MBAS’s Conversation with Minister of State For National Development

MBAS held their first town hall session with Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State For National Development (MND), on 18 March 2022. Here are the highlights.
Mr Tan How Kiat At Mbas Townhall Meeting

The Micro Builders Association of Singapore (MBAS) held their first town hall meeting on 18 March 2022 via a conversation with Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State For National Development (MND). This meeting, as well as subsequent sessions, would allow MBAS members to raise their concerns, discuss building trends, and ask for insight regarding the industry’s future.

Mr Wei Kang, Honorary Treasurer of MBAS, gave his opening remarks on how MBAS has grown since its inception in 2012, taking in generations of builders over the years and becoming more united. He shared his observations on how the micro-building and built environment industries have suffered much during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the challenges of coping with a different scale of projects, resources and technology

While the Housing and Development Board (HDB) will help ease rising costs of raw materials and our local government has been giving much aid in the form of beneficiaries and schemes, several companies in the building sector have still buckled under the weight of COVID-related issues. 

This inaugural town hall session was titled ‘Conversation with Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister of State for National Development’ for an apt reason; on behalf of MBAS, Mr Wei Kang posed four questions to Mr Tan regarding workforce crunch, adapting to new building technologies and trends, developing a relevant workforce, and attracting and retaining new blood

Mr Tan Kiat How, Minister Of State For National Development (Mnd), With Mr Wei Kang (Right), Honorary Treasurer Of Mbas,
Mr Tan Kiat How (left), Minister of State for National Development (MND), addresses concerns presented by MBAS after Mr Wei Kang (right), Honorary Treasurer of MBAS, introduces the session

Question 1

“In the recent COS debate session in parliament, you have shared that the entry requirements for vaccinated Work Pass Holders in the CMP sectors will be streamlined with effect from 13th March 2022. That is welcome news indeed, considering the labour-strapped situation in the CMP sector now. 

However, many of our members have voiced their frustrations that most of their applications were unsuccessful. We understand that priority for new entrants has been given to builders dealing with public projects. While we unanimously agree and understand the great importance of nation-building, it cannot be helped that some of our members feel left out whenever they receive news of unsuccessful applications. 

Micro Builders heavily rely on manual labour due to the nature of the projects that they undertake, which directly translates to higher revenue and profitability. Both of which are crucial lifelines for Micro Builders. In view of this, would the relevant ministries consider allowing a fixed quota of foreign workers to be allocated to our sector in which MBAS can assist to undertake strategically to better serve our industry?”

Question 2

“In 2017, Singapore started on the Construction Industry Transformation Roadmap with the aim to achieve three key outcomes – (1) automation through Design for Manufacturing and Assembly (DfMA), (2) enhancing digitalisation through Integrated Digital Delivery (IDD), and (3) promoting sustainability through Green Buildings.  

These all sound valid and critical. However, it is not too applicable to our niche sector.  For example, most of our members deal with projects involving bespoke architecture. Consequently, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution where one can enjoy the benefits of scaled-up production.  On the subject of green and sustainability, contractors and consultants alike are not in the position to influence the owners on what to adopt, what to use and how to live. 

With regards to digitalization and adoption of technology, there are also several roadblocks and obstacles Micro Builders like us face, such as lack of succession plans, delayed periods of time and financial costs to digitalize and the need to include every stakeholder on a project team on building software. What is your take on this Minister? Do you think there should be an HDB-style of government intervention to achieve this?”

Micro Builders Association Of Singapore (Mbas) At Their First Townhall Meeting On 18 March 2022
MBAS members get their questions answered by Mr Tan amidst a changing economy

Question 3

“As announced in Budget 2022, the new Qualifying Salary for SP and EP will be significantly increased, and the Dependency Ration Ceiling has also reduced from 1:7 to 1:5. Both measures will take effect from 1st September 2022. 

On a whole, MBAS and its members do understand the difficult decision the government has taken regarding this matter. However, we would also like to bring across our perspective and viewpoint

As shared earlier on, our niche sector relies heavily on manual labour no thanks to the many restrictions and parameters that we need to work within.  The reduction of DRC and the increase in Qualifying Salary for SP and EP is only adding salt to the wounds of many micro builders, who are not only struggling to keep the business afloat but also to retain their workers due to higher overhead cost and reduction of DRC.  

DFMA leveraging on this scale or even IDD have not been able to help us much, or even at all in reducing our reliance on manpower. Would the government be able to look at some exceptions on a case by case basis and not a blanket policy for all?”

Last Question

“In the recent parliament session on the 8th of March, you have shared on the many initiatives in place to grow and develop a more resilient and relevant workforce for the construction sector.

These range from the engaging of our students on Built Environment careers through the iBuildSG Club to raising the standards within the BE sector and encouraging more firms to adopt the Built Environment Skills Framework. It is also heartening to see the iBuildSG Club initiate programs to nurture a new generation of the local workforce to enter the Built Environment. 

With the iBuildSG in mind, we have two requests in mind:

1 – The Built Environment Skills Framework does not specifically address the list of technical skills and competences which are integral and pertinent to Micro Builders. Can MBAS work together with MND to review the framework to better suit our sector? 

2 – Can MBAS work together with MND to formulate and pioneer specialized Master Craftsmen courses to attract a younger workforce into the industry to ensure a continued succession plan for Micro Builders?”

Rounding Up The Session

A short Q&A session followed this panel, with a few questions raised regarding the future and potential of a younger generation of builders and the proposal for a singular tribunal to quickly facilitate settlement processes and help resolve disputes through education

Mr Eric Ng From The Specialist Trade Alliance, Singapore (Sta)
Mr Eric Ng from the Specialist Trade Alliance, Singapore (STA) asks Mr Tan a question regarding tribunals for conflict settlements

To round off the event, Minister Tan reminded attendees to reach out and work together to resolve issues, especially in today’s unpredictable era. He assures MBAS and other micro-building corporations present that MND will work closely with them to address the concerns brought up in the four questions.

The town hall session ended with lunch provided by Novotel Singapore. Planning for the next meeting is currently underway. 

Members Of The Micro Builders Association Of Singapore (Mbas)
MBAS members outside Novotel on Stevens, where the event was held

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