ON AVERAGE, it takes eight to 12 days to build one storey of a residential high-rise in Singapore. This process takes half the time in Hong Kong and about eight days in mainland China.

National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan shared this information on his blog yesterday, saying that local construction productivity could be improved by using more advanced building methods and raising the skill level of construction workers.

He noted that 'star performer' Hong Kong does not allow foreign construction workers but uses its own pool of skilled locals for such jobs. As a result, he said, the construction cost is about five times higher than in Singapore.

He added: 'With such high labour costs, developers must find ways to standardise the construction work as much as possible, to save on the costs.'

Moving on to China, he said construction productivity is 'not that high' there, but it has ample resources that can be mobilised quickly, often around the clock. He highlighted a project in Changsha, in Hunan province, where a 30-storey hotel was completed in just 15 days.

Representatives of the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will be visiting Changsha at the end of this month to glean some pointers, Mr Khaw said.

Last year, the Government introduced the Constructability Score system to push contractors to innovate and ramp up their productivity. Under this system, all building projects larger than 5,000 sq m in gross floor area have to meet a minimum score set by the BCA.

Points can be earned by employing labour-saving devices and methods such as climbing scaffolds and using dry walls instead of laying brick ones.

Mr Khaw noted yesterday that contractors can tap the $250 million Construction Productivity and Capability Fund, which was launched in June 2010 to help companies adopt productive systems and machinery.

According to the BCA, as of last month, about $32 million had been allocated to help companies adopt new technologies, and $5 million for workforce development and capability building.

About 1,600 companies have benefited from the scheme to date.

One such beneficiary is SH Design & Build, which developed a completely new installation process that allows it to put up panels at a height of 16m without the need to set up scaffolds, thus doing away with this labour-intensive process.

The company was able to complete the construction of a terraced factory well ahead of schedule, and it saw a 400 per cent improvement in productivity.

The company's chairman, Mr Tan Yeow Khoon, said: 'We were thrilled that the BCA recognised our efforts and approved the grant for this project. We will definitely look into other methods to improve productivity and efficiency.'

On his blog, Mr Khaw said that Singapore should not rely so much on less-skilled foreign workers, and that the BCA is grooming a pool of experienced workers and productivity managers to improve work processes at construction sites.

The minister noted on his blog last month that 70 per cent of Housing Board building components, such as walls, floors, doors and toilets, are now fabricated off-site and then transported to the construction site for assembly.

This procedure reduces the labour and time needed to complete the work at the construction sites.