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Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Opening of Weishen Industrial Services Holdings (WISH) Training Academy

Speech by SMS Chee Hong Tat at the Opening of Weishen Industrial Services Holdings (WISH) Training Academy

Mr Poo Kow Peok, Group Chairman, WIS Holdings, 

Mr Vincent Poo, Group CEO, WIS Holdings, 

Mr Zainal Sapari, NTUC Assistant Secretary General and Executive Secretary, Building Construction and Timber Industries Employees’ Union (BATU),

Mr Abdul Rahman, President, BATU,

Mr Gary Goh, Deputy CEO, e2i,

Dr Chan Mun Kitt, Vice Dean, NUS School of Continuing and Lifelong Education (SCALE),

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. I am happy to join you today at the opening of the WISH Training Academy.  Let me start by extending my best wishes to the Academy.  

2. For our next phase of economic growth, we want to help local enterprises to level up and develop stronger capabilities, and also to scale up their operations and expand overseas. Our programmes focus on the three ‘T’s: Technology, Training and Teamwork. 

Technology to transform our industries

3. Let me start with Technology, which affects all industries. Regardless of size and sector, all enterprises need to embrace technology as a tool to improve productivity, reduce operating costs and develop better products and services that meet the needs of customers. 

4. In 2017, WIS started equipping its cleaners with smartwatches so that they can receive notifications on the location and type of ad-hoc tasks in real-time. Besides helping the cleaners to respond to these tasks more promptly and effectively, the smartwatches also serve as health monitors for the workers – this is an important part of staff well-being as over 40% of the company’s cleaners are above 55 years old. 

5. The Government will create a business-friendly operating environment that supports innovation.  We provide testbedding opportunities and help our SMEs build stronger track records through government projects. For example, as part of its second Open Innovation Call, JTC supported the development of Ecobot Scrub 50 with WIS and homegrown technology startup Gaussian Robotics. Ecobot Scrub 50 is Singapore’s first fully autonomous cleaning robot. It can clean an entire facility autonomously over multiple floors, without needing human intervention to charge the battery, discharge grey water or refill clean water. This saves time, improves productivity and allows cleaners to perform higher value-added tasks. Things that the robot cannot do, human workers can do those tasks. The robot can take over some of the more routine tasks. After trying out its products at JTC Summit and CleanTech One, Gaussian Robotics has deployed the Ecobot Scrub 50 in industrial, hospitality, healthcare and retail sectors in Singapore. After proving that it works, it scales up. 

6. JTC also works with Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to commercialise research, bringing new ideas and technologies from lab to industry. After NTU materials scientists developed a proprietary glue-like resin, NTU, JTC and Prostruct Consulting used this technology to develop FasRap, a ready-to-stick wrap that can easily repair and reinforce existing structures to extend its lifespan. Through JTC’s facilitation, FasRap has been successfully deployed by Wah Son Engineering, which is based in Seletar Aerospace Park. This is an example of how we will find test-bedding opportunities for our SMEs as well as how we move ideas from research labs to industry. All this with the purpose of helping our companies to build stronger capabilities, build track records and scale up. 

Training to ensure that our workers benefit from industry transformation

7. Let me now move on to the second ‘T’, which is Training. When enterprises harness technology to transform, the process must remain human-centric. We need to look at how technology augments workers by simplifying certain functions they perform or giving them a boost in productivity.  This includes technology and equipment which can reduce the physical demands on human workers, which will allow older workers to continue working longer if they wish to do so.  

8. On the part of the workers, they also have to embrace lifelong learning and continual skills upgrading to ensure that they are able to handle the new equipment and make good use of the new technologies. This is also an area where the tripartite partnership between employers, the Labour Movement and the Government is a very critical enabler and success factor.  

9. I am happy to see that WIS has gone beyond being an adopter to becoming a co-developer of technology, and ensured that its employees benefit from the new technology by conducting in-house training for them. 
10. WIS is a good example of how effective enterprise transformation can be driven by technology but should always remain people-led. I am therefore very pleased to officially open the WISH Training Academy today.  The Academy will facilitate knowledge-sharing, provide more training opportunities and reinforce industry best practices amongst WIS employees. 

