Thursday, December 24

Manpower Management in National Service

Sorry that I haven't updated - for a year. Life's been really packed this past year, and with a handy organizer that I use to track all my activities/events/appointments, I didn't feel the need to blog. This will be my first and second-last post of this year; will wrap up with a recap of the year soon.

The long babble about NATIONAL SERVICE: Well, it's been 1.5 years since I enlisted into mandatory National Service (NS), the bulk of which occurred this year. I felt quite "left behind" as my counterparts who went on the junior college track had already started on their degrees, leaving me, the polytechnic kid, behind still serving the nation. =.=" I received my "Out-of-Training" (OOT) status during my first week of Basic Military Training in Pulau Tekong due to my pending medical appointments. Subsequently, I was posted out and became first a storeman, then an armourer (small arms technician). My current role in camp is multi-faceted though, and thus not as dreadful and monotonous as before - I help out in many areas including administration, inventory, maintenance of weapons, projects, presentations, videos, and more.

I still remember I was extremely reluctant and negative towards NS during the first few months. It's not so much of a reluctance to serve, but more of a question of "Am I serving the nation to the best of my ability?" - which I would sordidly reply a "No" to. In fact, I had actually already passed the auditions and was waiting to enter the Music & Drama Company (MDC), which I did not get into because my PES (Physical Employment Status) was still "B" - simply meaning I was too medically fit to enter MDC (I had to be medically unfit - PES "C" or below). The manpower side apparently introduced this directive recently due to manpower shortage in many combat units; they didn't want combat-fit soldiers flooding in to dance and make music.

I found the manpower directive absolutely absurd and needless. It all boils down to the existing vocation system, which unfortunately posts a soldier based on manpower/organizational needs and his individual PES. There are many talented young soldiers around that can potentially contribute much more to the organization (and the nation), IF only they are placed in the "right place". One example: a soldier with an Aerospace Engineering diploma would expectedly fare much better in a relevant vocation like an aircraft technician (being already a "Subject Matter Expert") as compared to a medic, for instance. What is the point in "retraining" someone with a set of new skills if he can contribute much more effectively in his field of specialty (taking into account his current background and skill set)?

Professionalism is one of the SAF's core values - it's essential to continually strive to improve and set high standards, especially when the "client" at stake happens to be your NATION. Realistic and reasonable standards should, however, be expected of soldiers serving NS - for many of them, it's a whole new skill set they're picking up. In my case, us technicians are often expected to perform exceptionally well as "experts" - after just half a year or less of training. I wouldn't exactly term a soldier who has served NS for 2 years as an "expert" in his vocation - if that were the case, by the time I hit 50, wouldn't I already be an "expert" in around 20 areas?! Truth is, expertise takes INTEREST, DETERMINATION, and SACRIFICE to develop - heck, I've already spent SEVENTEEN YEARS (along with a diploma, and relevant certificates) in my field of expertise and I still consider myself a "semi-professional". No point forcing a cat to chew a bone. (??) (You get the gist?)

"Force-posting" someone to an irrelevant vocation, as is often the case currently, may even incur negative effects. Taking my peers in camp as a point in case, they are simply unmotivated and reluctantly carry out orders and work. Lethargic, "can't-be-bothered" attitudes abound, and work is tediously done with the expectations of rewards of time - either an early dismissal in the afternoon, or "offs" that can be cleared subsequently. Escapism (a.k.a. playing punk or "chao keng" in the Hokkien dialect) is an oft-used technique to get excused from events/work, appearing in various forms like RSO/MC (reporting sick outside - and thus getting a Medical Certificate) and MA (medical appointments - some of them have one appointment every FEW DAYS, so sick or feign sick?) Perhaps the popular adage sums it up best: "Act blur, live longer." Often, I have to take up the bulk of the responsibility and do the bulk of camp work (which shouldn't be the case just because I'm one of the most senior among my peers), while the rest hide in rooms or play their PSPs. Some of my peers hardly "appear" in camp (often on MC or MA); and even when they do - hardly do anything constructive - almost equaling their absence anyway. What then, is the need to have (on the surface) sufficient manpower strength, when only a fraction of them are working efficiently? If each individual had been thoughtfully posted to a relevant vocation in the first place, potential problems and negative attitudes could have been avoided. So much for striving to be a first-class organization.

For readers who agree/disagree with me, feel free to share your views with me personally; I'm open to getting more perspectives on the issue. Thanks for reading.


Blogger Adolf Lam said...

Someone suggested that before but I had an answer:

"In principle, and I also believe, that [posting based on skills] is suppose to be the case. But I believe the main purpose of conscription law was to fill up the armed forces (especially the army), the field most critically short of manpower. Therefore from this, you can see that it become irrelevant to talk about allocating people to other fields. Plus why bother letting uncommitted young men occupy a job in fields, when there are more committed bread-winners who needs them?"

You can see, the purpose of national service is to fill up the blanks. If you can choose your vocation (in order to boost moral), how is the infantry units and other combat units going to get their manpower?

1:10 am, December 25, 2009  
Anonymous Felix Ker said...

Well written. I've always been following your blog and waiting for an update.

I finally understand alittle about how NS is like since I'm Malaysian.

Have a great new year!

10:43 am, December 26, 2009  

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