Shift to e-vehicles spawning new jobs

21 Nov 2020

Straits Times, 21 Nov 2020, Shift to e-vehicles spawning new jobs  

Tham Kwang Sheun works in the automotive industry, but is quite unlikely to see, let alone pick up, a piston, spark plug or exhaust manifold.

Mr Tham, 45, is chief technology officer of home-grown electric motorcycle maker Scorpio Electric.

Before this, he held various positions in similar fields, including head of the Autonomous Vehicle Programme Office at the Land Transport Authority and principal analyst at the Energy Market Authority.

"This is very different from my previous jobs, even if they share some similar disciplines," he said.

Part of his work involves using big data to optimise the performance and efficiency of Scorpio's upcoming battery-powered two-wheeler, which is currently in the prototype stage.

Mr Tham points out that the "newness" of his job stems largely from the fact that Singapore does not have much of an automotive industry, and that unlike other software-driven electronic products, an electric vehicle (EV) has to have longevity and robustness.

"It's challenging but rewarding," he said of his new role.

"You feel a sense of achievement being in a Singapore automotive company which is starting everything from scratch."

Mr Tham's role is among scores emerging from the new economy.

At the ground-breaking ceremony to mark Hyundai Motor's multimillion-dollar "smart factory" in Jurong last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong listed Industrial Internet of Things engineers, data scientists, cobot (collaborative robot) technicians and digital supply chain strategists as some of the new positions awaiting future job seekers.

"These job titles did not even exist a few years ago," PM Lee said.

"But these jobs are now on the cutting edge."

To be sure, the new economy still needs traditional disciplines.

Scorpio Electric chief executive Melvin Goh said the company's assembly facility in Teban Gardens Crescent - which will make up to 6,000 e-bikes a year - has 20 staff.

"This will go up to 30 in the next 12 months," Mr Goh said, adding that hires will include software, mechanical and electrical engineers.

At Ion Mobility, a younger local electric motorbike venture, which recently secured US$3 million (S$4 million) in seed funding, the firm's headcount has trebled from five to 15 in the last six months.

Automotive engineers and designers, battery specialists, automotive electronics engineers and software developers are among staff Ion has and will be hiring.

Ion co-founder Joel Chang said: "We see the future of EV jobs here. Manufacturing an EV is easy enough, but we want to have the capability of making our own battery packs in Singapore."

Currently, only a handful of major EV manufacturers make their own batteries. Mr Chang added: "Battery production needs to be close to the manufacture of vehicles to minimise logistics costs."

Solar group Sunseap's arm Charge+, which builds EV charging networks, is also beefing up its headcount.

Its chief executive Goh Chee Kiong said: "I'm hiring electrical engineers, project managers, software product managers and business development professionals."

American EV manufacturer Tesla has also been recruiting ahead of its return to Singapore, which is likely to be next year.

Jobs advertised include country manager, store leader, vehicle operations specialist, service adviser, service technician, charging infrastructure manager and customer support specialist.

Mr Christie Fernandez, founder of Sooorya EV, an electric last-mile taxi start-up headquartered here, said: "Singapore has an opportunity to become the EV hub in Asia by being the sales headquarters for Chinese EV companies - which can create a lot of local jobs in sales, marketing, support, assembly, testing and R&D (research and development)."

While there are no EV-specific tertiary courses, Singapore University of Technology and Design interim provost Lim Seh Chun said existing disciplines provide students with a sound foundation for the new industry.

"The more critical element in preparing them for jobs in the EV industry is the opportunity to be involved in a project to design and build an EV," Professor Lim said, referring to activities ranging from on-the-job training to school projects.

"It would not be possible, within the limited timeframe of a typical undergraduate engineering programme, to equip them for a career in the EV industry."

Meanwhile, as much as the new economy will create new jobs, it could well destroy old ones.

Last November, German automotive giant Daimler announced that it was cutting at least 10,000 jobs by 2022 as it prepared to ramp up its electrification plans.

That same month, Audi said it would axe up to 9,500 jobs.

Volkswagen and automotive parts supplier Continental have said they would each shave 5,000 jobs, while Bosch aims to cut more than 2,000 positions.

Elsewhere, American carmaker Ford plans to scrap some 5,000 jobs in Germany alone.

The moves are not unexpected. EVs are made up of far fewer parts than combustion engine cars, and are less mechanically complex.

And, in the case of smart factories such as Hyundai Motor's, a high degree of automation will also mean less reliance on humans.