Navy trains sights on mid-career professionals

IF YOU are 35 and hoping to find a second career, the navy wants you.

The Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN) is looking for engineers, commercial sailors, communication specialists and even lawyers who want to jump ship.

Navy chief Lai Chung Han hopes to boost the navy's manpower by embarking on a recruitment drive targeted at mid-career professionals.

Speaking to reporters to mark the RSN's 48th anniversary, Rear-Admiral Lai said those who choose to trade their office wear for sailor fatigues will enjoy another 25 years of a "full career".

"We must tell people out there that the navy is not just a viable but attractive second career... we want to be very receptive to people who decide to give the second half of their work life to a military organisation like the navy," said RADM Lai, who took the helm of the navy nine months ago.

Currently, only one in 10 navy personnel is a mid-career sailor.

A combat systems engineer with a degree, who holds the ME4 rank, can draw a starting salary of more than $4,500, including shipboard and sea assignment allowances.

RADM Lai, 42, said the navy will remunerate mid-career sailors attractively, as it already does today. "(But) you have to believe, you have to give yourself to the uniformed organisation and an organisation with a mission and purpose that goes beyond the bottom line."

What is more, those who join in the middle of their careers can expect to work for a long time.

Mid-careerists will be recruited as "military experts" in the Singapore Armed Forces' Military Domain Experts Scheme and can retire at 60. Commissioned officers, warrant officers and specialists have to retire at between 50 and 55. But many choose to leave in their mid to late 40s.

The RSN, like the air and land services, traditionally recruits 18- to 21-year-olds who are fresh out of school or from the pool of national service (NS) enlistees. But with declining birth rates, the number of young men enlisted for NS in 2025 will be 25 per cent lower than the number today.

Coupled with the shrinking NS pool, the RSN faces fiercer competition for talent in a tightening labour market, noted RADM Lai.

As part of the search for manpower, he also wants to double the number of women, who currently account for 7 per cent of the RSN's pool of regulars. To this end, the RSN is in the midst of reviewing its policies to make the navy more family-friendly.

This includes being more flexible in holding off professional development courses, to allow women to have children or let those who have just started a family serve on smaller ships that go on shorter sailing deployments.

In the wide-ranging interview that touched on how the RSN is deploying more unmanned platforms and combating piracy, RADM Lai also spoke about deploying reservist servicemen to fill every post on some of its warships.

The Straits Times reported that these operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) are former regulars who left the navy but are now being called back to the fleet to be retrained to operate missile corvettes.

RADM Lai said he is hoping that in the future, NSmen will be running the unmanned surface and underwater vessels, which account for a quarter of RSN's fleet.

"It doesn't mean that if we can't grow in size, we can't grow in impact, effect and outcomes. That's why being sharper, being smarter and being stronger will help us. We want to be able to do more with what we have more productively and more effectively," he said.

This article was first published on May 11, 2015.
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