27 April 2006

Should NS be Counted As Working Experience?

For background, read this letter first.

The question is whether a Singaporean male's NS years should be considered as "working experience", for purposes such as applications for jobs, MBA programmes, scholarships etc.

Let's begin with an example. Major Tan is a 28-year-old SAF commando officer, a regular serviceman. When you ask him how much working experience he has had, he replies, "Ten years of working experience. I have been with the SAF for ten years."

Next we have LTA Lim, a 20-year-old SAF commando officer, an NSF who's just about to complete his full-time NS. When you ask him how much working experience he has had, LTA Lim replies, "Two years of working experience. I have been with the SAF for two years."

No one would seriously dispute the fact that Major Tan does have 10 years of working experience. However, as Gary Chong's case shows (see previous post), it is quite likely that many Singapore employers would regard LTA Lim as having zero years of working experience.

Yet the lack of logic, I would think, is apparent.

In their respective years with the SAF, LTA Lim and Major Tan probably did lots of similar things. In fact, the first two years of Major Tan's SAF career may be almost indistinguishable from LTA Lim's two years, in terms of the training they underwent.

If we regard Major Tan as having 10 years of working experience, why do we not regard LTA Lim as having two years of working experience?

Personally, I agree with Gary Chong. Those two years should be regarded as working experience.

Note, of course, that the question of whether the NS years should be treated as working experience is different from the question of the value and relevance of the NS years (if they are viewed as working experience).

The value and relevance would depend on what you actually did during your NS, and its connection to whatever it is you want to do now.

Firstly, there are the "soft skills" and "character-building" kind of arguments ("I learned to lead people during my NS", "I learned to work as part of a team during my OCS days", "My combat engineer days taught me determination and perseverance").

Apart from that, I can imagine scenarios where NSFs do pick up experience during their NS years which is directly or closely related to what they do for a living, outside the SAF.

For example, there must be NSFs who were Physical Training Instructors, who went on to be personal fitness coaches or P.E teachers. There must be NSFs who were medics, who went on to become doctors or nurses or some other kind of healthcare workers. There must be NSFs who first learnt about ships and the sea in the Navy, and then went on to jobs as civilian sailors or port operators or whatever.

Personally, Mr Wang enjoyed a rather unusual NS. A non-white horse, he nevertheless resourcefully manoeuvred himself into the Ministry of Defence's Public Affairs Division. Mr Wang's vocation was "Staff Writer" and his job was essentially to be a professional spin doctor for the SAF.

As a humble little NSF, Mr Wang earned a humble few hundred bucks each month for doing exactly the same job as a number of regular NUSAF officers who were paid thousands of dollars. However, Mr Wang will tell you with a straight, honest face that even at that young age, he did his job better than most of them did theirs.

If Mr Wang were in the media/public relations industry today, why shouldn't his NS years count as working experience? I can see no reason.

The question is theoretical, of course, since Mr Wang is not actually in the media/public relations industry today. These days, the only real value of Mr Wang's NS experience is that every day when he reads the newspapers, he can easily tell fact from fiction, and truth from illusion, and point out all the bullshit.

But that's why you come here to read my blog. Right?

"Last time I do my NS in Music & Drama Company.
Eh, very good experience, best in Singapore, you know!"


Anonymous said...

Fourth paragraph from the bottom, first line, I think you mean "non-white horse" instead of "non-white elephant"?

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Haha! Thank you, typo is corrected.

When I typed "white elephant", I might have been thinking of my ex-colleagues who were paid $2000 or $3000 plus each month to do the same job that I did for $400.

Anonymous said...

What of 80% of the population who goes through NS without learning anything useful?

What of the rifleman who charges up and down a hill a few times every month for 2 years? What does he learn?

I'll tell you what he learns. He learns how to lie, slack off, ignore his superior. He learns that corporations lie. He learns that no one cares about him. And most importantly, he learns that NOBODY in singapore cares that he wasted two years of his life defending them, cos all he gets when he walks onto the streets is stares and smirks.

Anonymous said...

How about those elite paper generals from the SAF? They spent their whole life in SAF before being parachuted into GLCs or govt ministerial posts. Can say they also no working experience. LOL

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

"He learns that corporations lie."

Now that is a very valuable piece of working experience that Singaporean men tend to acquire ahead of the ladies. :P

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

For the elite paper generals of that kind, I would say that they may have no relevant working experience, not that they have no working experience.

