Speech by Ms Low Yen Ling, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Trade and Industry, at the 7th Annual Nanyang Business School (NBS) Career Day on 24 February 2016.

Published Date: 24 February 2016 12:00 AM

News Speeches


1. I know this place really well and when Dr Kumar invited me for this event, I couldn’t say no and I must come. Why? There are many reasons and I think he has mentioned one of them. I am from NBS, NTU where I had many memorable years because NTU is the place where I met my husband, of course my former boyfriend. So that is the first reason. The second reason is NTU sits very nicely in South West District, where I am the Mayor. I can consider the third to be also the fourth reason. I am in MOE, and in MOE we are very supportive of all the efforts by NTU and NBS. I am also in MTI, where we work with companies and really want to make sure that companies are well placed to provide good employment opportunities for our graduates. So I am really very happy to be back here again.

2. A very good morning to Dean of NBS Prof K Ravi Kumar, faculty and also staff members of NBS, employer representatives and our student ambassadors. Now, can I have a show of hands how many of you here are students because all of you look so professional. I really have to poll you guys. Do not be shy, it cannot be so few. Come on, keep your hands there. Students, whether in your graduating year or non-graduating year, I am going to poll so everyone has to put up your hand at least once. How many of you are representatives from the employers? So graduating students, you know why I am doing this? You know who to zero in on. And of course, the faculty would be over here.

3. I am very pleased, in fact, thank you so much for inviting me. I am very pleased to be back at my alma mater today to officiate NBS’ annual effort, and as I learned earlier, this is the biggest by far, the 7th year, to provide the platform for students and employers to meet. It is a bit like speed dating for both.

IHL education and career fairs as first step in careers

4. I am heartened by NBS’ support for our national Education and Career Guidance drive. I think you would know that a few months ago, we have started to put in place what we call the ECG counsellors. For those of you who know the usual ECG, it is not that ECG. This is “Education and Career Guidance”. Thank you so much for supporting our national Education and Career Guidance drive, which really aims to enhance our students’ work readiness.

5. I understand that there are more than 800 internships and also, more than 350 full-time positions up on offer from almost 50 premier employers across a variety of sectors at the fair today. How about we put our hands together to thank the employers for coming on board? I also understand that this is strictly by invitation and when the other employers found out about this platform, many of them were really jostling to come in. I am very happy to hear that because I learnt that especially in the last decade, NBS has become a very premium brand name.

6. So for the graduating students, today’s fair is but a first step in your journey towards a very fulfilling career. Beyond today’s fair, I think it is important for us who have graduated – for me, a long time ago, and especially for you to actively take charge of your own career. Maybe you do not think of it as a career, but as a journey. I think that is how our millennial generation thinks of it. And very likely, it is going to span at least 30 years, 40 or even longer. Gone are the days where retirement is all we talk about. I think all of us want to stay actively engaged. Maybe in our 60s and 70s, engaged not in full time work but certainly in something that is very purposeful, whether it is part time work or training workshops.

7. Make good use of today’s opportunity to kick start your career search. I understand that there are also some students who are here to understand internship opportunities. Although you are not graduating this year, you certainly will be graduating next year or the year after. So we hope that you can also take the time and effort to explore the internship opportunities – like I mentioned 800 of them available for you to apply what you have learnt in NBS, the concepts, theories etc. to gain relevant job experience.

8. I am really very grateful to NBS for the wonderful internship experience that I had at Kay Hian James Capel. I did my undergraduate studies at NBS and after the first year of those foundation years, I chose to major in financial analysis. Theoretically I should have done fund management, which is why I did my internship at Kay Hian James Capel. But I think very early on, I knew that public service means a lot to me, which was why after a stint in the bank for about five years, I decided to join EDB where I stayed for a decade. I always joke to my many friends that I thought I would have stayed at EDB forever and formed part of the furniture. It is really a wonderful organisation, where we had the opportunity to travel the world but not solely because of that. It is really because we are marketing Singapore as a very compelling business and investment location and through what we are doing, try to persuade companies and big brand names to come to Singapore to set up operations and create good jobs for fellow Singaporeans.

9. I said all these because I think it is important for us to find, not just when we are studying but even as we are working, what really drives and motivates us, and what truly is our passion, strength and interest. If we build our career and working journey based on these, our passion will keep us going and enable us to go the extra mile and do our very best.

10. So I think all of us have this one important question when we come to participate in today’s fair. And the question is, “How can we as students or as employer representatives make the best out of today’s career fair?” I did some reflection and I thought that the culture of the 21st century workplace will really be defined by this generation which we call the millennial generation. I see some of the employer representatives with very young faces. I think you are probably from the millennial generation as well. As we know, the millennial generation include those who are born from 1980 to 2000 and entering the workforce.

11. As employers, the success of your company will greatly depend on your ability to appeal to the millennial generation. Number one, how can you better attract them? It is not about pay package anymore, I understand. So how can we better attract them, develop them and retain them?

1.2 For our students, the millennial generation, I have interacted with many of you, especially in the last few years in my various capacities. I think you are really a wonderful generation defined by your energy, optimism, ambition and the desire to learn and make a real difference, not just in the workplace but also in Singapore and in the world.

13. Our millennial generation is one that has grown up in a world of digital age. In a digital age where speed is a given, everything must be done instantly. They also have high expectations of themselves and expect to be given constant feedback. I understand from employers, many of whom say that the millennial generation wants to move up the corporate ladder very quickly. In fact I remember fondly, one employer told me that a few years back, he was quite pleasantly surprised by one of the candidates during an interview. He asked a typical question which you should be ready to answer, “Where do you see yourself in the next 3 years, or next 5 years?” I understand from this boss that the candidate said, “In 5 years’ time, I want to be sitting across the table interviewing. I want to be like you.” Boy, the interviewer was a CEO. Not bad to have ambition but good to finesse it a little bit.

