I joined Mindef immediately after my ROD in 1982 – my starting pay was $720 then and it meant the world to me.
I later found out that many of my peers who joined the private sector started at least a hundred dollars lesser than me.
Not many people want to join the civil service then as the pay was considered low and the work monotonous. so the government has to jack up the starting pay to attract people.
Personal experience working in the civil service
Many people also considered work in the civil service lacking a proper career path unless you are a government scholar. I am sure that the same sentiments still exist till today.
Many working mums however prefer to work in the civil service as the job is pretty sterotype and you don’t really need to put in alot of over time compared to the fast-paced private sector.
Seventy percent of our civil servants must have being women and more so if you are a working mum.
Down in Mindef where I worked more than fifteen years ago, male colleagues probably made up less than 25% of the total workforce there and I was surrounded by women colleagues.
I guess the civil service is ideal for the working mums who want to work and yet be able to return home on a regular hour to spend time with their kids.
Private sector vz public sector pay difference
I later found out – to my dismay- that my friends who started off in the private sector a few years later had pay rises of between $200 – $300 in annual increment and their bonuses were also mouth-watering.
Many of them are also able to drive probably due to hefty company’s car allowance incentive built into their pay package.
When they job hopped, it was always for at least a few hundred dollars more in pay difference.
Their pay exceeded mine by leaps and bounds in no time due to the lack of ceiling when it comes to yearly pay raises.
They were rewarded handsomely if they performed well whereas in the civil service you still receive the same increment if you outperformed your colleagues by a mile.
Fortunately, I had a promotion at year four in the civil service and my pay literally doubled to $1800 – my increment also crept up abeit slowly from $50 to $100 a year.
I found that my pay flat-lined at year ten – when I was already in my late 20s and about to start a family.
I was making only $2500 and my take home was about $2000 – considered a border line case to support a family then.
The civil service pay structure also had a limit on the number of annual increments you could have unless you hop on to the next scale – which warrants a promotion in my case.
I was also shocked to realise that most of my fellow colleagues earned less than $2000/month – after working there for more than ten years!
Their yearly increment was also a miserable $35 a year.
I spoke to my deputy director later on who advised me to accept my pay check and the stability of the job nature in the civil service – meaning that promotion is not n the cards yet for me.
As there was no promise of any promotion even though I knew that I was one of the few top performers in my department and more importantly my pay would stay stagnant for an indefinite period which would jeopardise my ability to support a family well after marriage - I decided to resign after working for eleven years with the civil service.
Trust me, it was not an easy decision to make especially if this was your first and only job after ROD for the past 11 years but it was a decision which I have never regretted till today.
My only regret was that I didn’t left the civil service earlier as I was literally rotting away without learning much after the fifth year.
I later joined a German MNC company Bayer for the same pay – $2500 but with better job scope and opportunities to learn new skills.
I was also sent abroad to Austria for a overseas training programme costing close to $10, 000.
It took me close to a year to land this job and I realised that private sector bosses do not take kindly to civil servants’ work experience.
One MNC employer even told me that he would half my work experience as I was a civil servant – noted to be working like a robot with no brain.
I would encourage civil servants reading this article to take note of this discriminatory fact by the private sector and not to stay with the public service too long if you want to progress on in your career later on with the private sector.
As for me, I later traded that MNC job for a commission-based career selling life insurance and made more money there working for four years than the combined 11 years with the civil service.
Ironically, I later returned to work with CDC as a career consultant just seven years ago helping out those who are jobless - a statutory board affiliated with People’s Association and earned the same pay when I left Mindef – $2500!
Nowadays, due to the influx of foreign workers, the private sector is shunned by many of our local graduates as not only is the starting pay low but they also have to work alongside foreign executives with strange work habits.
The local graduate could be the minority local worker in a sea of foreigners working in that company and the SMEs will also likely exploit you by pushing you to work longer hours and during the weekend.
Worse of all, chances are high that you will be taking orders from a foreign manager and many locals find that difficult to stomach.
Over paid teachers?
I must reiterate here that I am not against the civil servants or specifically targetting the teaching profession for a pay reduction.
Our qualified teachers deserve every dollar that they are paid and I want our teachers to be happy working away.
Its just that teachers form the largest group of civil servants employed by the government sector and they remain probably the highest paid public servants next to the military personnel.
Most fresh graduates nowadays ironically prefer to join the civil service as not only is the starting pay much higher but more importantly there is less opportunities for work exploitation compared to those faced by our PMETS working in the private sector.
Chances are if you are a NUS Arts grduate with a good honours degree, you will probably end up in the noble teaching profession.
If you have a arts degree and end up in the private sector, employers may not even want to pay you more than $2000 per month and you probably will perform routine administrative work unless you have other niche work experience.
I also recently heard that fresh graduates with honours degree could earn $3200 as a pre service teacher even before they have passed out from the teacher’s academy.
The education ministry in Singapore also wishes to expand its teaching workforce by ten per cent to 33,000 by 2015.
However, it is a open secret that MOE prefers to hire graduates from the local universities and many overseas-trained graduates keen to join the teaching profession are left out in the cold.
Perhaps, it is the teaching syllabus or the familiarity with the local educational system that gives our local graduates the nod first to join the teaching profession.