Still some skills may be transferable. For example, if you held a senior MINDEF position in G1, and then you transferred to a corporation to hold a senior position in Human Resource, your past experience would not necessarily be irrelevant.

You may know also that some SAF majors, captains are being shipped out to become P.E teachers in schools. From shouting at recruits, they move on to shouting at students. Thus their past experience is also relevant. :P

moomooman said...

Wang, your comments make sense. Maybe you were quite fortunate of being given a vocation that is useful, unlike mine.

For the SAF Regular that has signed on for 7 to 10 years, some of them have realised that those years in SAF counts for nothing in the outside world.

It is "experience" as in they have a job. It may not be relevant to many industries out there.

I suppose end of the day, the kind of experience you achieve in your vocation may help in the consideration by the respective universities.

Maybe when I made my previous comment in your earlier post, I was sour.

I was sour that my 2.5 years of NSF days has taught me nothing that I can be proud of. And thus I would be too ashame to even mention them to Chicago GSB as 2 years of working experience as a administrative clerk.

moomooman said...

Did I mention Administrative Clerk earlier? I mean Administrative Executive for a very important department that controls the lives of thousands of soldiers. My job natures include handling their complaints and ensure that they have peace of mind when protecting our nation. It involves Human Resources Skills, Public Relation Skills, planning skills, orgainising skills. I was sent to numerous courses and have met many people from different departments that in turn improve on my interaction with different people of different backgrounds. I really treasure these 2 years of working experience.

I think I will submit my application to Chicago GSB.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Chicago GSB will say, "If nothing else, you have strong marketing skills. We welcome you to our MBA programme."

singaporean said...

Wow, never thought about it that way, but come to think of it, I have experience working as an HR executive (I can still explain SAF leave policy, medical claims), data entry, paralegal (specialising in the SAF Act), internal audit, as well as gardening, drug user rehabilitation, toilet sanitation and general environment engineering and armed security services, furniture mover and the most valuable of all, punching bag for depressed senior officers.

In fact, given the hours I worked, from early morning till easily 3am if some drug suspect decide to give me extra work by getting spot checked for urine sample collection at midnight but have no pee, and weekend duties (if somebody kept a score, my campmates and I could be the reigning record holders), I should have been considered to have done three years worth of work.

And hey, moomooman, are you suggesting that the PM, George Yeo and Teo Chee Hean are fresh school leavers before joining the cabinet?

Anonymous said...

Actually I find it interesting how in Singapore, nobody cares that you've done National Service, but you get a very different reaction in the UK.

As a girl I wouldn't know exactly how enriching the NS experience is, but I have seen people in the UK do double takes when they learn that my male friends have experience serving in the Army, and they do seem genuinely impressed by it.

I guess as Singaporeans we know too many people who use NS as an opportunity to slack off, or who walk away from the experience without having learnt much. However, not to consider NS as working experience would be unfair to those who DO learn and grow from the experience, and I believe everyone does this to a certain extent.

Besides, allowing NS to be considered as work experience is merely the first step; it doesn't follow that each person's experience will be given the same weight. You can always seive out the slackers from the achievers from looking at their NS record as well. As a basic example, those who went to OCS would arguably have proved that they have some leadership qualities, etc.

In addition, failure to consider NS as working experience by local schools is particularly insulting as it seems to demean the service which all men in Singapore have given to their country. The fact that conscription was compulsory, and that all males have gone for it, should not be a reason to disregard his experiences.

Taking NS into consideration would just be like looking at someone's school results - most people have gone to school and taken the same exams, but everyone's results will obviously vary.

Anonymous said...

My personal experience suggests to me that NS matters more when you are applying for a Civil Service job - but not so much as a positive selling point but as a negative checklist. E.g. Civil Service HRDs normally want to see your Certificate of Service to check if you completed NSF liability. (If not, suggests very serious health or discipline problems) and if your Conduct is anything less than "Very Good" (If not, then what was the offence and punishment you were charged with?).

It will be interesting to see how employers in other countries (e.g. Israel, Taiwan, Norway etc.) with NS take conscript experience into account when hiring. I've spoken to two Israeli girls (females also must serve NS in Israel) and their anecdotal feedback was that the most important thing was to have served, thus affirming one's "in group" status.

xenoboysg said...

"every day when he reads the newspapers, he can easily tell fact from fiction, and truth from illusion, and point out all the bullshit.

But that's why you come here to read my blog. Right?"

Wrong Mr Wang, XenoBoy reads your blog because it is good. And XenoBoy may need Mr Wang for his insanity plea. heh

PanzerGrenadier said...

