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Engineers have 'role in community building'
Michelle Tay
Mon, May 26, 2008
The Straits Times
AS THE eldest daughter in a family of six children growing up on a rubber plantation in Malacca, Lee Bee Wah quickly grew used to being the handyman around the house.

When a light bulb blew, she would be the one to replace it; if one of her five brothers needed his bicycle fixed, she would be the one to pull out the spanner.

When her family asked her to build them a modern toilet - loos then were holes in the ground - she delivered in grand fashion.

After earning an engineering degree from Nanyang Technological University in 1985 and landing a well-paid job, she bought them a new house.

'It came with all the modern facilities they could need,' she recalled with a laugh.

Now, Ms Lee - an MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC and the principal partner of engineering company LBW Consultants, a firm she founded in 1996 that she said earns $1 million to $2 million a year 'in fee income' - faces a greater challenge.

The civil engineer has just been elected president of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore (IES) - the first woman to hold the post - and she is determined to advance the profession over her two-year tenure.

One way she plans to do this is to elevate the image of the profession; the other is to expand the role of the IES itself.

Ms Lee, who has a 16-year-old daughter and a 14-year-old son, sees engineers as 'natural problem-solvers' and hopes they will be involved in society and community building.

'I'd like engineers to build senior citizens' centres. We can start off with an activities hub or help organise a mass walk to benefit the less fortunate. I want to bring engineering to the community,' she said.

She also wants to tackle the tricky question of image, particularly the perception that engineers are not well-paid.

This issue surfaced last year when the Government published the benchmark to which civil service pay would be pegged. The median salaries of the top eight earners for six professions used to compute the benchmark indicated that engineers lagged far behind other professions in earnings.

'But if I were to take a list of the top 50 chief executives in Singapore, the last count I did showed a third of them were engineers by training,' said Ms Lee, citing two examples - Venture Corp's Mr Wong Ngit Liong and CapitaLand's Mr Liew Mun Leong.

Ms Lee said an engineer's starting pay is about $2,400 on average, but it is 'quite a natural progression for engineers to move out of engineering jobs'.

She estimates that there are more than 50,000 practising engineers in Singapore, 20 per cent of whom are women.

'Many of us are being headhunted to banks and multinational corporations. Engineers look at every problem as a challenge, and we know how to dissect each one and come up with a solution,' she said.

She hopes top students will make engineering their top choice at university, instead of medicine or business - the fields du jour in recent years.

'I feel that for Singapore to take the next leap, we need to have a core group of very good engineers, because technology will play a very important part in the next phase of our development,' she said.

That mission involves the second part of her plans - expanding the role of the IES.

She wants to set up overseas chapters, starting with China, India and Dubai, to give Singapore engineers working abroad a support network.

She also wants the 42-year-old IES to move beyond its role of promoting fellowship among its 4,000 members to becoming more of a regulator for the profession.

IES is already proposing to conduct continuing education or refresher courses for resident engineers registered with the Building and Construction Authority.

'The idea is that, every year, they come back and refresh (their knowledge) to conduct their work more professionally,' said Ms Lee.

She also wants IES to play a leading role in accrediting engineering degrees at universities in Singapore and Asean, especially for system engineers.

She added: 'I'd like engineers to be proud of being engineers - and when people think of engineers, to think of IES.'

michtay@sph.com.sg


PLAYING GREATER ROLE IN THE COMMUNITY

'I'd like engineers to build senior citizens' centres. We can start off with an activities hub or help organise a mass walk to benefit the less fortunate. I want to bring engineering to the community.'
ANG MO KIO GRC MP LEE BEE WAH, who is also the new president of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore, on how engineers can get involved in society and community building

EARNING TOP-NOTCH SALARIES

'If I were to take a list of the top 50 chief executives in Singapore, the last count I did showed a third of them were engineers by training.'
MS LEE, correcting the misconception that engineers are not well-paid
 

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