Foreigners still needed in clean energy manual roles

27 Nov 2020
EVEN with a change in the energy sector’s skill needs and job scopes, the reliance on foreign workers to fill low­ wage, manual roles is unlikely to change in the near term. Charles Quek, president of the Association of Process Industry (Aspri), told The Business Times the use of such foreign labour will likely stay high. Among Aspri’s 543 member companies, Mr Quek estimates 15 per cent of workers are S Pass holders and 50 to 60 per cent are work permit holders.

The “hands-on” type of work they do is unlikely to appeal to locals and they command relatively low salaries of S$800 to S$l,000 a month, he said. Work in the process sector in eludes the construction and maintenance of specialised equipment and machinery for petrochemical, pharmaceutical and other plants.

To be sure, two lawyers from King & Wood Mallesons, which has an infrastructure focus, suggested energy jobs in Singapore will move away from manufacturing and production. “There may be less demand for lower paid foreign workers, and relatively more demand for these more highly skilled (and probably higher paid) workers,” said Michael Lawson and David Phua, who expect more services roles to come on board.

‘There’s going to be a need for the foreseeable future to have the capability to undertake manual tasks” despite a pivot to renewables, said Greg Murray, Engie Asia-Pacific’s chief human resources, communications and corporate social responsibility officer. Two-thirds of the energy company’s Singapore headcount is field based, with Mr Murray noting that many blue-collar positions are filled by work permit and S Pass holders.

With locals offering skill sets “at the higher end on the value chain”, such as in engineering and finance, he expects a reliance on foreign manpower for lower paid, manual tasks to continue “certainly for the medium term, probably five to 10 years”.