Cultural shift in way people are valued ‘long overdue

SINGAPORE: The Prime Minister’s call for a cultural change in the way Singapore values its people has been backed by several Members of Parliament and observers.

Describing such a shift as long overdue, they were unanimous in asking the Public Service to take the lead, saying it has much room for improvement in this area.

During his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 17), Mr Lee Hsien Loong said a cultural shift is needed to ensure Singapore remains a place where everyone can feel proud of what they do and is respected for their contributions and character. The Public Service will do its part, he added, such as by placing greater weight on job performance and relevant skills instead of just starting qualifications. The Public Service Division said on Monday that it will provide more information soon.


MPs and observers made several suggestions: For example, an apprenticeship scheme could be set up in the Public Service for talented non-graduates. There could also be a deliberate effort to recruit more polytechnic graduates. Institute of Technical Education scholarships or bursaries could also be offered to students interested in pursuing blue-collar jobs in the Public Service.

Tampines GRC MP Irene Ng said non-graduates could be put through a period of structured training under the apprenticeship scheme. If they prove themselves on the job, they should be fast-tracked into graduate-career jobs, she proposed.

Suggesting that the Public Service does more to hire non-graduates, Mr David Ang, director of capability and business development for Human Capital Singapore, nevertheless acknowledged that there might not be many takers for ITE scholarships or bursaries as few Singaporeans are attracted to blue-collar jobs.

During the rally, Mr Lee noted that the Public Service already offers fulfilling careers to non-graduates. For example, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) recognises leadership and abilities, and not just academic qualifications. Still, the Public Service can and will do more, he said.

Indeed, the MPs and observers cited numerous HR practices that the Public Service should re-examine: Different pay scales pegged according to a public servant’s academic qualifications, the use of Current Estimated Potential to determine how high an employee can rise, and a preference for scholars, among other things.


Joo Chiat MP Charles Chong, a diploma holder who rose through the ranks in the private sector, said that with more Singaporeans getting a tertiary education, a mindset change “should have taken place a long time ago”.

Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Inderjit Singh said the Public Service’s emphasis on academic results is deeply entrenched. He cited the example of the uniformed services, pointing out that he had seen many good commanders who were replaced by returning scholars. “I’ve seen scholars who are poor ground commanders and yet they get promoted,” he said.

Writing on Facebook, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the SAF has “many examples of commanders without degrees or even diplomas who rose up the ranks because of the value they bring”. He cited Second Warrant Officer Bobby Lin, 43, who joined the Army 25 years ago with three O-Level passes.

He is currently the Command and Control Intel System Warrant Officer at Headquarters, Army Intelligence. 2WO Lin recently obtained a Diploma in Business and Management Studies. “But it was not paper qualifications that enabled Bobby to do his job well or gain respect, but his skills, attitude and positive values,” said Mr Ng.

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