1. Appreciation in Singapore
What is there to appreciate? That you graduated from a difficult major in NUS? That you earn less than finance kids despite doing a harder course? That you manage foreign contractors as a civil servant while actually forgetting all the basic technical knowledge from tutorials and lectures you skipped cus its at 8am?
What can you do as an engineer in SG that a foreigner with a basic technical diploma cannot? Yes yes you have better soft skills, leadershit and CCAs blah blah, then why be engineer if that is your best trait? Going into management is a different topic all together.
If you want to be appreciated, you had better being doing what no one else or at least, very few in the world can do. You had better have the most innovative and value creating knowledge and ideas.
So what if you can converge ur simulation and calculate how many stages you need in a distillation column? So what if you can use 3D autocad and create a virtual death-star? So what if you know can build an app that more accurately adds the dog nose and ears on ur selfie? Is that worth demanding special appreciation from society and country?
Engineering isnt about sizing equipment to buy from OEMs and packaging them. It isnt about making sure our MRTs dont break down. It sure isnt about awarding contracts to foreign companies to build our bridges and roads. Wheres the innovation?
Name 3 local companies that do real innovative engineering work in SG. Go ahead. Try.
Every NDP parade we roll out our Tanks, Artillery guns blah blah, and proudly say these are made in SG. More accurately: assembled in SG. The core technology in a tank is its engine(made in Germany), and in an artillery gun, the barrel (made in France). Its like a Mc Donalds kitchen staff asking to be appreciated as a chef for building a burger from parts made from secret recipes elsewhere.
Likewise, a vast majority of engineering SMEs in SG are still buying&selling for the tiny profit margin. A few “value adding” companies purchase core eqp, repackage it and resell, trying their best to compete with emerging developing countries who will slowly phase us out if we don’t buck up.
For decades one of Keppel’s most profitable ventures is shipbuilding and refurbishing. They buy used tankers or cargo ships, tear things down and convert them to FPSOs/FSOs, but are losing out now as China and India are doing it at much lower cost with quicker turnovers. And the hundreds of small SMEs that depend on them, suppliers of the metals, pipes, valves, “consultants” are dying when as river dries up. So they’re starting to transition into doing the actually engineering work in-house instead of subbing it to foreign experts(where the real value is).
Our finance minister HSK once said SG needs to shift focus toward Value creation, and not simply value adding. But too few SG engineers truly understand what that means. A good example would be Hyflux, where their core membrane technology is an example of true innovation. Something no one else in the world (at least at that time) could achieve, but unfortunately we have too few of such companies or engineers here.
Im not saying that engineering in SG sucks or what, but we must manage our expectations. If we want high salaries and high amounts of appreciation while having engineering as a career, then we have to deliver the best, or better than the best the rest of the world has to offer.
2. Good engineers going Overseas.
What if I told you, that Id double/triple your salary, but you have to work overseas, perhaps in a US Red State plant, for 5 years. Or be posted to Offshore platforms on shift work off the coast of Nigeria. Or even somewhere nice like Silicon valley as a programmer for 5 years training and work. Would you go?
This may come as a surprise but most SGreans actually decline. But our foreign friends line up to volunteer, even with less attractive packages. A quick search on Engineering MNCs pages in SG reveals only Sales and Marketing positions, technical support at best. Core engineering IP work often lies in the MNC home country headquarters, and only the hungry get to see it.
TBH I was offered twice to go, to canada & japan. To work in plants/factories, over a program that last several years and long hours of commitment. I pussied out. I wanted to stay in SG, get my BTO and be with my friends and family. So do many other SG engineers. Its so bloody comfortable and convenient here. We stay and hope for the rare high paying technical work that probably never comes due to reasons stated in point 1.
Our best and brightest leave, not for lack of appreciation but for better opportunity. Opportunity to work with the best and work on the best. But honestly, those who leave are the rare minority.
Look at your cohort, how many % of Singaporean Engineering grads actually go overseas for long term deployment? Now look at the % of foreigners who go, whether or not they serve out their bond is a different topic for discussion. It is my deepest hope that these people will bring back their knowledge and expertise home but until then, lets be realistic about our own expectations of engineers and engineering here.