The Land Transport Authority (LTA) has adopted a new policy to encourage contractors to rely more on skilled workers to increase productivity and as a way to address the labour crunch.
In tenders for new projects, the LTA specifies that only highly-skilled workers be employed for reinforced concrete work.
The Straits Times understands a "skilled" worker will not only be faster than his "low-skilled" colleagues, he is also likely to deliver higher quality.
The LTA has started with two contracts for the new Thomson-East Coast MRT line - for the Marina South and Gardens by the Bay stations - and this will be the practice for all major rail contracts in the future.
An LTA spokesman said the move was "part of the national effort to raise construction productivity and to reduce dependency on low-skilled foreign workers".
She added: "At the same time, we aim to get industry support to raise the quality and skill level of the workforce by encouraging more workers to upgrade their skills through re-training.
"In the longer term, the improvement in the skill level of workers should translate into higher productivity, better pay and thus improve the cost efficiency of projects."
According to Manpower Ministry data, about 1.35 million or 38 per cent of Singapore's 3.6 million-strong workforce are foreigners. They include domestic and construction workers and others holding various work passes.
The LTA spokesman said it was too early to ascertain how the move will affect cost.
"Together with the contractors, we will have to look at how this influences productivity levels," she said. "It will be premature for us to make comments," she added.
Contractors also said it was too early to see the effects of the move.
Sinohydro Corp, which is building the Marina South station with Sembcorp Design and Construction, said it is still in the process of hiring skilled workers.
Mr Joshua Ong, vice-president of engineering consultancy Jurong Consultants, said the LTA's move is a necessary one, but added that builders should also consider other methods to raise productivity.
"We have to. We cannot be too reliant on manpower, particularly for super structures" he said, adding that construction companies can turn to pre-cast portions to maintain quality and speed.
Mr Ong said it should not be too difficult to find skilled workers but overall it was difficult to find locals for the job.
"Never mind workers, but even engineers," he said.
"We have to try to raise the status of engineering, then maybe we can change the culture," he said. "Whenever I receive CVs from local engineers, I'm always so delighted."
This article was first published on March 30, 2015.
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