By Zach Isaiah Chia
It is the post-NS experience, rather than the two-year conscription, that needs urgent attention. A main factor is the competing demands on those who have to do reservist training.
Here are some:
Get married fast (so you can start a family), have at least three kids (we need more kids), support your family (you are the guy), buy a home, climb up the corporate pole (because Singapore is a great place if you are rich), look after your parents (it’s your responsibility);
Compete with foreigners and females in the open economy (we cannot protect you, it’s a difficult world), don’t forget to strive for work-life balance, chase your dreams and find your passion.
Many men feel that the two-year NS stint already puts them at a disadvantage because they start life’s marathon race late. The age of the average college graduate worldwide is 21/22, the male Singaporean graduate’s is around 24-26. They see this as a loss of opportunities and income.
In contrast, scholars (the eventual policy makers) defer their service, and hence do not feel this pinch. SAF scholars also get promoted during their studies. It is therefore no surprise that many NS men are starting to study part-time while still serving NS and doing other things on the side.
Then there is talk of changes like those to the Individual Physical Proficiency Test, or IPPT, for the first time since 1982 to keep in line with Australian and American professional standards. This made many worry that they would fail and thus be made to do remedial training which can have an impact on their careers.
In-camp training has also been questioned. Some have complained that this makes it hard for people to plan work trips since important business trips do not get planned six months in advance. Others have stories of being passed up on promotions due to NS liability. The IPS survey showed that some 46 per cent of men felt that bosses would prefer to hire people without NS obligations.
So what can be done? Here are some suggestions.
- Set up a training refresher branch and require servicemen to sign up for its sessions once every three years. This can replace in-camp training and allow servicemen to pick a time to go down and refresh their skills.
- Give lessons and talks on NS to young servicemen and teach them the importance of keeping fit, as well as how to keep fit, in the hectic work world.
- Get the sports council and the Ministry of Health to put up signs to teach the average working male how to improve his health and fitness, not for IPPT but for his overall health and fitness.
- Take a more flexible approach to IPPT: do we need to pass all levels to reach the final test or can we have a less restrictive system?
- Increase the financial pay-out for IPPT performance and cut down remedial training by allowing the soldier to retake IPPT after each remedial training.
- Provide annual tax breaks for companies that hire NSmen and who are supportive of NS obligations.
- Provide those who have served the nation with distinction during or after NS with significant rewards, such as priority in housing or lower income tax rates.