AT THE POLYTECHNIC’S 56TH GRADUATION CEREMONY
MONDAY 9 MAY 2016 (SESSION 8)
Mr Tan Choon Shian, CEO/Principal, Singapore Polytechnic
Parents and Graduands
Staff of Singapore Polytechnic
- Good afternoon. It gives me great pleasure to be here with you today at the Singapore Polytechnic Graduation Ceremony. I would like to congratulate all graduates and award winners of the Business Administration school on your achievements.
- There is nothing quite like the atmosphere of a graduation ceremony. It’s a real cocktail of mixed feelings:
- First, there’s a distinct air of pride and relief at having gotten this far that makes me look back at my graduation ceremony.
Amidst the excitement, there’s the anticipation and the slight apprehension as you reflect and ponder about the future.
For the gentlemen, you will soon be enlisting for 2 years of National Service. The ladies and foreign students, you may be looking to kick-start your career or further your studies.
Regardless, I advise you to dare to dream. There is a world of opportunities out there awaiting each of you.
When I first received the invitation to speak at your graduation, I pondered on what to share with you. All of you here today are already more educated than me when I first started working 27 years ago. I was not sure if I am really qualified to give you advice on your future. Nonetheless I thought it might be most appropriate for me to share with you the 3 most important lessons I’ve learned in my working years.
A bit of background about me. I grew up in Malacca, a family with 6 siblings, and I am the youngest. I lost my dad when I was 12 – my eldest sister who was 22, took on the role of breadwinner of the family while the rest of us were still studying. I started work early as I was 13, those were tough times but the strong family bond kept us all going.
At the age of 20, I came to Singapore to work with just a “merely passed” SPM certificate (the Singapore equivalent of the O levels). Back in the 90’s, being able to land a job as soon you leave school with such a qualification, anyone would be over the moon! But I was inexperienced with the English Language and this brought about many challenges at work.
To put things in context, without being able to speak English, the options presented before me were crystal clear.
- I graduated with a Masters in Management from Macquarie University, Australia in 2001. But unfortunately I was unable to travel to Australia to join the occasion. Instead, it was a private moment with my family over a dinner and not only was I feeling proud of myself, my wife and kids were also thankful for my graduation as I certainly wasn’t the most patient person when I was preparing for the final exams.
- While it wasn’t an elaborate celebration, thinking back, I can still imagine what it must feel like to be each of you sitting here today: You look back at the past three years and feel extremely proud to have come this far.
This leads to lesson #1. “Today is a result of the past, and the Future is nothing unless my actions start today”.
When you first enrolled at Singapore Polytechnic, graduating was your immediate goal. The lessons you learned, the discussions you had with classmates, the projects you worked on, and everything else you did for the past three years have led you to this day. It has been a challenging journey, yet a very fulfilling one I am sure.
Our future is a sum of our everyday actions that create the possibility for our future and this is something that I hold deep belief of my little success.
I started out in FedEx as a Ramp Agent, which involved the loading and unloading of cargo boxes. At first thought, it may seem like boring, mundane and manual work and although that may be true, I have learned to look for the significance in everything that I do.
Thus, I realized that while my job is simply the loading and unloading of cargo, its meaning goes beyond the task because in the transportation industry, everything has its implications. For example, if my task is performed poorly, it will cause flight delays, which will mean that customers will not receive their packages on time, and the efforts from my co-workers will be wasted. Knowing this, it helped me to understand that even minor tasks have their own significance and so lesson number 2 is “to uncover the purpose of what you do every day”.
Over the last 3 years, your task has been to study. What about its significance? Studying at this polytechnic is more than just a passage of life; it is a learning experience that prepares each and every one of you to become well-informed individuals who will someday show your worth in our society.
This life lesson will come in handy when you enter the working world because once you find the significance of your job and what it entails, you will fully understand the impact of your actions on your colleagues and company. Otherwise, a job will always be a series of tasks, no matter where you are and what you do.
I count myself very fortunate to be part of FedEx. Although I was self-motivated and spent lots of time reading self-help books on Management, it was FedEx that provided tangible assistance for me to get that all-important ‘paper qualification’ in the form of bond-free tuition assistance. It was with the help of FedEx that I received my Diploma and Advanced Diploma in Business. With that important piece of paper I was then able to move on, to create new possibilities and to complete my Masters.
- ONE, to embrace the situation, to take action and start learning.
- TWO, to quit and return home. But if I did that, then what future would I have? It would certainly not be good so the only thing I knew was that quitting and giving up was not an option. I will return to where I started, and there will be no deal, I would not be here today.
In fact there are many people at FedEx who have worked their way up through the ranks. At FedEx, more than 60% of our management were promoted through the ranks.
Over the years, many have asked what has been the secret of my career development and progression.
My lesson #3: “The best career development and progression is to do your current job really well.”
Throughout my career, I have met many people on both sides of the spectrum; some extremely successful, and some not quite. For every successful person, there is one thing in common: they are very focused on what they do. They understand the meaning of their job, by doing well, they create possibilities, inspire others and promotion therefore comes naturally when the opportunity arises.
Before I go any further, the term ‘career development and progression’ does not necessarily mean an upward ascent on the job ladder. It could also suggest a lateral movement across the various departments of the company. For example, a job transfer from the finance department to the planning and engineering sector within the company. You should always keep in mind that each position, area and country will present different sets of possibilities.
My own experience – So far, I have great “personal” progression by holding more than 15 different jobs in the time span of 20 years, covering 5 residence cities and as result, I have earned 3 promotions to my current position in FedEx. And of course it helps that FedEx has a very strong promotion from within culture.
What we have learned at FedEx is that successful team members are those who don’t ask what the company can do for them, but instead ask what they can do for themselves and what changes they can bring to the company. The promotion is not always the end goal – it should be more about learning along that journey. Seek opportunities to improve your skills – anything from taking a class in Microsoft Excel or a course to hone management skills – the important thing is that you never stop looking for opportunities to learn while doing your job well.
With the introduction of SkillsFuture last year, you will have access to a variety of resources and opportunities to refine your skills in your interest areas at every stage of your life.
The pursuit of life is a never-ending journey that will be filled with challenges. Take following a GPS device for example. Each time you make a wrong turn, it won’t ask you to change your destination. Instead, it will just recalculate the route again. And that is the mindset I urge each of you to take - whenever you face an obstacle, take a moment to rethink your route and I’m sure you will get to your destination eventually.
Lastly, I want to conclude by saying that regardless of the next step you intend to take, don’t let your qualifications define and restrict you. Let your passions lead you in whatever you will do instead.
I wish every single one of you my heartiest congratulations and all the best in your journey to pursue the next step of your dreams.