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Speech by Mr Leong Kwok Weng


Members of the Board of Governors,

Principal & CEO, Singapore Polytechnic, Mr Tan Choon Shian, Distinguished Guests,
Parents and Graduands,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good Afternoon.

  1. I am very honoured to be invited to your graduation ceremony today and to give you an address.  I would first like to congratulate every one of you for having done a good job. 3 years through polytechnic is not easy, and I must commend all of you for your determination and effort put in to complete your diploma. This graduation is a milestone of your life. You are now at a stage where each decision made will have impact on how your life changes.  Whether you have already secured a job or are still deciding what to do with your life, I hope my sharing with you today could show you different perspectives and add a new dimension to your decision-making process.

  2. I began my journey as an engineer in the telecommunications industry some 35 years ago after graduating from the then University of Singapore.  Around the mid 80’s I was presented with an opportunity to work on the MRT project when Singapore decided to build the system. As a young engineer, the work has tremendous appeal as it was challenging and exciting; this was the first of such project in Singapore, building train systems. Through the years, this has given me a good foundation in engineering and lots of exposure in many facets of engineering work from design, installation, testing, commissioning, project management. It was a very difficult decision to make at that time because I am venturing into an unknown, this being the first time we are building an MRT system in Singapore, but a very important one that I have taken in my professional career. I have never looked back since.

Engineering Landscape in Singapore

  1. The economic structure in Singapore is made up of various sectors, such as Manufacturing, Construction, Transportation & Storage, and Finance, just to name a few. The engineering-based Manufacturing sector accounted for 18.4% of our GDP as at 2014, the highest of all sectors. As Singapore navigates through the process of economic restructuring to bring focus to technological development, engineers will play an increasingly important role in bringing about the success of this transformation.

  2. Going in the direction of technological development is how Singapore is moving forward. However, the biggest challenge the engineering industry faces is the lack of engineers. Engineering, the backbone of Singapore economy, is losing its attractiveness to graduates in the last ten years. It is often seen as a lowly-paid profession tied to hot and sweaty working conditions.

  3. This is not true, because salaries for engineers have risen steadily in the last few years due to a demand for them. In addition, there are also various types of engineers, not merely the ones armed with a helmet working under unpleasant environments. 

  4. Job opportunities for engineers have progressed beyond construction engineers overseeing the building of infrastructure. There are now opportunities for engineers across different industries in Singapore such as aerospace, transport, biomedical, robotics, petrochemical, just to name a few. I would strongly encourage all of you to take up engineering roles as you will be at the frontline of Singapore’s economic transformation. It would also allow you to put the knowledge learnt in school to good use. If engineers were the engines of growth in the post-independence era of intensive infrastructure construction, then engineers of today would be the engines of growth towards sustainability in modern Singapore.

The Land Transport Industry

  1. One such industry which offers engineers with a myriad of opportunities is the land transport industry. The land transport industry is undergoing rapid expansion to cater to Singapore’s projected population increase. As part of Singapore’s Land Transport Master Plan (LTMP) 2013, work is underway to expand our railway network, doubling it from 178km today to 360km by 2030. A larger trained work force is therefore needed to support the growing railway industry in Singapore. In particular, more engineers and technicians will be needed not only to build these new MRT lines but also to operate and maintain them.

  2. So, there will be plenty of exciting job opportunities for the design, construction, testing and commissioning, operation, maintenance and upgrading of the railway infrastructure and systems. In recent years, we have deepened our collaborations with Institutes of Higher Learning (including Singapore Polytechnic) to offer more railway engineering programmes, both at the Pre-employment as well as during the Continuing education phases. On this point about collaboration, I understand there will be a SkillsFuture ‘Earn and Learn’ programme in Public Transport; perhaps we can work together to see how this can be structured to give graduates more exposure in the railway industry. Structured on-the-job training in support of the SkillsFuture initiatives will also be enhanced, coupled with strong career pathways within the land transport industry.  So, please do consider the land transport industry for a meaningful career.

General Advice

  1. I would like to end my speech by giving you 4 pieces of general advice.Firstly, have love and passion for all areas of your life. Learn to love. Love the people around you, the work you do, and most importantly, your life. With love and passion, you will derive meaning in the things you do, and you will want to perfect what you are doing, not because you have to do them, but because you want to do them. With love and passion, we become more resilient and overcome obstacles along the way. The passion just keeps us going. On the flip side, someone without love or passion will be operating within a predictable framework. He would not be able to innovate and think out of the box, much less to live out of it.

  2. Secondly, I hope you can step out of your comfort zone. Do not just think out of the box. Step out of it. Have you heard of the saying: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I –I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”? It’s true.

    Learn to take risks, and embrace uncertainty. Take a gap year to travel. See how others are leading their lives. You will find 101 ways to lead your life apart from the typical Singaporean lifestyle so deeply entrenched in our culture. You will know your fears, your strengths, and hopefully, your passion. You will also meet people who are travelling to find their grand plan in life, and people who risked their lives and travelled to Iraq and Afghanistan just to see the world. Stepping out of your comfort zone makes you wonder if the life we have in Singapore is the norm, or are we the exceptions.

  3. Thirdly, go international. We are living in an increasingly globalised world where you are bound to work with people from different cultures and timezones. Explore opportunities overseas. Learn to be independent, and fend for Singapore and be proud of who we are. Hopefully one day, you will bring back your experiences abroad and make Singapore a more diverse place to live in.

  4. Lastly, and most importantly, I hope you can restart your life as many times as possible when you are young. Never be afraid to try, and always learn to fail. Explore what you are interested in, and identify what you are good in. Much as we want to be good in what we like, reality is not always the case. At some point, you must decide if you want to pursue what you are good in, or what you like. But to make that decision, you need to have options. And these options come from having tried enough alternatives to know.

    Ultimately, it is about taking risks and experiencing life. Find your love and passion, because this is what will make you lead a life worth living.

Closing Remarks

  1. Once again, I would like to congratulate all of you on your stellar achievements. I understand that you are now at a critical junction of deciding what to do after you graduate from Singapore Poly. While your mind should help you rationalise your decisions, the starting point should be from the heart. I also hope that you would be brave and step out of your comfort zone to experience and to live, and to love your life.

  2. I wish all of you a bright future ahead.  And don’t forget to consider joining the land transport industry. Thank you.

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