To Zyl:

You are right, having been an ex-civil servant, the HR policy set down by PSD is generally, male citizens joining civil service will generally get 2 increments to reflect their national service. I believe most statutory boards practice that (not sure about GLCs though.)

Also, in the computation of the 10, 15, 20 etc long service award, the 2-2.5 years of national service is counted.

I think NS in any capacity, e.g. officer, ncs, men (combat/service/music and drama/slacker) all qualify as working experience. It may be useless or useful working experience. :-)

I hated my 2.5 years in a combat unit as a signaller but am glad how it taught me how the real world works, i.e. people in leadership positions are not always capable or competent, and that you either follow the system or pretend to follow the system, and you can still get by.

It also taught me that lying in the SAF is a chargeable offence, yet virtually everyone lies to get out of trouble at one time or another.

I guess each person's mileage in NS will vary depending on what he did. For me, it helped me to understand a bit more about my strengths and weaknesses and to always appreciate mum's cooking under ALL circumstances. :-)))

hugewhaleshark said...

Technically it is work, and it is experience, so nothing to argue there.

But I agree that the value of NS does depend on the eyes of the observer. Perhaps the Chicago GSB admissions officer was an unbiased foreigner, who evaluated the candidate's NS experience based on what he had achieved. While the NUS one might have been a local who just assumed that the guy lobo-ed his 2+ years away.

Or maybe he really didn't achieve much, but managed to pull a fast one on Chicago, but NUS was not so easily taken in. It's hard to tell.

singaporean said...



You are in the constituency of MARINE PARADE which is not contested. You do not have to vote at this election."

Since when I am in Marine Parade GRC? I have changed GRC practically every election, from Aljunied to East Coast to Marine Parade. I can walk to the East Coast Town Council, now I pay 5 bucks cab fare also dunno can reach Marine Parade Town Council or not.

What's the point of being in the ex-PM's constituency? Not to mention he is the one PAP MP I hate hate hate the most. All the other faces are so unfamiliar. Why WP chose to attack AMK but not Marine Parade? I was hoping to shake hands with Glenda Han!!!!!

This is so unfair!!! I am going to die a virgin (voter) !!!!!


moomooman said...

Hey "Singaporean",

Don't anyhow say leh. They can easily interpret what you say to mean that I felt they lack credential when they enter politics as 'fresh school leavers".

I dun want to receive letters from Davinder Singh. Apology very expensive, somemore you mention 3 names. That means 6 apologies in ST and Zhaobao.

To PM, George Yeo and Teo Chee Hean,

I'm not a member of Wang's Fan Club. Views stated in this blog do not represent my views. I did not participate in any sale of any publications published by Wang. My name is not in the publication permit for this blog or any publication meant for sale. I'm a poor man. I'm only a part-time film maker.

darrnot said...

There should not be a blanket ban on the classification of NS as working experience.

On the other hand, mandating employers/institutions to count NS as working experience is too inflexible.

Each applicant should be evaluated on the merits of his NS experience and exceptions be allowed on a case-by-case basis.

Wayne said...

I think the worst thing in media today is that the journalist still call Lee Hsien Loong "PM" and all the PAP candidates by their "minsterial name".

For goodness sake, PAP is not returned to power! Stop calling them by their offical name. No one has formed the government yet.

If opposition wins all seats, LHL will be the "ex-PM"

Anonymous said...

ya, wayne, and you think this will happen in this election ... hahaha ... but i agree with u. why call them by their titles in the first place!

Anonymous said...

I think NS should be counted as working experience.

Every job experience consists of something more than just the nature of the job itself. So even though a person had completely irrelevant job experience in the past, he may find himself being able to tap into acquired skills & experiences even in a new industry. As Mr. Wang has said, there is the character building experience where a person gains leadership and pr skills, etc. This aspect is very important because it contributes to your working attitude and a good attitude gets you far in life. NS tends to toughen up young men and give them a headstart at working and communicating with people.

So there is some relevance there. Also I think that when employers or scholarship sponsors ask for working experience, they should not just look for relevance, but also their quality of work/performance. It's be good if they could be some sort of indication like a letter of recommendation or something. A person might be given a very menial task/position in the army, but if he performed that well and with pride and etc, it should be taken as a marker of his ability and potential for greater endeavors.

Everyone takes a different experience from NS even though the experience is mostly common to all. It also depends on your ability and interest to learn. So there.


Ovidiu said...


Great post.


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