SAF not affected by manpower crunch but is transforming work practices to draw young S'poreans: Ng Eng Hen
- Recruitment for SAF has been “fairly attractive” even in times of a tight labour market, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said
- However, SAF still takes seriously the challenge of attracting younger recruits
- Dr Ng revealed that the Government’s projections show that there will be enough NSmen to fulfil operational needs past 2050
SINGAPORE — The Singapore Armed Forces' (SAF) regular force has not been affected by the tight labour conditions and the pandemic-induced “Great Resignation”, but Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen acknowledged on Thursday (June 30) that attracting the younger generation is a challenge it is taking seriously.
And while Singapore's declining birth rates have raised questions over the shrinking pool of national servicemen, Dr Ng said that based on the Government’s projections, there will be enough operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) for SAF's operational needs.
In his annual interview ahead of SAF Day on July 1, Dr Ng revealed that recruitment for SAF regulars has not dipped. On the contrary, it has been “fairly attractive”, though he did not give figures on this.
He added that the number of scholarships given out across SAF, including for warrant officers and specialists, as well as for the Defence Science and Technology Agency and the DSO National Laboratories, has also been healthy.
Attrition rates have not gone up as well and are lower than normal.
“We are, perhaps, counter-cyclical. So we haven’t seen the manpower crunch that other agencies are seeing,” Dr Ng said in response to reporters’ questions.
The Great Resignation happening in the United States and parts of Europe refers to the large numbers of workers who have either dropped out of the workforce or moved across industries over the last two years as the Covid-19 pandemic shifted needs and demands.
Even though this is not seen in SAF, it is taking the challenge of continuing to attract a newer generation of Singaporeans “very seriously”, Dr Ng said.
"And part of that is transforming our work environment as well," he added, noting that in this regard, SAF has "liberalised significantly".
For instance, it has allowed hot-desking — where employees may choose where they wish to sit in the office —with security safeguards.
For employees who are unable to work from home due to security concerns, SAF has implemented work-near-home schemes that allow them to work in different offices around Singapore.
It has also been working on automating its processes — whether in maintenance, training or combat — to appeal to the “ethos of a younger generation” as part of its digitalisation and human resource efforts, Dr Ng said.
With the steady transformation of the work environment, SAF could become more appealing to young adults who want to grow their career.
“So we are not standing still and becoming a dinosaur that is out of sync with the aspirations of the young.”
Some things, such as the hierachy system in the military, cannot be stripped away, he added, and “some people are drawn to that kind of structure and hierarchy”.
ENOUGH TO FILL ROLES PAST 2050
As for whether SAF will have enough manpower due to Singapore’s declining birth rates, Dr Ng said that the Government has done detailed projections on this.
Based on those projections, there will be an adequate number of NSmen to fufil the various positions in SAF way past 2040 and 2050.
Even though birth rates are still declining, the rate of decline has slowed, Dr Ng noted.
“So it means that you are able to predict or project across a longer timeline.”
Data from the Singapore Department of Statistics showed that the total fertility rate has fallen over the past five decades from 3.02 in 1971 to 1.12 in 2021 — but in 2011, the rate was already at 1.2, more or less as it is in recent times.
Dr Ng added that the reason the projections show that the pool of NSmen will be adequate over the next decades is through SAF’s use of technology to cut down on manpower.
For example, the Republic of Singapore Navy’s littoral mission vessels, which replaced the patrol vessels, were designed not just for better capabilities but also for a smaller crew size.
And in the army, the modern High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or Himars, needs just three people to operate it compared to other artillery platforms in the past that required 12.
“So I think it quite fortuitous that modern militaries and modern equipment have resulted in a reduction of manpower needs,” Dr Ng said. “We do not anticipate a shortfall of SAF requirements.”