How can local construction sector cope with the coming accelerated building boom

  • TheHomeGround Asia’s monthly Big Read is an in-depth analysis that spotlights the latest trend that affects Singapore and Singaporeans.
  • Kickstarting the series, the team takes a deep dive into the construction industry, which is expected to grow by 8.9 per cent to reach S$37,298 million this year.
  • The steady and widespread lifting of virtually all Covid-19 restrictions sets the stage for the sector to return to the pre-pandemic boom years, with contracts worth up to S$32 billion likely to be awarded this year. 
  • In this first of five stories, we take a look at the concerns that follow this faster pace, and the hopes and challenges that accompany this speed.
As the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, Singapore’s construction industry is rushing to complete delayed projects and cover projects that replace the cancelled ones.(Photo source: Business Times)
As the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, Singapore’s construction industry is rushing to complete delayed projects and cover projects that replace the cancelled ones.(Photo source: Business Times)

The construction sector in Singapore slowed to a mere crawl when the country was hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and restrictions put in place.

This resultant restrictions in movement led to import restrictions of foreign labour, a critical aspect of the industry.

But with the current lifting of restrictions since April 2022, there is a rush to return to a “new normal”. Construction companies are quickly looking to get their labour force back to its original levels as they ready themselves for more construction projects.

But this revival is most likely to be a long-term result and will not be immediately seen.

Boosted demand

‘’The outlook for construction post-pandemic depends on the period of consideration. In the short to medium term, there is a pent-up demand due to the delays as a result of the pandemic. But in the long run, fundamentals will set in,’’ says Mr Lye Kian Siong, director of People’s Construction. 

He says that it is too early to consider if construction activity from this year will surpass pre-pandemic levels, as construction companies resume working on the delayed projects and look for more projects.

‘’Again, the question is subjective at the time of consideration. In terms of activities, there is still the issue of insufficient manpower that will hinder the activities. In short, the number of activities in the construction industry hinges on the amount of manpower available.’’
As the Covid19 restrictions are lifted, Singapore’s construction industry is rushing to complete delayed projects and cover projects that replace the cancelled ones. (Photo source: The Straits Times)

The resumption of labour imports is welcomed but it may be some time before it can return to their pre-pandemic levels.

The Government is currently working with the construction companies to expedite the movement of foreign labour to cope with the increased number of projects, says Mr Michael Murphy, director of manpower consultancy Linesight Singapore.

Labour reductions

On 9 September last year, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) and the Infocomm Media Development Authority jointly launched an initiative where construction companies can get up to 80 per cent of funding support to adopt robotics and automation solutions.

Other labour-saving measures the companies are adopting include usage of prefabricated parts and reviewing the designs and architecture of pending projects so that they can use less manpower than previously possible.

As the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, Singapore’s construction industry is rushing to complete delayed projects and cover projects that replace the cancelled ones. (Photo source: The Edge Singapore)

But Mr Lye has a word of caution about such labour-saving activities.

He says: ‘’In this aspect, there must be a clear understanding of what it means by activities. In most cases, it means moving the activity from the site to an off-site factory, such as in the case of prefabrication plants. 

‘’While the activity on site has been reduced, the entire process of work (from fabrication to installation to completion) may or may not significantly reduce the total amount of work done.’’

He felt that the only way the construction sector can ride above the pandemic and increase productivity is through a holistic review of all the aspects, beginning from design all the way to the purchase of property. 

‘’I feel that a ‘renaissance’ of the construction industry is the most pressing issue, to attract the best available PMETs to work or continue to work in the industry. The construction industry is not attracting the best available PMETs to work or continue to work in the industry,’’ he adds.

With regards to news concerning the bankruptcy of the main contractor that was overseeing many HDB and Government building projects, a HDB spokesman said that HDB and the construction industry have had standard procedures and laws in place to regulate and govern situations such as bankruptcy and financial receivership, and so the public can be assured that due diligence has been observed.

Mr Lye said that the Government has been significantly supporting the construction sector after it was hit with construction restrictions and labour shortages, through grants and other financial support measures to help them adopt innovations and new methods such as drone technology, usage of eco-friendly building materials, and higher automation through digitalisation and robotics.

He is confident that the four construction companies who are replacing the bankrupt construction company can complete the jobs slated for them.

Mr Lye says: ‘’The construction companies, including mine, welcomes the use of technology in the construction industry as it will reduce the need for manpower, thus making the sector nimbler and more adaptable to future disruptions. Change comes hard, and the pandemic and current turmoil in the world has forced the sector to actively look into adopting new technologies.

‘’Companies that fail to adopt the new techniques will be in real danger of folding.’’

RELATED: Navigating the rising costs within Singapore’s construction sector?

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