Speech by Mr Barry Sim


MONDAY, 20 MAY 2013, 9.30AM (SESSION 7)


Good morning

Members of the Board of Governors

Mr. Tan Choon Shian, Principal & CEO

Distinguished Guests, Family and Friends

Above all, Graduating Class of 2013

Congratulations! Like you, Singapore Polytechnic is my alma mater; only some 32 years before you. To be able to partake in this graduation ceremony holds a special meaning for me; so thank you for asking me to do this.  

There are some 400 engineering graduates present today; welcome to the fraternity.  Depending on how you draw the boundary conditions, records have it that there are some 150 mil practicing engineers globally; making this group a sliver of just under 2% of world’s population of about 7 bil.  OK if we were to include engineers and engineering associates, let’s just multiply by a factor of 5 and we are talking engineers accounting for 10% of world population. 

You must surely know by now that Engineering is a training of systematic and methodical problem-solving; it is a foundation that is applied in diverse fields.  For centuries and today, engineers fuse engineering science and practice to develop new processes and products; create and manage systems for civil infrastructure, transportation and mobility, manufacturing, healthcare delivery, communication networks and list goes on.  As engineers, you can be justly proud to join this fraternity; of having played tremendous roles in humanity from Industrial Revolution to Information Age; and I am certain, enabling what is to yet to come for broader segments of humankind. 

Begs the question - are you feeling that pride and even elitist juices, I dare say, flowing inside you or are you erring on the edge of insignificance or worse, indifference. The answer for me to you is obvious.  

I want to touch on Education and Employment.  First, some staggering facts from a well-funded international survey by McKinsey & Co:

  • 75 mil youths are unemployed
  • Half of them are not sure that their tertiary education has improved their chances of finding a job
  • Almost 40% of employers cited the lack of skills as the main reason for entry-level vacancies

The passage from education to employment is a complicated one.Around the world, governments and businesses face a conundrum, which is: high levels of youth unemployment and a shortage of job seekers with critical skills.  How can a country successfully move its young people from education to employment? What are the problems? How can these be scaled up? These are crucial questions.

Some of you might be asking: “what have all these to do with me”? You are right – nothing, for they are hardly the findings on our Singapore shores. But this study covered more than 100 tertiary, technical institutions as well as score of businesses, in over 25 countries including UK, Germany and the US.  Mind you, these are not the emerging or developing economies one tends to suspect.

Mr Ngiam Tong Dow, former top civil servant, asserted in a recent post Budget 2013 forum about developing a Singapore core in the workforce.  Excerpts of his claims went something like this:  “fresh graduates though having outstanding academic achievements, may not all be job-ready; just as full-time national servicemen have to complete Basic Military Training to be battle-ready, we need to induct trainees before putting them to work..…I therefore suggest that the $3.6 bil, set aside by the government for Work Credit Scheme to support wage increases, be channeled instead to paying salaries of young recruits for a year”, unquote. Provocative suggestion no less but not without merit.  I should know. ETLA- my company invested  nearly $ 1 mil to job-ready a group of fresh-hire graduates as Manufacturing Design Engineers, for over a span of 9-months on a full time basis and  interestingly, in this good institution. Today, they form the backbone of our nascent Engineering Competence Centre for all of Asia operations. A second batch of fresh engineers training is on the planning table.

You are high-quality products of the Singapore Polytechnic’s “teaching factory” as it were- knowledge-base, use of cutting edge technology, industry-centered and practice-oriented training.  Indeed, you are well-trained and yet, as the Shao Lin master would say to his precocious disciple: “You have learned much…..but there is much to learn”.  Your diploma is a journey, it’s a milestone; ready yourself as you embark on to “Polytechnic without walls”– the real professional world awaits you.

Success, for many of you, is the current pre-occupation as you ready to launch your professional journey. Some will be entering the workforce to dabble and excel in Bio-Engineering, MedTech or Aerospace manufacturing while others look to furthering your academic accomplishments. Yet for many, I detect you are raring to serve the nation in camouflage greens for the next 2 years.  I put to you that success differs from one to the other and certainly, from the passage of time.  My definition of success back in my youth was to be that famed chief engineer responsible for the design and erection of suspension bridges around the world. But now, it is to find a permanent solution to my receding hairline and thinning crown. The definition of success changes as you grow ……and you will find out.  For me, the important thing is to live a life with integrity, not to give in to peer-pressure or be someone or something you are not.  Be compassionate, be honest and contribute in some ways. Others could do good by contributing to the less fortunate. One needs not be old to do good.


Parents here, you may not like me for saying these to your children. Free yourselves from the shackle of traditions, defined professional pathways or entrenched norms.  Job opportunities are not exclusively available in Singapore; explore what the enormous Asia region has to offer.  Follow your callings of the heart….and above all, your passion; for it is the sole redeeming element that sustains you [and I] when we find ourselves in bad work-days, impossible deadlines and over-bearing bosses; so common-place in the professional realm.  You don’t need many examples of successful people who follow their hearts steadfastly…the likes of Creative’s Mr Sim Wong Hoo and the late Mr Steve Jobs of Apple.  I pick an unsung local hero to share – Ms Jean Tay, an applied mathematician and economists by training turned playwright.  She stuck to her strengths in Mathematics at a US ivy-league school which stood her in good professional stead throughout her 7-year career as an economist in our Central Bank.  Yet, never allowing the deafening numbers and mind-boggling bureaucracy to wear out her fondness in literature, she switched mid-point to becoming a successful playwright she is presently.  Today, Ms Jean Tay has her fingers firmly on the pulse of modern Singapore. She is the author of numerous plays, 3 which were nominated for Best Original Script. Her tragic-comedy – Boom, written in 2008 is in the O- and N-level English literature syllabi.  That un-extinguishable passion she possesses is to be lauded; so enduring, sustaining her identity than just a career roadmap.

I am aware that it is customary to offer some advice on charting of your professional endeavors; to paint for you the economic landscape or even to share the emerging technologies of tomorrow.  I must disappoint you (or enlighten some) by saying that I won’t be and can’t offer any. For starters, you can read from a multitude of sources on the state of economies than to hear my rumblings.   I honestly don’t know you well; your strengths and evolving interest to be able to offer any meaningful advice in a platform like this.  But there is one  thing I can vouch for: that the virtues people honor and reward remain true for hundreds of years -  intelligence, diligence, integrity, hard-work, commitment and courage; above all, love and faith.  These qualities, whether in your professional or personal life, continue to get rewarded by the world, and equally important, a good life rewarded by people only you know best.
To close, having survived the intense curriculum, exams, and constant irritations amongst your project groups and demanding teaching staff in the past 3 years, I think you should savor the moment of pride for having made it here in one wholesome piece.  Today is your day, a milestone for each of you, your families and loved ones whom you owe deepest gratitude and support.  After today, you will leave the protection of the institution, the community of college-mates and lecturers, to seek and forge new communities of your own. Who knows where your individual paths will take you in the world beyond this campus...…except to move on with confidence and faith.

Thank you and congratulations once again.

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