As rail technology continues to evolve and improve, our rail engineers have to keep up. Every new line and every new train must be better than their predecessors. This way, we keep our train systems and fleet up-to-date, more reliable, easier to maintain, safer and more cost-effective to operate.
This means that our rail engineers must continue to learn and re-learn. It requires a close relationship and partnership among LTA, SBST, SMRT and our Institutes of Higher Learning, from our ITEs through to the polytechnics and universities. Teachers and students will benefit from actual industry experience, and the industry will benefit from well-taught graduates. It is a virtuous cycle that we must continually strengthen.
LTA and our operators have been driving efforts on this front, including in course design, internship opportunities, and sponsorships:
- Two years back, they worked with the Singapore Institute of Technology to develop an undergraduate programme in Sustainable Infrastructure Engineering focusing on rail engineering. The first cohort of about 50 students is now in Year 2 and they will soon be going for an intensive work attachment of up to a year at SBST, SMRT or LTA.
- Earlier this year, Singapore Poly launched a new part-time diploma programme in Engineering (Rapid Transit Technology). Republic Poly also launched an Engineering Systems and Management diploma with an Urban Transport specialisation option.
- ITE has just launched the Higher NITEC in Rapid Transit Engineering this April. These students, along with other NITEC/higher NITEC engineering graduates, can further deepen their skills through the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn programme, which will be launched by Singapore Poly and WDA next year.
Separately, SMRT engineers have been engaging researchers from A*STAR, NUS, NTU and SUTD on R&D in asset condition monitoring and transportation system planning. Over the past two years, they have also tested their ideas with a technical advisory panel comprising local and international rail experts.
In brief, the industry needs engineers trained in broader engineering disciplines, whom we can then further train to apply their knowledge to specialised domains. We will work with NUS/NTU so that their final year engineering modules include rail engineering. This will allow us to tap on a broader pool of engineering talent across all faculties.
We have made a good start. I intend to expand these programmes (both pre-employment and continuing education) rapidly. We need a step-jump in training capacity for the rail sector if we are to have enough skilled engineers and technicians.
We should also find a way to eventually amalgamate these training programmes and offer even more dedicated training for the sector. We floated the idea of a “National Rail Academy” with the Public Transport Tripartite Committee, and the Committee was very supportive.
The Academy will signal the Government’s concerted and determined approach to build up and deepen rail capabilities. This will help brand the industry, assure those who enter the academy of a job after initial training, achieve economies of scale in trainers/training facilities, and allow us to implement apprentice schemes and hence start recruitment early, well before new lines come along.
*Photos courtesy of SBST and SMRT
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