14. My point is, whether it is an employer or a student going into the workforce, and even for myself, I remind myself to be “open-minded” and have the right attitude and expectations. This is really important not just for work but also for doing well in life. If you are graduating this year, I hope you will continue to be open-minded and broaden your options in your career search. I think some of you are in actuarial science, financial analysis and banking. Do not be so fixated that if you are in banking, that you must “die die” must join a bank. In your language, “die die must do this, die die must do that.” I think it is important to be open-minded, flexible and try to listen to your heart a little bit more. Broadening your options in your career search will make it more fruitful in the long run.

15. For employers, our millennial generation is quite different from previous cohorts so being open-minded means gaining access to a bigger pool of talent, aptitude and skills that are really critical for the future of your business. In today’s age, where human capital is everything and the game-changing element for businesses, having access to the right talent will be very critical for any business.

Importance of skills, attitude and expectations

16. So if we ask the employer representatives today, those who are standing over here, you will probably say that in your sector you favour certain skill sets. There is a reason why you came on board – maybe you are looking for certain graduates with a certain specialisation. I am very sure that Prof Kumar and his team have already trained up our NBS students for the sectors. But as we all know and as Prof Kumar has mentioned, skills, whether for banking and advertising or others, will change overtime. Even advertising is experiencing an advent of very exciting trends. With shifts in demography and technology, it also means that the skill sets that we want will change. So we must be very committed to constantly upgrade ourselves even after graduation. We must up-skill and re-skill ourselves, whether on-the-job or through online courses.

17. I know that our students here are very well versed (even much better than us) in the use of technology, from using complicated financial models to utilising smart phones to access data. So imagine this, compared to when I graduated a long time ago, if at the press of a button, you will be able to get certain data. Of course you will need to do some analytics to derive certain trends and patterns, but this is the day and age where at the press of a button, you will be able to get a lot of knowledge. It also means that if you ask the employers, IQ though important, is not the only consideration. What would really set workers apart, and I think that employers will agree, are the right attitude and expectations because team work will be a very important component.

18. Having the right attitude – I am quite sure that your professors would have said to you during your tutorials over the past few years, to the employers means, having a positive can-do spirit. You will face some difficulties but how do you bounce back? Having the right attitude also means having resilience and humility to overcome new and diverse challenges. To me, having the right skills is important, but it is a bit like having the correct tools for a job, and whether these tools are put to good use hinges largely on the mind-set and attitude of the user. Talking about attitude, I like this quote that Mr Winston Churchill said a long time ago. “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” So really bear that in mind.

19. In particular, I remind myself to continue to be humble in different settings. I think humility is important in anchoring one’s expectation of career progression. Back to the interesting example I quoted earlier of the candidate who in 3 to 5 years’ time hope to be sitting across the table, I think it is commendable to set long-term sights on what you want to achieve in your career. It is good to have some desired outcomes and work towards them but the perspective should be one of desiring to develop yourself in terms of skills and aptitude instead of wanting to chase that next promotion or financial rewards. These will eventually come if you are true to yourself. Like what our late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said, “Chase the rainbow.” Try to listen to your heart and understand what appeals to your heart and what you are truly passionate about.

20. Ask to do interesting, maybe unglamorous, or maybe challenging extra-curricular activities on the job that will test you. Look for a sense of mission and purpose in the work that you do. Look for a job that is challenging and meaningful. Do not shy away from what seems very difficult and maybe very unglamorous. Your bosses will take note of that. Through all these interesting tasks which you will eventually look back on, you will realise that they provide the best opportunities for personal growth and self-discovery. Discovery of certain attributes and strengths that you did not know you have.

21. Focus more on how you can differentiate yourself, like what Prof Kumar has said, vis-a-vis other friends and colleagues and value-add to your employer. Make use of your capabilities and skills to add real value and make a key difference not just at work, but also to fellow Singaporeans and the society. Seriously, if you do that, the financial rewards and recognition will follow – maybe not in the same year but it will surely come. For your generation, you have a long runway; so do not rush.

22. I know some of the employers also have certain concerns. In my MTI capacity, employers have shared that you wonder about this new wave of millennial generation – for example, what they are looking out for. I guess instead of wondering, what employers can do is similarly to have the right attitude and expectations. Be very prepared to adjust our recruitment and retention strategies. Whether it is in the South West CDC, MOE or MTI, we also want to have our fair share of the millennial generation. We ourselves are adjusting our recruitment strategies to do so.

23. So as employers, what we should do is to try to understand the personal and professional goals of this generation, and appeal to their need for a sense of purpose and mission. When we bring them on board, other than giving them work which to them, becomes mundane very quickly, try to give them meaningful work to challenge and stretch them. They like being stretched. Provide them with opportunities to learn and make a real good difference in the workplace, like joining the organisation’s recreation club which is a good way to know more people. Also provide them with constant feedback to help them improve and add value to your organisation.

24. I think that the right attitude and expectations both on the students’ side and the employers’ side, is the key to unlocking the potential of our millennial generation to allow companies to flourish; especially in times like this when we really need to differentiate ourselves vis a vis our regional countries in order to sustain our economy and continue to move into new growth engines.

Employers empowering future employees

25. Finally, I really want to say a big thank you to NBS’ Prof Kumar and his wonderful team. I want to thank our employers for participating in today’s career fair. To the returning employers, those who have given NBS your support year after year, thank you very much.

26. Many of you, I understand, have over the years given our students structured opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge through internships or even project work. So thank you very much. And for students whom you employ, you have given them the chance to grow and be stretched.

27. So whether it is the NBS faculty, students or employers, thank you for being here. Make it count. And on this note, I wish you a wonderful journey ahead.

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