This could be the next industry to make it big!

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Photo: The Straits Times

Nicholas Lee
NTUC
31 October 2016

You would have seen or experienced for yourself by now the slowing down of most industries as a result of the softening economy.

With the slowing down of most industries as a result of the softening economy, are there still opportunities or openings to transit into a new industry? Is there an industry out there that is up-and-coming?

You would be happy to know that there are such industries and one of them has to do with saving the earth!

Singapore aims to be a centre of excellence for sustainable energy, and according to an industry expert, it is pulling out all the stops to grow a pool of professionals to work in the industry.

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Vincent Low

Vincent Low has been in the sustainable energy industry for the past 15 years. He owns an energy services company (ESCO), G-Energy Global Pte Ltd, and sits on the executive committee of the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS) as its honorary treasurer and is the Chairman for the Energy Efficiency Committee. His effort and passion in wanting to make the world a better and greener place did not go unnoticed. In 2014, Low was one of 12 individuals recognised for their consistent contribution and outstanding achievements in driving sustainability in the built environment. He was awarded Green Advocate of the Year in the BCA-SGBC Green Building Individual Awards.

I’ve long heard about how this sector is growing very quickly and how there are plenty of jobs available, so I decided to spend an afternoon with Low to learn more about where and what these jobs are. I had absolutely no expectations whatsoever; in fact, I even thought it might be a tad boring. How exciting can sustainable energy be, right?

Wait, do you even know what it is? I had to look it up before the interview. Wikipedia describes sustainable energy as energy that is consumed at insignificant rates compared to its supply and with manageable collateral effects, particularly environmental effects. Say what?

OK, there is a simpler way to digest this. Basically, sustainable energy is an energy system that serves the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. There, easier? I think so.

Singapore’s efforts more forward-looking than other countries

According to Low, Singapore’s efforts towards building a more sustainable environment are much more forward-looking than many other countries.

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In fact, Singapore is ranked 2nd, behind Paris, among the top 10 global cities for green buildings.

What you might be interested to know is that the industry is set to grow further from now till 2030.

This means that the industry is in need of workers, specifically PMETs (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians)!

Based on the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint, Singapore aims to work towards a sustainable environment through the reduction of energy and water consumption and of waste output.

“10 years ago, no one actually bothered about green buildings and sustainability. But now, it is quite a big thing that the Government is pushing for,” says Low.

The authorities have mandated that 80% of Singapore’s buildings have to be green-certified by 2030.

Today the numbers stand at only 31% of Singapore’s built area.

To achieve this target, the industry needs many, many more workers, shares Low.

To achieve the 2030 target, Singapore needs about 6,000 facilities management professionals.

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Source: Building and Construction Authority

And get this. As a measure of how serious the Government is in developing this sector, it invested a jaw-dropping $700 million in 2007 to develop five key pillars: R&D, developing manpower, grooming Singapore-based enterprises, branding our industry internationally, and growing a vibrant industry ecosystem.

The industry is still in its infancy stage and is poised for more growth. Yet, surprisingly, Singapore’s standards for sustainability are more advanced than Western countries and those in the Asia Pacific. “When it comes to enforcement, Singapore is stricter,” shares Low.

Today there are 17 ESCOs in Singapore hiring a total of 26 qualified Singapore Certified Energy Managers, who are professionals equipped and qualified to do energy audits, retrofitting services, consultation, etc.

ESCOs and energy managers must be accredited by the National Environment Agency and the Building and Construction Authority.

Most ESCOs provide energy consumption audit services where the consumption of energy in a building is audited. Recommendations based on the results of the audit would be presented to building owners for them to determine the areas where energy can be reduced for long-term savings by the owner.

Have a guess at the main culprit of high expenditure for building owners?

Air-conditioners.

Low says the cost savings when certain measures are put in place for a building can be in the millions.

A well-known shopping centre in the central region of Singapore has saved $1.2 million a year since taking on the energy reduction advice of Low’s company.

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Capita Green. Photo: CapitaLand

So Low quips that he is in the business of helping his clients save money while helping to save the earth. And when the economy slows down, like what we’re seeing now, “all the more companies would want to save on such costs,” says Low.

But is this a growing sector where prospective employees can earn a reasonable salary?

Low thinks so. Sharing the hiring process of his company, Low says that he doesn’t just look at qualifications before he hires someone. In fact, he looks for the passion in helping to build a sustainable environment and a service-oriented mindset in interviewees before he hires someone.

That said, he would still give priority to candidates with engineering and architectural backgrounds when hiring energy auditors for his company.

The basic starting pay for a graduate in this industry is typically between $2,800 and $3,200.

So what’s the joy of working in this industry?

Low says it’s when you see that clients notice the eventual cost savings after implementing the recommended measures on their energy consumption. He shares that there is much satisfaction at the turning point when clients see that it’s not just about toeing the line with the regulations, and realise that the measures make them more cost-efficient and contribute to a cleaner environment.

To better reach out to and help workers who potentially want to join this expanding sector, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has partnered SEAS under the U Associate programme for the sharing of ideas, skill sets and knowledge.

“As a platform, NTUC has allowed us to tap on its network to reach out to working people who are passionate about conserving our resources and providing a good environment for future generations. We will then be the conduit to link them up to training opportunities,” said Low.

Interested in the industry and want to find out more? SEAS and the NTUC will be jointly launching courses in 2017 to help more people understand the importance and implication of environmental sustainability on businesses.

If saving the earth and helping to conserve natural resources for future generations is your passion, why not try your hand at joining the sustainable industry? Who knows, you might be the bright spark to help save the earth.

The writer works with the Labour movement to amplify its messages through articles and is passionate about work-life balance.