Speech by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education at the National Engineers Day 2021 Prize Presentation Ceremony

Published Date: 20 November 2021 02:30 PM

News Speeches

1. Good afternoon to all of you.

2. First, let me congratulate all the winners of this year's Engineering Innovation Challenge.

3. I am sure all of you are glad to be able to meet up physically and online, notwithstanding the pandemic.

4. As I reflect on how we can gather today, live our lives normally as much as possible, we must indeed give thanks to the engineers we have, and the engineering capabilities that we have built up over the years. From the masks that we wear to the SafeEntry system that we use, the water that we drink, the comfort of this conserved building that combines both heritage and modernity, and even the quality of air that we enjoy and breathe. All these would not have been possible without much engineering work behind the scenes.

5. Thank you to all our engineers! All of you have brought us this far in our nation building journey.

6. In the spirit of challenging our next generation to turn today's dreams into tomorrow's realities, I will share 3 Big Hairy Audacious Goals or BHAGs for our engineers to consider for the next lap of our nation building – creating spaces, building energy resilience; and broadening connectivity.

7. Let me start with the first BHAG. Space. Since independence, we have grown from 500+ sqkm to 700+ sqkm. But that is only a two-dimensional perspective that focuses on land. Our usable and living spaces would have probably increased by more than that through building upwards and digging downwards; from our high-rise HDB flats to the Jurong Caverns.

8. Here comes the BHAG challenge. How do we re-imagine our usable and living spaces in the next 50 years, so that we can increase them by, say another 50%? Perhaps not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively. So that we can provide more economic opportunities for our industries and to continuously improve the quality of life for our people.

9. Why is this a BHAG? It is because with climate change and rising sea level, this will be no mean feat. To be able to maintain our current land area will already be a tall order. For the next 50 years, beyond building higher and digging deeper, can we reimagine the way we optimise our usable and living spaces by minimising the land sterilisation for our air-connectivity through a new generation of air traffic management system? The way we synergise our usage of land and sea spaces and even under-sea space? Perhaps one day we will have usable spaces for storage, industries, and even homes – under the sea, in the sea and above the sea respectively. The way we design and engineer our living spaces will have to be much more functional, flexible, and fungible to cater to evolving needs, so much so that there are "living spaces" that grow and evolve with our needs.

10. The second BHAG. Energy. If our challenge for the last 50 years was water supply and water sustainability, the challenge for the next 50 years will be our energy sustainability. How can we become more energy resilient, less dependent on external supply, more efficient in our usage, more diversified in our sources, and yet cleaner in our choices? If we can solve our energy puzzle, we will in turn solve our water and even food supply challenges. We will then not be so constrained in our economic choices and the type of industries that we can have, as well as the variety of jobs that we can create for our people. For example, currently the data management and even precision agriculture sectors are highly energy-intensive but they provide good jobs for our people and there will be many more such opportunities in the future. The question is, how can we have more new and exciting jobs for our people that are less energy-intensive?

11. To overcome our energy challenge and leverage it as an opportunity just like what we did with water, we will need to evolve the way we design our cities, living spaces and its supporting systems – from cooling needs to waste management. We will need to embrace new economic production methods that leverages data and Artificial Intelligence to minimise waste and maximise the speed of evolution. We will need to develop new energy production, management, distribution, and storage systems. And we will need to diversify our energy sources. The challenge for all our engineers is, how can we put our engineering capabilities to good use to create this new and exciting future?

12. The third BHAG. Connectivity. I have often said that connectivity will help us overturn the tyranny of geography and geographical limitations, plus resource limitation without a natural hinterland. Connectivity will allow us to tap the world as our hinterland and market.

13. Hence, the challenge is how can we engineer our systems to be better connected to the world, entrench ourselves in the global production and supply chains to make sure that we do not become easily displaced? To achieve this, we will need connectivity of talent, trade, data, and financial systems, beyond the traditional domains of air, land, and sea connectivity. To be a global air, sea, digital and financial node, we will need to have the capabilities to connect safely and securely; and innovate constantly. Beyond efficiencies, we must also build resilience to engender trust in our systems. This can range from pandemic management to cyber security. We have to ask ourselves, what can we produce to entrench ourselves as part of the global network and value chains? And all of these will in some way depend much on our engineering capabilities, especially the deep technologies of biosciences, advanced manufacturing, data, and digital enabled production systems.

14. For all the engineers out there, remember this. For Singapore to continue to survive and succeed in the next 50 years, to defy the odds of history for more than 100 years for our people to always have a better life than the preceding generation, our engineering capabilities will be key. Our engineers will be key. You, our future engineers, will be key.

15. Our forefathers have laid the foundation for us and given us what we have today. May we also continue to inspire and gift the next generation.

16. Once again, thank you to all our engineers. I look forward to all of us striving together to achieve our BHAGs and shaping the future for Singapore. Thank you.

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