"Despite the pandemic, we have continued to advocate the importance of skills upgrading and managed to pivot onto e-learning. We are very encouraged by members’ response and participation."
Could you give us a brief understanding of how has the pandemic impacted the industry?
The Coronavirus outbreak in Singapore had a devastating effect on the Process industry. As infections spread rapidly across the foreign workers (FWs) community living in dormitories, an order went out in April to stop work. The number of Process workers on Jurong Island was significantly reduced along with decreased manning levels that minimally allow for safe operation of chemical plants. Both large CAPEX and smaller scheduled projects had to be stopped with immediate effect, which naturally led to a downturn in the industry.
How has ASPRI supported its over-500 members during this period?
ASPRI continues to be an active nexus for members to receive industry specific advisories, and more importantly, as a helpdesk for members to quickly seek clarification on newly enacted measures and for government agencies to interface.
During the circuit breaker, our training division, ASPRI-Institute of Process Industry (ASPRI-IPI) had to cease classroom-based trainings and in May 2020, ASPRI-IPI launched a series of free e-learning modules to allow workers to refresh safety knowledge and refine their craftsmanship, all from their own homes.
What have been the most prominent milestones that ASPRI has achieved in the last two years?
We are proud to share that since 2017, we are close to having conducted one million hours of trainings within our Training Centre. Despite the pandemic, we have continued to advocate the importance of skills upgrading and managed to pivot onto e-learning. ASPRI-IPI will continue to enhance our digital offerings to promote wider adoption of e-learning modules for the Process industry.
How do you think the pandemic is influencing the digitalization process in Singapore?
This year, digitalization has been thrown into the spotlight and it has embarked on an upward trend. Companies have moved fast to keep up with their peers in embracing digital solutions not previously considered. Because employers were no longer able to distribute salaries as cash or checks, more companies jumped on the bandwagon of digital payments. The fact that e-payments are becoming commonplace marks a fundamental shift and an upward move in the value chain. At the workers’ level, the penetration of smartphones and higher internet data have massively improved in the past year in response to new needs. Every migrant worker in Singapore now has a 4G enabled smartphone; the broader effect is that the entire workforce is now connected over a common platform.
At the industry level, ASPRI has worked with Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) on an Industry Digital Plan (IDP) for the Process sector. When completed in 2021, the IDP will provide Process sector companies of various sizes with an easy-to-use, step-by-step guide to the digital solutions to adopt at each stage of growth and help identify opportunities to boost growth and productivity.
Is the demand for workers being met in Singapore, considering existing quotas on foreign workers and recent lockdowns?
Post lockdown, there has been a strong demand for foreign workers, however, due to existing border restrictions the flow of foreign workers into Singapore is impeded. In a bid to mitigate these effects, ASPRI has embarked on a Change of Employer initiative with the Ministry of Manpower to help connect displaced workers with new employers, without having to leave Singapore.
What is your view on how the industry may be performing on its path to recovery in the next 12-24 months?
At the macro level, the pandemic had severely impacted refining due to slashed fuel demand. The ensuing supply chain disruptions have hit petrochemicals production, plant maintenance and planning, resulting in cut running rates or idle plants to adjust to lower consumption and adapt to new demand profiles. The local Process industry will experience a challenging period ahead. However, these challenges come with the opportunity to reconfigure work, by evaluating demand trends and optimizing operations. Overall, I believe the current downturn will continue to cast its shadow for another two-three years.
Do you have any final words to share with your stakeholders?
My advice to the industry is to look back at the lessons learned in this period: industry’s over-reliance on foreign workers and sub-par productivity levels, with a view change the way we work and emerge stronger from this pandemic.