GROWING STRONGER IN ADVERSITY
2021 is best summarised as the year COVID-19 continued to test our nation’s psychological resilience. There were days we thought the end of the pandemic was near, and others when we feared the worst was yet to come. The COVID-19 situation continued to evolve from 2020 in unexpected ways, with the emergence of the Delta variant and then Omicron. As a people, we experienced cycles of relaxation and tightening of safe management measures, which raised expectations and brought disappointments with new worries. We are slowly adjusting to what this ‘new normal’ will mean for us as we resume our work and lives.
The challenge of navigating, recalibrating, and making sense in order to build confidence is common across all sectors. The public sector too, has had to reconfigure structures, policies, and processes quickly, to help our public officers work smarter and better cope with the increased demand and pressures. Amidst these challenges and uncertainties, our Public Service has learnt to go back to first principles, and often re-examine the rationale and principles behind its decisions. It is no longer just about being innovative, but having the strength of heart to move on and try again when things don’t work out right.
RESUMING LIFE AMIDST COVID-19
Throughout these last 2 years, in adapting and re-adjusting to disruptions, PSC has continued to help build our leadership pipeline in the public sector, and to fully support our scholarship holders in their developmental journey.
In 2021, we made a deliberate effort to resume many of our key events and engagement activities, at a scale close to pre-COVID, many of them virtually. Among these were scholarships information sessions, selection interviews, award ceremonies and preparatory programmes. The annual Preparatory Course for new scholarship holders and the PSC Scholarship Award Ceremony are key milestone events for the scholarship holders. These provide opportunities for them to build bonds and create shared experiences and memories for future teamwork and collaboration. While the pandemic did restrict in-person activities, we created new opportunities through virtual platforms and introduced alternative teambuilding activities such as virtual Escape Room challenges. Our Scholarship Award Ceremony was also held virtually, to celebrate the proud moment for our 75 scholarship holders, their parents and families.
We continue to put our hearts and minds to find better ways to support our scholarship holders in their education and development amidst the disruption and restrictions. Such support takes different forms depending on circumstances. For example, we provide financial support for the additional tests and quarantine requirements for scholarship holders who are commencing or resuming their studies overseas. For scholarship holders who were uncertain about whether to undertake an overseas master’s program immediately after their undergraduate studies, we made available various options, from studying locally to a Gap Year work attachment, or in some cases to complete their National Service before embarking on their master’s course.
We have also strengthened our support systems to enhance the safety and well-being of all our scholarship holders. We make available timely medical and security assistance to all overseas-based scholarship holders should the needs arise, and counselling services to address their mental well-being.
BUILDING A RESILIENT PUBLIC SERVICE
Learning to live with COVID-19 and thrive as a nation requires adaptation. We have learnt that what worked well for us in the past may not be enough to prepare us for the future. The better understanding of existing gaps and emergence of new needs requires solutions to meet these challenges. Recognising the diverse needs across our communities and stakeholders, the Public Service must be agile and adapt quickly in policy development and operational implementation.
I am heartened that many of our public officers and leaders have risen to the challenge. In 2021, the PSC resumed many of our official engagements with ministries and agencies, through a combination of on-site and virtual meetings, to better understand their work and how it has been changing. These have strengthened our understanding of the Public Service and the strategies moving forward, as well as the characteristics and skills of the talent that is required. We have had the chance to speak to public officers, many of them at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic or building our initiatives to emerge stronger together. Many of these officers are building new capabilities and creating new solutions in working hard to keep our economy and our society going forward.
As Singapore and the world around us continues to increase in complexity, the Public Service will always need to refresh its range of perspectives, skill sets and experiences to effectively anticipate challenges and seize opportunities. While we seek out officers and leaders with a common desire and calling to serve, we will not have a strong Public Service if the members have similar life experiences and thinking in an increasingly complex environment. A truly resilient Public Service must be built upon an ability to tap differences and strengths and unite the best in every officer in the mission to create a better Singapore. To this end, the PSC will continue to intensify our efforts to foster diversity in our leadership pool by seeking out more talents not only in the pre-tertiary education level, but also from both the local as well as overseas universities.
I would like to express my appreciation to my fellow Commission members and our Secretariat team for your contributions. We have overcome unusual challenges this past year and helped many others, and I salute your efforts. I am confident that as we continue to adapt and innovate, we will be well positioned for the challenges and unknowns that lie ahead.