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Speech by Mr Lionel Yeo
SPEECH BY MR LIONEL YEO
SINGAPORE TOURISM BOARD
AT THE POLYTECHNIC'S 54TH GRADUATION CEREMONY
WEDNESDAY, 28 MAY 2014 (SESSION 12)
Mr Tan Choon Shian, Principal of Singapore Polytechnic
Distinguished Faculty members
Graduates of the School of Architecture & the Built Environment
Ladies and gentlemen
- Thank you for inviting me to be your Guest Speaker. It is my honour to be at Singapore's first polytechnic. For 60 years now, Singapore Polytechnic has
been a vital national institution that has produced a steady pipeline of talent to contribute to our society and develop our economy. Therefore this
morning, my congratulations go out not only to the class of 2014 and your families, but also to Singapore Polytechnic on the occasion of its 60th anniversary.
- I am inspired by SP's mission of preparing you to be work-ready, life-ready and world-ready. I have therefore organised my speech around this
theme, and I would like to share some thoughts on what each of these ideas mean to me.
- What does it mean to be work-ready? At the basic level, it is about making you attractive to potential employers and equipping you with skills and
knowledge that set you up to be a productive member of our workforce.
- On this score, I have good news and bad news for you.
- The good news is that in the current tight labour situation, you are hot property in the job market. Companies are eagerly courting bright prospects
like yourselves, especially if you hold a pink IC. I know some of you are not seeking a job immediately, as you may be reporting for National Service or
headed for further studies. But the tight labour situation and demand for Singaporean employees is a good bet over the medium term.
- The bad news is that there can be too much of a good thing. A tight labour market creates temptations for you to be overly picky about your work
environment. This can be bad for you if it distracts you from taking a long term view of your own career development. You might be less motivated to invest
in building up domain knowledge or in shoring up your credibility at work.
- My wife, the NMP Janice Koh works in the theatre. She tells me that as a young actor with little experience, she would seek opportunities to help out in
productions, both on stage and off, just to learn from the professionals. Often, the hours were long and the pay modest. Those experiences and connections
led to minor roles, which eventually led to leading roles when people took a chance on her.
- Arthur Kiong, the CEO of Far East Hospitality, told me that when he was starting out in the hotel industry, he would volunteer for the toughest and
usually least popular assignments, and strive to do them well. That helped to get him noticed by the bosses, who would then be more inclined to give him
- It is true that success in life depends in part on luck and opportunity. But you know what? It is my observation that the harder and smarter one works,
the luckier one becomes, and the more opportunities one receives.
- The real test of whether SP has made you work-ready is not judged by your starting salary or by how many job offers you receive. It will be judged by
whether SP has instilled in you the right attitude to be a lifelong learner eager to make a positive contribution to your work community. Being work-ready
is ultimately about your attitude to work and your attitude at work.
- What about being world-ready? For Singapore, being world-ready is not a choice; it is a necessity. We have a global orientation in our national DNA as
survival and success for a small island state requires this.
At the same time, the world is our market, and we also need to embrace and accommodate global elements in our country - the world is not only at our
doorstep, it is deeply embedded in our very city. We have to be world-ready within Singapore too.
- Many of us are familiar with, and accept, this narrative about Singapore needing to have a global orientation. What is less talked about and perhaps
counter-intuitive is the point that to sustain that global orientation we also need to invest in the local. We need to invest in things that give us roots,
anchor us and strengthen our own identity.
- In fact, I believe that a stronger local identity will help us be world-ready in a sustainable way. The key is to sink deeper roots even as we spread
our branches to embrace the world. Family, community, food, culture and the arts, places - these are things that can root us and help us be more
- So the question of how world-ready you are is not only a question about your global orientation. You are also need to examine your own relationship to
your local community and local culture.
- I see a healthy trend amongst younger Singaporeans to be more global as well as more local. You have a far stronger global orientation compared to my
cohort when we were your age. You have travelled more, both for school and personal trips, and are more plugged into global trends and international
communities, thanks for the Internet and social media. Yet you also have a stronger appreciation for local music, art, heritage, fashion, film, food,
theatre and literature.
- From a tourism point of view, we are also seeing increasing interest from visitors who seek a combination of global and local experiences when they
travel. They want to dine at world-class restaurants like Iggy's but they also want to sample chicken rice from the Tian Tian Lai stall at Maxwell Road
hawker centre. So being world-ready in tourism also means embracing both the global and the local.
LIFE-READY: Achievement vs Success
Finally, let me say something about being life-ready. Being ready for life presumes that you already have some idea of what you are seeking to
accomplish with your life. You need to ask yourself, what does success look like to you when you celebrate each milestone year? For example, what does
success look like when you turn 30? When you turn 40? When you turn 50? And so on.
- The answers you develop are personal to you, because each of us will have our own idea of what our life goals should be. I would just offer one
observation here - we often confuse achievements with success.
- We should define success as an outcome where your contribution to your community exceeds your draw-downs. Let's say you are the top student in your
class. That is certainly an achievement, but how does that contribute to your community? In fact, it is often the case the community contributed to your
achievements. Perhaps your teachers, your classmates or your parents did something which helped you do well in school. So actually you have a
contribution-deficit when you chalked up this achievement!
- Let's say you get promoted at work. Again, that is an achievement, but is it success? By our definition, it is only success when your actions result in
your community, the people around you, being better off. We can celebrate personal achievements, but this should be accompanied by a humble reminder that
true success requires us to give back more than we have taken out of the system.
- I call this true success, because in the end the achievements that really count are the ones that result in a net gain to society, and not the ones
that only result in a net gain to an individual. We should therefore choose heroes and role models who are truly successful, rather than those who are
merely high achievers.
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- Let me conclude by congratulating the class of 2014 on your graduation. Singapore Polytechnic has done what it can to prepare you to be work-ready,
world-ready and life-ready. The rest, as they say, is up to you.
- What attitude will you carry with you to work? Will you seek opportunities to learn and gain exposure? Will you keep abreast of global developments
while nurturing your appreciation for local culture and heritage? Will you aim to ensure that your contribution to society exceeds your withdrawals?
Regardless of your field of study or your choice of career path, you have the potential to make an important contribution to your community and your
country. So go out there and make a difference!
- Thank you.