DPM Teo Chee Hean at the 36th Conference of the ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations (CAFEO)

SM Teo Chee Hean | 13 November 2018

Speech by DPM and Coordinating Minister for National Security, Teo Chee Hean, at the 36th Conference of the ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations (CAFEO) on 13 November 2018 at Resorts World Sentosa.


“Building a Connected, Sustainable and Innovative Future for ASEAN”

Professor Yeoh Lean Weng, Chairman of the ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations; and President of The Institution of Engineers, Singapore,

AFEO Heads of Delegation,

Distinguished Guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Fellow engineers,

A very warm welcome to all of you to Singapore for the 36th Conference of the ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations, CAFEO. I am happy to be here with so many fellow engineers from ASEAN.     

ASEAN just turned 50 last year. Singapore is honoured to be this year’s ASEAN Chair. In fact, I asked the President and the organising committee whether you had selected this particular week out of coincidence or deliberately, because we have all the ASEAN Leaders in town this week. We are also pleased to host the 36th CAFEO. CAFEO has been an important platform for ASEAN’s engineering community to meet regularly, exchange best practices, and explore new engineering solutions to drive ASEAN’s continued economic growth, in line with our focus this year in ASEAN on Resilience and Innovation.

CAFEO’s themes this year of “Engineering Rail Connectivity” and “Fostering Excellence in Engineering Education” are of particular relevance. ASEAN is a dynamic region with a young population. There is a need to enhance physical connectivity between our cities and countries to meet the demands of a growing urban population and to support the growth that we all want to see. According to the Asian Development Bank, ASEAN will need investments of about US$210 billion per year until 2030 to meet our needs for modern infrastructure. To achieve this, ASEAN is currently implementing the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025. We have also welcomed all our Dialogue Partners to support our Master Plan.

ASEAN needs more engineers to help us with this transformation. However, ASEAN countries are not producing enough graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM. According to a 2016 study by the International Labour Organisation, or ILO, the largest proportion of tertiary students in ASEAN were studying business, commerce or finance,29.5%.  In contrast, only 28% of male students and 17% of female students were pursuing STEM subjects. The same ILO study showed that a large proportion of our STEM graduates chose to enter administrative jobs, rather than engineering or technology related jobs . So not only are we not producing enough STEM graduates, we are also losing trained engineers to other sectors. 

The ASEAN Federation of Engineering Organisations and your member organisations therefore have a crucial role to play in raising the stature of the engineering profession and attracting more young people to join your ranks. Conferences like CAFEO have an important role to help increase the profile of the engineering sector, showcase its importance to the development and dynamism of our region, and show our young people that engineering is exciting, it is fun, and you can change the world and your living environment and bring a better life to your fellow citizens. 

Role of the Engineering Profession

Our engineering professionals need to focus on three key areas to take ASEAN forward, namely: Connectivity, Sustainability and Innovation.

First, Connectivity for a more Integrated ASEAN. The Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity 2025 has set out a common vision to achieve a seamless, connected and integrated ASEAN. However, it is not so easy to bring together the different standards and systems in our ten countries. In the short term, rail owners and operators will find it easier and more cost-efficient to optimise their individual rail networks in isolation. However, this also entrenches, in the long term, the challenges of inter-operability between different networks, and between different modes of transportation such as rail and sea links. This will in turn affect the extent to which all of ASEAN can be truly connected and integrated.

So engineers have an important role to play to help us to overcome these challenges. Through platforms like CAFEO, you can exchange information and develop a better understanding of one another’s systems, how to interface, and develop these interfaces and other solutions to enhance the compatibility between different networks. By helping to address and resolve these issues, you help facilitate a more seamless flow of people and goods within ASEAN, and improve the profitability of all players in the long term. I am happy that the Institution of Engineers, Singapore and the SMRT Corporation are co-organising the Singapore Rail Technology Conference in conjunction with CAFEO 36 this year. This conference allows rail owners, rail operators and engineers to discuss case studies, exchange best practices, and develop practical solutions to engineer greater rail connectivity within ASEAN.

Second, Sustainability. We need to work together to make sustainability an integral part of all that we engineer and build, to help ASEAN achieve resilient and lasting development. In Singapore, we have an inter-ministerial committee on climate change, which I chair, in which we try and bring together all the different aspects that go into mitigating and adapting to climate change, as well as changing the mind-sets of the citizens so that we are able to address these challenges in a timely manner. ASEAN is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to climate change. Many of ASEAN’s largest cities are located in low-lying areas with long coastlines. Many are facing sinking land levels, and are vulnerable to severe weather conditions such as floods, typhoons, and even tsunamis. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, temperatures in Southeast Asia could rise by at least 3 degrees Celsius by the year 2100 , if mitigation measures are not undertaken to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. The economic losses from climate change could lower GDP across ASEAN by 11% by 2100 .

Given the long gestation period of infrastructure projects, design decisions taken today have long-term implications. This is why it is important for ASEAN to build infrastructure that is resource-efficient, and that can withstand the impact of climate change - reducing power consumption and carbon emissions, tapping on renewable energy sources, and factoring in possible rises in sea-level and more frequent extreme weather events. So, as we are building Terminal 5 in Singapore and expanding Changi Airport, we are also making sure that the levels at which runways, buildings and terminals are built will be able to withstand sea-level rises and the effects of climate change for the rest of the century. Commitment to sustainability and resilience will put ASEAN in a good position to harness emerging green growth opportunities. Taking a long-term perspective and future-proofing our infrastructure also helps to reduce potential risks for our countries and for individual businesses.

Third, Innovation. Our engineers have always played a key role in driving innovation and helping ASEAN to seize new growth opportunities. Over our past 50 years, engineering has been a driver of economic growth and innovation. Your contributions can be seen everywhere, from infrastructure projects such as power stations and grids, water management, ports, airports and highways, to our manufacturing industries, commercial products and commercial buildings. With rapid technological advances, we will see new waves of change in Industry 4.0 and the digital revolution. Your contributions will be more important than ever. We need our ASEAN engineers to continue to adopt a mind-set of innovation to help us create new growth opportunities. So it is not just integration in rail and ports but also integration in financial payment systems and digital identity. These are all engineering problems to be resolved.   

To do so, we will need more well-trained and creative engineers. Apart from the need for ASEAN countries to attract more students to pursue STEM studies, we also need our engineers to embrace lifelong learning and continuously upgrade our skills. 

The ASEAN Engineering Deans Summit, which the Institution of Engineers, Singapore is co-organising with the Singapore University of Technology and Design in conjunction with this year’s CAFEO, will allow ASEAN universities and training institutions to discuss how to equip our engineers with the skills needed to meet the rapidly changing needs of the global marketplace and drive our next phase of growth. It is not just learning skills within the disciplines which we grew up with, but also understanding adjacent disciplines and disciplines across many different areas in order to design good engineering solutions. There is a good reason why an airport passenger terminal looks different from a cargo complex. It is not because of engineering; it is because of social sciences, understanding what people are like and how people behave, as people are distinct from boxes of cargo or pieces of baggage. That makes the difference between a good cargo complex and a good passenger terminal. 


Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Fellow engineers,

Our engineers in ASEAN will play a crucial role in shaping our collective future, by creating a more integrated region, building a sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and maintaining our region’s competitiveness through technology and innovation. 

Dream big and be bold! Rise up to the challenge and create new engineering solutions to build a better ASEAN for all of us.

It is now my pleasure to declare CAFEO 36 open. Thank you very much.