Teamwork to go further together

11. This brings me to the 3rd and final T: Teamwork.  All of us have heard the saying, if we want to go far, we must go together.  Teamwork and partnership is an essential part of successful enterprise transformation.  

Teamwork with unions and IHLs

12. I am glad that WIS will be signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with BATU, e2i and SCALE today to set up a Company Training Committee (CTC). This contributes to NTUC’s goal of having 1,000 CTCs over the next three years.

13. WIS also aims to become a centre of excellence for the environmental services industry. WIS is working with SkillsFuture Singapore for its in-house training to be WSQ-accredited so that workers in other companies may also benefit from training at the WISH Training Academy. In SkillsFuture Singapore, we call this the “queen bee” approach of working with industry leaders to provide training for the entire sector, beyond the company’s own manpower needs.  In sectors that face manpower constraints, such as environmental services, we hope this is one aspect which can help to attract more Singaporeans to join the sector.  

Teamwork with Government

14. After receiving feedback from enterprises, the Ministry of Finance has made changes to government procurement processes to make them more pro-enterprise. For example, government tenders no longer require companies with an annual turnover of less than S$5 million to submit audited accounts.  With this change, companies can save a few thousand dollars per annum. Today, more than 80% of the government contracts are awarded to SMEs. 

15. While government agencies will aim to achieve value-for-money in procuring goods and services, we recognize the importance of sustainable sourcing practices to uphold quality and ensure fair wages for our workers. The price-quality evaluation method is now the default for government procurement. We do not only look at prices alone and choose the cheapest quote. That is not how tender bids are currently evaluated. The agency will look at both price and quality. For the environmental services sector, NEA released a Guide on Specifications for Outcome-based Cleaning Contract in 2017 to help service buyers transit from headcount-based to outcome-based contracting. This enables environmental services companies to adopt technology, enhance processes and propose innovative solutions that can improve productivity and service delivery. This is now a practice which government agencies should move towards, and we want to encourage more of them to adopt this outcome-based contracting. The fact that I say this means that there are still some agencies that have not adopted outcome-based contracting, but we will get there. This is a commitment. We will move towards 100% outcome-based contracting, because I believe that this is a better way to working with the Ministry and this is a more sustainable way of ensuring that we achieve good outcomes in the long run. 

16. Unsustainable cheap sourcing practices is not an issue that can be solved by the Government or Unions alone. As customers, we can also play our part by ensuring that our cleaning contracts are priced sustainably, so that environmental services companies like WIS can pay their workers fair wages based on the Progressive Wage Model. The government agencies have adopted this approach. I urge private sector entities to do likewise. In the long term, this is a better and more sustainable approach for all stakeholders. It is also the right thing to do, to ensure that our workers receive fair wages for their efforts and their hard work.   

17. Teamwork is also important when we venture overseas. WIS has been scanning the horizon for new markets. It expanded to China in 1996, and more recently to Qatar in 2017 and Indonesia earlier this year. The two meeting rooms upstairs are named “Indonesia” and “Qatar”, or the “IQ” rooms to reinforce the need to internationalise and the mindset of looking beyond Singapore to bring our products and services overseas. WIS has plans to expand further to Turkey, Oman and Vietnam over the next few years. Enterprise Singapore will continue to support WIS in this endeavour, including through our network of overseas centres in over 35 locations.  Bring our trusted Singapore products and services abroad, and fly our flag high in these overseas markets.  

Closing remarks

18. Ladies and Gentlemen, in my speech, I have touched on why enterprises need the 3 ‘T’s, Technology, Training, and Teamwork, to build capabilities and scale up their operations. I also explained why it is important for enterprise transformation to go hand-in-hand with worker training and skills upgrading, and why our strong tripartite partnerships in Singapore is a key enabler in this journey. My congratulations to WIS once again on the official opening of the WISH Training Academy, and I hope that such collaborations can help more local enterprises to scale greater heights.  

19. Thank you. 

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