SINGAPORE: To help make the public service more future-ready and able to meet new challenges, 10,000 officers will be trained in digital capabilities and Minister Ong Ye Kung will help spearhead a drive for public service innovation, announced Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Speaking during the Committee of Supply debates on Thursday (Mar 2), Mr Teo, who is also Minister-in-charge of Civil Service outlined four priorities for the public service: Integrating strategic planning and execution, driving innovation, building new capabilities and developing public officers.
Mr Teo said the public service has embarked on a transformational journey over the past few years to be innovative and position Singapore for the future. That said, this is always a work in progress, he added. “We can always do better. We can always be more efficient. We can always be more responsive.”
To build on these efforts, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has appointed Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung to champion public service innovation, Mr Teo said.
Specifically, Mr Ong will focus on a number of key cross-cutting areas that require close coordination among agencies, he said, and this will cover two areas.
Firstly, the review of regulations to better support innovation and entrepreneurship, and secondly, adopting procurement methods that support industry development and helping companies and people seize new economic opportunities, Mr Teo said.
The DPM also noted that the responsibility for driving technology adoption in the public service is rather dispersed, and they are “studying how we can better integrate strategy and processes”.
BUILDING NEW CAPABILITIES
In terms of building new capabilities in the public sector, Mr Teo said there are two that needs strengthening: Digital capabilities and engineering.
The minister said it will grow a core group of 250 professionals in Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and Cyber Security Agency (CSA) to build up capabilities in areas such as data science and cybersecurity.
Besides using available technologies, these professionals will work closely with local universities and industry to experiment with and create new products and services, and enable further policy innovation. “It is important that Government agencies trial new technologies and be early adopters,” Mr Teo said.
Over the next four years, 10,000 public service officers will be trained in digital capabilities to use more data analytics and data science in policy formulation, service delivery and corporate services, and cybersecurity. The Civil Service College will partner agencies and external providers such as Coursera to train these officers, the Deputy Prime Minister said.
As for engineering, Mr Teo said the Government will build up capabilities in two new Centres of Excellence – JTC for underground caverns and the Land Transport Authority for tunnelling. These will add to the current three such centres – JTC for infrastructure and facilities management, GovTech and DSTA, he said.
“(The two new Centres of Excellence) are important areas to optimise our land resources,” the minister explained.
Manpower-wise, the public service recruited more than 1,000 engineers last year, bringing the total close to 9,000, he said. “The Government’s focus to build engineering capabilities has led to strong interest in public service engineering careers.”
DEVELOPING PUBLIC OFFICERS
DPM Teo agreed with MP Seah Kian Peng’s observation that the public service sets the tone for progressive people practices, and said it invests heavily in the training of officers so they can do their jobs well – “not just today’s jobs, but tomorrow’s jobs”.
It has merged a number of career tracks for graduates and non-graduates since 2015 to provide greater opportunities for career progression and development. “Once an officer is on the job, it is performance and readiness for bigger job responsibilities that matter,” he said.
The public service will also continue to be proactive in implementing family-friendly practices, Mr Teo said.
For instance, it will take the lead in piloting an additional 4 weeks' infant care leave for parents in the public service from July.
To support older workers who want to continue to work, Mr Teo said the public service will remove wage reduction on re-employment for public sector officers re-hired to the same job grade from Jul 1, 2017. These officers will continue to receive their last-drawn salary, similar to the practice of most private sector companies, he added.
It is also covering up to 28 days of in-hospital stay at community hospitals from Jul 1 this year, in addition to the medical benefits enjoyed by public officers and pensioners on older medical schemes, he said.
“This also supports the Ministry of Health’s policy to right-site medical care in the most appropriate setting depending on the medical needs of the patient.”
With regard to the public service hiring people with disabilities, Mr Teo said he has asked the public agencies and ministries to “look seriously into this and how we can do more and do better”. He added that there are 270 people with disabilities employed by the public service as of end-2016.
Some recent efforts include posting suitable vacancies on SG Enable – the agency set up to help people with disabilities gain employment – as well as appoint champions among senior management to drive hiring and integration initiatives in their organisations, the minister said.
“As an inclusive employer, the public service will continue to find ways to expand opportunities for persons with disabilities to take on meaningful jobs in accordance with their abilities,” Mr Teo said.