Speech by Mr Er Edwin Khew

WEDNESDAY, 22 MAY 2013, 9.30AM (SESSION 13)

Mr Tan Choon Shian
Principal & Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Polytechnic

Distinguished Guests

Parents and Graduands

Staff of Singapore Polytechnic

Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. Good morning. It gives me great pleasure to be here today at the 53rd Singapore Polytechnic Graduation Ceremony. I applaud all graduands and award winners from the School of Chemical & Life Sciences (CLS) on your achievements.  

  2. Three years. That was the time it took for you graduands to enter this convention centre as freshmen for your orientation and for you to exit this same centre as graduates of your diploma courses. Have you made good use of those three years? Well, I certainly hoped that you did. But whatever the case, those three years are gone. You should cherish those great moments you had in SP and look forward to the next phase of your life.

  3. Now, imagine a world without lectures, tutorials, examinations and study stress. Imagine having no lecturers to guide or push you. Imagine taking responsibility for yourself, making your own decisions and facing the consequences of those decisions. That is the world you are going to step into. Welcome to the real world and adulthood.

  4. In my talk this morning I will like to focus on three decisions you may have to make after you leave SP . These are:
    • Should I further my studies and do a degree?

    • Should I work in a technical position or a sales/ marketing position?

    • Should I take up an overseas position if offered one?

    All of you will be faced with one or more of these questions after you leave here.  Please allow me to share my opinion on the pros and cons of each of these questions and perhaps it may help you to rationalize in terms of your decision making process.

  5. Should I do a degree:
    This subject has been well debated in the press and our PM and 2 Ministers have weighed in with their opinions. I do not intend to add to the debate but want to share with you the process of approval if you want to be a member of IES, what IES is doing to recognize experience engineers and my opinion in terms of an employer when I look at employing an engineer. BTW I am in the Waste to Energy business (mainly anaerobic digestion of all types of organic waste which will produce bio-gas or methane and bio-compost) and as an industry we look at employing chemical, electrical, mechanical and marine engineers and I do agree with our PM that there are many routes and options for a poly grade after you leave here. Please allow me to elaborate.
    • At IES to be accepted as a full corporate member you need to have a degree. As a diploma holder we will accept you as an Associate member. Difference between a corporate member or full member and an associate is as an associate you have no voting rights and cannot stand for election. However after 10 yrs of working experience as an engineer you can apply to be upgraded to a full or corporate member.

    • To recognize a senior engineer with more than 5 yrs of experience IES is looking at registering or certifying engineers as Chartered Engineers. All full members or corporate members are eligible. At the moment for lawyers you have to pass the bar before you can practice and for accountants to practice they have to obtain their chartered status. To be a chartered engineer you need to have a recognized degree and at least 5 yrs of working experience. IES believes this recognition will be a bench mark to help qualified practicing engineers in all sectors get good paying jobs.

    • You can quickly see that if you want to be working as an engineer and be recognized as an experienced and qualified engineer and be paid a comparable salary you need a degree. Of course you do not need to get a degree as soon as you leave poly but as you progress in your career especially if it is in the engineering sector you will need a degree.  

    • As an employer and as an engineer I know that if I want a hands on engineer I should employ a poly grad and then train him and then sponsor him to get a degree after a few yrs of experience—I will get a well-rounded engineer in terms of design, operations and maintenance of all the plants I build & operate. I gave my son the same advice many years ago that to be a good engineer he should go thru a diploma course 1st and then do his degree. He did his triple E in Ngee Ann and then went directly to UMIST to finish off his degree in 2 years. That is because I can afford to send him to UMIST but that is definitely not the only route or option. Today there are many routes and even an entrepreneurial route where you may not need a degree in engineering but perhaps one in business management. My personal advice is whichever route you select you will need to consider getting a degree as competition is keen today and it will get keener so to be recognized in this global environment you will need a recognized degree. The IES Chartered Engineer will be mutually recognized throughout Asean, UK, Australia and perhaps most of Europe, the US and other parts of Asia (Japan, China Korea etc). To be able to practice as an engineer all over the world especially today where there are no borders to practice as an engineer, you do need a degree.

  6. Technical or sales:
    1. I was confronted with the same question when I was a fresh grad—take a job as a chemical engineer with Mobile (Exxon today) or a sales job with an American chemical company.  I took the sales job and here is my rational. I could not imagine myself going to office every day maintaining and operating a plant or a unit operation and just monitoring data to ensure the plant is operating optimally. Of course in those days they don’t tell you that as a chemical engineer depending on your interest, you can be posted to different positions in the company even in sales and marketing. So my point is you have to know yourself in terms of what makes you tick—what you are happy doing day in day out? If you are an introvert and happy not being in the front line and having to meet people and happy to operate and maintain plants, then take on a technical job and learn and improve yourself and be the best operator you can. Alternatively if you see yourself as a researcher and relish breaking new boundaries then you need to do a PhD and go into R&D.

    2. In sales you need to be technically competent and you need to convince your customer technically why your product is better than your competitor’s and if you relish competing and beating your competition then technical sales or business development is where you should be. You will find that in most cases the engineer who excels and does well in technical sales and business development will most likely end up in senior management and even become the CEO. However in every engineering company or process plant you need to have a good mix of engineers as project managers, engineering designers, and operators. As CEO of my company I need an array of good engineers to be part of my team so that I can design and build my plants on budget, on time and operated them  to meet the requirements of the customer who is paying and investing in the plant.

  7. Overseas posting:
    1. I was at a Spring Lead Forum last week and Mr Liew Mun Leong the former CEO of CapitaLand and Chairman of the Changi Airport Group shared with the many CEOs that were in the audience that when he looks at promotion at CapitaLand he values a person who has spent time overseas. His successor was his CEO looking after the China business for 12 years.

    2. I would therefore recommend that if you have the opportunity of taking on an internship overseas or offered a position overseas you should consider seriously in taking up the offer. Even though a completely domestic education and employment allows you to learn much, I strongly feel that obtaining an overseas exposure and staying there for a period allows you to learn and experience more, at a faster rate and gives you an edge versus those who stay in S’pore and only visit periodically. Away from your familiar home environment, you are forced to think, adapt, improvise and overcome many challenges you will meet along the way. Some of you are indeed fortunate to have experienced learning and living via internships in various corners of the world, from Dalian Polytechnic University in China, Oxford University in UK to University of Queensland in Australia. I can at least personally share similar experiences with those of you who spent some time at UQ being a Chemical  Engineering  alumni there. Brisbane and St Lucia brings back many good memories and challenges and my years in boarding school and then to UQ allowed me to learn things and life that has put me in many advantageous position in my working life.

  8. I like to end by quoting from Nachman of Breslov.a wise Rabbi who has written many quotes to inspire, motivate and challenge. I quote: “If you won’t be better tomorrow than you were today, then what do you need tomorrow for?” I want to therefore challenge you to keep stretching yourself – keep reading, asking questions, talking to interesting people, working hard and exposing yourself to new experiences. You may not see success today but it will come and frankly, success is more of a journey than a destination.

  9. I extend my heartiest congratulations on the successful completion of your studies at Singapore Polytechnic and wish each of you success in your career and further studies.

  10. Thank you.

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