SINGAPORE — A study conducted by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), which was released on Wednesday (5 Jul), revealed that while most Singaporeans and Permanent Residents support compulsory National Service (NS), they view it as less important for acquiring skills relevant to civilian jobs.
The study found overwhelming support for compulsory NS, even in the absence of immediate threats to Singapore, with 93% of respondents expressing their support.
Additionally, 88% of respondents said they would encourage their friends and loved ones to serve NS even if it were optional.
While NS was considered highly important for national defence and commitment to Singapore, it was perceived as less crucial for acquiring skills applicable to civilian employment.
The study showed a decline in the perceived importance of NS for learning useful employment skills, from 82% in 2013 to 71% in 2022.
Participants in the focus group discussions suggested the inclusion of more non-military training in NS, reflecting the growing pressures for upskilling and lifelong learning, as well as concerns about potential trade-offs with education and career trajectories.
Funded by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), the study was conducted last year to examine public attitudes towards NS. It collected data from a survey involving 1,002 Singapore citizens and permanent residents aged 17 and above.
In addition to the survey, the researchers also conducted focus group discussions and personal interviews to gather further insights.
The study also revealed a consensus among respondents that NS is crucial for Singapore’s defence. The proportion of respondents who strongly agreed with this notion increased from 42% in 2013 to 57% in 2022.
The research also highlighted the widespread support national servicemen receive from their families and employers. Over 90% of national servicemen felt that their families were supportive of their NS commitments, while an equal percentage believed their employers also showed support.
Moreover, the study discovered that a significant majority of respondents, around 89%, expressed pride in having family members who have served or are currently serving NS.
Focus group discussions with parents and family members revealed that NS contributes to the maturity and confidence of national servicemen. However, some HR professionals voiced concerns about the resource costs to their companies.
Regarding training safety, the study indicated that confidence among national servicemen was high, with 94% expressing confidence in the safety of NS training.
The proportion of respondents who strongly agreed with this sentiment increased from 15% in 2013 to 23% in 2022. Focus groups attributed this positive perception to the increased focus on safety and health in recent years.
Importance of addressing the needs of national servicemen from lower-income households
The study also assessed the recognition of NS contributions by the government and the public.
Over 80% of respondents believed that the government and the public adequately recognized the contributions of national servicemen.
Furthermore, 84% of national servicemen felt that their needs during NS were considered, and 80% believed their contributions were valued, at least to some extent.
In terms of motivators, most national servicemen agreed that they would be motivated by more employer support and good unit leadership.
More recognition in the form of monetary benefits to support life-stage needs, such as childcare and housing, would also be appreciated.
The study recommended that more attention could be paid to those in lower-income households as well as to national servicemen whose ability to contribute to their household income may be diminished when fulfilling their NS obligations.
NSFs whose families face financial hardship may seek financial assistance, says MINDEF
Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) Singapore, in response to media queries regarding the IPS study, said it recognises the significance of supporting national servicemen in their transition to employment or higher education.
MINDEF stated that in September 2022, the Ministry and Singapore Armed Forces(SAF) and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) partnered with NTUC LearningHub (NTUC LHUB) and NTUC Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to enhance the SkillsFuture@NS initiatives.
MINDEF said in the statement that through the SkillsFuture@NS Learning eXperience Platform (SF@NS LXP), NSFs (National Servicemen Full-time) gain unlimited access to online courses, a repository of resources, a job and course portal, and opportunities to participate in SkillsFuture@NS Fairs, which include career and education fairs during their full-time NS.
Since 2018, MINDEF/SAF has also progressively introduced Work-Learn Schemes for several vocations, in roles critical for Singapore’s defence, such as in the areas of artificial intelligence and engineering.
Under these schemes, NSFs can attain a diploma or partial university credits from Institutes of Higher Learning while performing full-time NS and an additional period of Regular service.
“To better recognise national servicemen for their contributions and to provide support for lower-income national servicemen, NSmen who are students, not employed or working informal jobs receive a base NS pay of $1,600 per month prorated based on the duration of the NS activities.”
The NS allowance, which supports NSFs in their basic personal upkeep, was also increased by $125 to $200 (depending on rank and vocation) in July 2023.
For example, an NSF holding the rank of Recruit/Trainee will receive a monthly NS allowance of $755, up from the current $630.
The NS Housing, Medical and Education (HOME) awards were recently enhanced in April 2022, to give all national servicemen an additional $2,000 in cash credits for completing different milestones in their NS cycle.
“NSFs whose families face financial hardship may approach their unit commanders to apply for financial assistance.”
“The unit commanders may also approve NSF participation in a remunerative activity on an exceptional basis if it does not compromise the NSF’s personal well-being and his ability to perform his NS duties, ” added the MINDEF spokesperson.
“Each request is assessed on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the specific circumstances.”
MINDEF reassured that the Ministry and SAF remain committed to strengthening the National Service system and continuously enhancing the NS experience for national servicemen.
Financially strapped soldiers go AWOL in order to moonlight for extra cash, said former NSF clerk
A former NSF, Micheal Tan, said in a Facebook post in August 2020 that in his 2.5 years serving as a clerk in the CCO, he witnessed at least 20 soldiers who served time in detention for being Absent without Official Leave (AWOL).
His job required him to prepare charge sheets, statements, and coordinate with the Regimental Police to prepare those soldiers to face charges in the presence of a Senior Disciplinary Officer.
He went on, “I can confirm that the root cause of more than 70% of the AWOL cases was related to financial problems. These AWOLees came from complicated family and detested SAF because the allowances as a Private was pathetic.”
He added, “They needed to work outside to boost their family income. Otherwise, how could the family survive on SAF allowance of barely $350 a month?”
Mr Tan said that upon talking to some of these soldiers, he found that while they book into a camp, they still worry about bills at home, taking care of younger siblings as well as sick parents.
“Financially strapped, they AWOLed to moonlight,” he said simply, adding that these soldiers put their families first, not the SAF who “pays a pittance under the excuse of national service”.