TOPICS: Awards

Mr Chaly Mah, Member of the NUS Board of Trustees

Distinguished Guests


Ladies and Gentlemen

1. A very good afternoon to you. It is my pleasure to share this happy occasion with you, your family and friends and deliver this year’s commencement speech to the graduating class of 2017.

2. As you start a new phase in life, you may be anxious of what lies ahead for you. Most of you would be embarking on your first job, some in the pursuit of further studies, and yet, others may be entrepreneurial and start your own enterprise. There is no one-size-fits-all template to adopt, as we have different ambitions, strengths, likes and dislikes. But one thing is clear, you will experience change as you begin the next chapter in your life. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who observed that “The only thing that is constant is change”, lived 2,500 years ago. And his observation still holds true.

3. I started my career in SingTel and stayed there for 18 years. Given how fast people move from job to job today, I know some of you may wonder why nobody else wanted to hire me. However, I did move from job to job but within SingTel. This opportunity was available because it was such a large and diverse telecommunications services company. Indeed, I started from planning and implementation of various telecom systems which gave me a solid engineering experience, to marketing these services, and to being part of managing overseas acquisitions.

4. Looking back, a solid engineering training had enabled me to have an enriching career in an industry that was evolving rapidly due to technologies. My career had spanned from a time when digital technology virtually did not exist, to one when telephony dominated and digital services were carried over telephone lines and finally to one when telephone services were carried over digital lines. Soon, nobody will know what a land line telephone looks like.

5. Indeed, digitalisation has given birth to a new lifestyle that smart cities are envisaged to improve upon. I remember during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Institution of Engineers Singapore in 2016, Prime Minister Lee said that Engineering will continue to be key to Singapore’s future, as our country works towards becoming a smart nation, and overcoming her lack of resources.

6. In recent times, you would have read more about Artificial Intelligence or AI, Digital Disruptions, as well as the perceived threats to jobs in many sectors. Already our younger generation have been told to brace for jobs that do not yet exist. Rather than worry about job losses and the advent of robots, your generation can lead our country to embrace technology advancement to give us new and better ways to transform and innovate, create solutions for cities, communities and citizens. For example, intelligent robots can help fill the labour gap and improve productivity, and supercomputers powered with AI have demonstrated the ability to diagnose difficult medical cases. As technologies continue to evolve, industries will progress and new careers will be created, such as in cyber-physical security, and additive manufacturing such as 3-D printing. Progressive companies seize the opportunity to invest in promising emerging technology, innovate and create new products and services.

7. Therefore, your training in engineering will be most useful. As an engineer, in a discipline which is at the forefront of the technology evolution, you have the best vantage point to appreciate technology trends, and to imagine and build the future of Singapore.

8. As businesses learn to be responsive to what new technologies can do for them, we as individuals must do likewise. Do not be fearful because as engineers, of all people, you are well-equipped to adapt. Your university education has provided you with the disciplinary knowledge, and exposed you to a breadth of information in multiple domains needed to navigate the complex world in which we operate. These skills will enable you to add value to your company or organisation, as it responds to multifaceted challenges and opportunities brought about by changes and advances in technology.

9. There are countless examples of how engineers have contributed to the development of Singapore. Allow me to cite a few that are related to the environment, in line with my current portfolio. During Singapore’s early years, engineers played a crucial role to ensure the country developed sustainably. They overcame the challenges of poor living conditions and widespread pollution, turning Singapore into a liveable and sustainable city that other countries look up to.

10. Engineers have also contributed much to the area of water sustainability. Today, Singapore has a robust and diversified water supply with the four National Taps of local catchment water, imported water, NEWater and desalinated water, to ensure that we and our future generations will always have a high-quality and sustainable supply of water. We must and will continue to invest in water infrastructure projects and R&D, in order to meet future water demand and to strengthen our resilience of our water supply against climate change.

11. From past to present, engineering has constantly overcome challenges, provided solutions to problems, turned imagination into reality, and transformed lives. The engineer’s role in the future will be no different, regardless of trends and how society develops.

12. The degree scroll that you will be receiving today, signifies the start, and not the end of your adult learning journey. In your work, take a step back occasionally to appreciate the bigger picture. Read widely, talk to people beyond your field, and delve deeper into topics that drive our economy. This is what lifelong learning is all about - the acquisition of new knowledge and skills, not merely to weather the onslaught of changes in the workplace, but to position yourself to innovate and improve lives.

13. And as you progress in life, seize the opportunities to broaden and deepen your knowledge base and skill-set. NUS, for example, offers courses for lifelong learning, and in the years to come, the suite of courses will expand significantly to cover diverse topics that will add value to your career and personal development. Do also leverage the opportunities and incentives that the Government has put in place, under the SkillsFuture initiative, to develop deep and varied expertise. Finally, let me also remind those of us who have benefitted from a sterling education system, to give back to society in ways we can. It’s the best expression of our gratitude to our deserving pioneers, because they too gave the best of their lives so that we can prosper, rich or poor, regardless of race, language or religion.

14. In closing, I encourage you to adopt an agile mind-set in everything that you do. Embark on a lifetime of learning, and you will be well-prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead. More importantly, always aspire to lead change through innovation. Singapore aspires to be a modern city that is cleaner, safer and more connected, and where our citizens are empowered to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, create economic opportunities and forge a closer community within and beyond our shores. The value of Engineering lies in the creation of this future.

15. Let me once again congratulate all graduates on your fine achievements. I wish you all the best in your exciting career and learning journey ahead.

16. Thank you.

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