It is not difficult to attract fresh-faced graduates to the teaching profession if you throw in the mouth-watering Performance Bonus which could hit a solid six months for top performers and counting in the usual civil service year-end bonus, the pay package could be astronomical.
I have heard of civil servants receiving a total of an average of 6 months’ bonuses (PB + annual bonus) and if you earn $3000/month, the December pay package alone may hit in excess of $20,000!
To be fair to all my readers who are teachers here, teaching is tough work and it is more a calling than a job.
The aspiration to be nurturers needs to be strong here or else most teachers will fall by the wayside – even though the pay is very attractive.
I have known of some teacher friends who developed mild psychotic disorders and have to see the psychatrist for treatment and medication.
Besides teaching, our over-stressed teachers also have to take care of CCA activities during Saturday and the stress cycle moves up several notches if you have an over-bearing prinicipal breathing down your neck.
Based on an article cited on the internet, it was written that according to a Straits Times report, teachers formed the largest group of patients visiting the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) for mental health treatment.
The article also mentioned this controversial fact about the teaching profession:-
I cannot help feel that in Singapore the approach is to see teacher welfare as just a case of paying them and they will keep quiet about the working conditions. Bear in mind also the civil service code in Singapore of not criticizing the service in public. The Singapore approach is very impersonal. It is all about numbers. Tests are the norm in Singapore schools because the only measure of student achievement are written tests. They didn’t mention what Singapore’s representative means by performance bonus for good instruction. It usually means how well the students do on high stakes examinations. Singapore also harps on numbers in terms of hours of teachers training. It is numbers and numbers and more numbers. From this love affair with numbers you can see that Singapore’s approach is very administrative and seldom from the teaching point of view. It is therefore no surprise that someone high up in the administration says that the job of administrators is the pinnacle of the service.
The attrition rate for teachers here could be high though a check through the internet did not reveal any official figures.
Over paid military personnel?
A friend of mine recently retired from the air force as a major. His last drawn pay tipped $7000 without counting in all the lucrative bonuses.
He was an engineer by training and worked with the military for well over 20 years.
He told me that he also received a solid $500, 000 gratuity pay out at the end of his contract – not bad if you could endure endless nights of field training and frequent overseas exercise attachment.
For those with lieutenant-colonel or colonel ranking, the pay out would have topped a million dollars.
Some friends with the military have told me that the pay out is because military servicemen on contract are normally let off even if they want to sign on for another contract.
It is more like compensation for an insecure career with the military force plus you also have to endure inconveniences such as frequent overseas training attachment.
My friend was fortunate as now he is working with Defence Science organisation (DSO) abeit on a lesser salary of $5000 plus a month – without even experiencing a day of unemployment after his contract ran out.
Many retired army officers are also working alongside him.
I also saw from the Mindef web site that fresh graduates with honours dgeree are paid close to $4000/month if they join the military service as lieutenant army officers.
They also have a monthly undisclosed sign-up fee making the whole pay package seems juicy and much sweetened.
Before anyone wants to jump in the lucrative band wagon, let me remind all that the military career has alot of sacrifices.
They travel frequently overseas for field exercises and their families seldom see them at home as they also have to perform their night routine duty at their base camp unit.
Non-cmmissioned officers (NCO) are also usually let off without any proper off-contract career advice, subjecting them to undue stress when they hit the street without a job and any clue what to do next.
Many of them ventured into becoming property or insurance agents and some became cab drivers.
Thus, it is apaprent that there is a wide gulf now on the pay scale between the government and private sector.
The huge influx of foreign workers has clearly dampen starting pay for our local PMETs wanting to join the private sector.
Our employers so far have not show any loyalty in trying to pay our local graduates slightly more than foreign ones let alone hiring local graduates on a priority basis.
In fact, most private sector now is staffed mainly with foreign workers and will have to close down if they have to return home one day amass.
The findings below are based on the results of the following 6 industries, including jobs from the law, engineering, IT & Telco, R&D, logistics & supply chain and finance & accounting professions.
Average Fresh Graduates Starting Pay in Singapore for 2011 (Forecast)
|Fresh Grad Jobs||Diploma Graduate Starting Salary||Degree Graduate Starting Salary||Masters Graduate Starting Salary|
|IT & Telecommunications||1,835||2,536||2,828|
|Research & Development||1,826||2,527||2,842|
|Logistics & Supply Chain||1,752||2,332||2,625|
|Finance & Accounting||1,738||2,400||2,748|
|Average for all jobs||1,784||2,418||2,820|
For holders of professional degrees such as medical, legal or the accounting profession, chances are the pay scale will generally be higher than other disciplines – even if you start off with the civil service.
However, the job scope for the private sector is deemed to be much better in the long run - at least the job nature has more variation and you get to learn much more than staying in the civil service.
On the other hand, a government job holds more stability which is something to think about alot now in this turbulent global economy.
I guess wherever you are, it is important to be happy working away as you spend more than 8 hours daily at the work place – be it if you belong to the private or public sector.
It will be terrible if you work on miserably at your job and dread waking up daily to travel for work.
That is probably the day when you will have to seriously consider quitting from your job.
But do find another job first before you throw in the towel.
Written by: Gilbert Goh