SINGAPORE: A new Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) report released yesterday (5 July) shows that 93 per cent of respondents support mandatory National Service. While the survey also found that over 90 per cent are confident in training safety, fewer people felt that the skills learned during NS were helpful for employment.
The Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) has said that it will take the findings of the investigation into consideration when reviewing how to strengthen the national service system.
Over 1,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents above 17 were surveyed by IPS last year as part of a study funded by MINDEF.
The study shows that the proportion of those who strongly agree that NS is necessary to defend Singapore, even in the absence of immediate threats to Singapore, has increased from about 40 per cent a decade ago to nearly 60 per cent last year. 88 per cent also said they would encourage their friends and loved ones to serve NS, even if optional.
Some said that NSmen are key to protecting geographically-tiny Singapore, while others felt that the two-year service period matures the minds of Singaporean men.
While some felt that NS supports social and personal growth, the percentage of respondents who agree that NS can be used to learn future employability skills has slipped from 82 per cent a decade ago to 71 per cent last year.
According to IPS, this decline in emphasis on job-related skills in NS may be attributed to increasing pressure for individuals to upskill and engage in lifelong learning. The perception that NS involves trade-offs with regard to education and career paths may have contributed to this trend.
Some view NS as a potential “disruptor of work.” 70 per cent of respondents said that their employers could adjust to their NS obligations to a certain extent, but close to 40 per cent of respondents felt that employers are more inclined to hire people who do not need to fulfil NS obligations.
IPS senior research fellow and principal investigator Dr Chew Han Ei suggested that MINDEF should consider assisting servicemen, particularly those in the final months of service, in transitioning to the next phase of their lives as students or workers.
This could involve providing opportunities for servicemen to acquire skills such as CV writing, financial management, and short courses to prepare them for future endeavours.
Despite the declining emphasis on job-related skills, the study revealed that NS continues to be highly regarded for other aspects, including national defence, fostering commitment to Singapore, promoting understanding between diverse backgrounds, and personal character development.
Almost all respondents (98 per cent) agreed that NS is necessary for Singapore’s defence, and 97 per cent believed it would remain important in the future.
The study also highlighted strong support from families and employers for NSmen’s commitments. Over 90 per cent of NSmen felt supported by their families, while 95 per cent of employed national servicemen reported support from their employers.
On the back of an increased focus on safety and health measures, 94 per cent of NSmen expressed confidence in the safety of NS training.
The study also indicated that more than 80 per cent of respondents felt that the government and the public adequately recognized the contributions of NSmen. The majority of NSmen agreed that greater employer support, good unit leadership, and additional recognition in the form of monetary benefits to address needs like childcare and housing would be appreciated.
The study’s findings shed light on the evolving perceptions of NS among Singaporeans, highlighting the need to balance the defence-oriented objectives of NS with the demands of a rapidly changing job market.