agency DSTA to fix it’s metro problems. What went wrong?

The unlikely source of the brain drain lies with immigration policies. Engineers hailing from third world countries like Philippines, India, Southeast Asia and China easily find PMET engineering jobs in Singapore where they would not even be considered as a technician in Australia. The Singapore engineering sector is flooded with such third grade engineers no thanks to the non-existent immigration policies.

As often told in the past decade, competent and experienced local engineers are retrenched and replaced by these cheap foreign import. From 2005, every engineering company in Singapore started replacing older engineers who would “tell what is wrong with the system from the smell of it”, with cheaper foreigners with language barriers and “Ali Baba” working habits. The new hires started picking up similar rotten attitude because they are not paid enough to do the job.

Aspiring local engineering send their applications only to established German and Japanese MNCs like Siemens and Sony. The remaining 90% of the fresh engineering graduates who are not selected by the MNCs have to settle for local SMEs or the civil service. Another half of the majority ended up in non-engineering careers like teaching and real estate. With incriminating working hours like a 60-hour work week and little salary prospects while their SME bosses get a new Ferrari, a further 50% of the local engineers either go overseas or quit altogether.

Engineers in Singapore are often burnt out. A typical work day is 9am to 9pm, and if they are lucky, they get to enjoy their weekends. Many Singapore engineers are so fully-utilised, or overworked, they do not go the extra mile. Or more accurately, it is not that they do not want to but rather they do not have the time to go that extra mile – who would have time to understand the entire signal flow diagram? SMRT’s persistent train failures and “bad luck” is a textbook example of engineers not knowing how the entire train system works.

Engineering companies in Singapore are modern sweatshops while the other sectors are thriving mainly because of poor human resource practices. Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson prides his company for taking care of their employees to take care of customers. In the same context, engineers are not taken care of to take care of the system and this is why we have all sort of breakdowns.

Alex Tan
STR Editor