For a country the size of Singapore, a paucity of natural resources could well spell a death sentence. Yet, our fledgling city-state has grown from strength to strength and continues to thrive against all odds. As two of the agencies tasked with safeguarding our nation’s environmental interests, NEA and PUB, certainly deserve the lion’s share of credit for the privileged position we find ourselves in. Underpinning their achievements, however, is a bedrock of dedicated staff that work day and night to ensure the sustainability of Singapore’s limited resources.
Two such employees, NEA Executive Khor Zijian and PUB Engineer Seow Kiat Hui Lennis, currently champion their agencies’ respective causes as recipients of the National Environment & Water (NEW) Scholarship. We speak to them about their desire to serve the public, and motivations behind such a calling.
What sparked your interest to pursue the NEW scholarship?
Khor Zijian: I developed an interest for environmental issues during my JC days - especially those related to climate change. That was the first instance where I discovered how our actions impact the environment, and I felt the need to take action. Intuitively, the organisation I looked to thereafter was the one that involved itself most heavily in environmental issues in Singapore - the National Environment Agency (NEA).
Seow Kiat Hui Lennis: When I first considered applying for a scholarship, I knew that I wanted to go into an engineering-related industry –specifically something related to environmental engineering– as that was my field of study in school. I was interested in things like green technology and water, and so I knew I wanted to pursue a career within that sector. Following my internship with PUB, I realised that the agency offered a lot of diverse career opportunities, and eventually decided to join them.
Khor Zijian @ Khor Hui Jian
National Environment And Water Scholar
National Environment Agency
Tell us more about your roles and responsibilities at work today.
Zijian: I am part of the Transformation Office (TO), which supports NEA transformation initiatives. TO supports NEA in achieving better efficiency, better governance, better service delivery and better use of data to move towards the next level of transformation. This ensures NEA remains future ready, relevant, responsive and resilient to understand and serve the public better. Some examples include organisational restructuring, streamlining processes and manpower deployment.
Lennis: I work in the Catchment & Waterways department. My team and I oversee and manage close to 8,000km network of rivers, canals and drains in Singapore, in addition to our 17 reservoirs.
Seow Kiat Hui Lennis
National Environment And Water Scholar
Catchment & Waterways Department PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency
Name one highlight of your career. Why is it so memorable?
Zijian: I was initially attached to the Waste and Resource Management department, where I was assigned to handle the Public Sector Taking the Lead in Environmental Sustainability initiative. The intent was to stocktake the amount of waste and recyclables generated by the various ministries and statutory boards in Singapore.
It was a massive project which involved collating data from all agencies and ministries regarding the amount of waste and recyclables they produced. That was a really interesting exercise because the study had not been conducted before, and we had to figure everything out by experimentation.
Lennis: During my internship, PUB assigned me to the Changi Water Reclamation Plant for a two-month stint. While working there, I had the opportunity to see and practice the things I had learned in school, such as wastewater treatment and water treatment. Being able to experience everything first-hand granted me insights that went far beyond the breadth of any textbook.
What are some of the challenges you face at work and how do you overcome them?
Zijian: Even though we have an idea of what NEA should be like in the future, there is always a question on how we are going to get there with so much uncertainty in between. However, we constantly keep up with the latest technological changes by visiting various institutes of higher learning.
One such example was a class conducted at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, where we are attuned with the latest design thinking methodologies and technology trends (e.g. autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence etc.). This provides us the information to better plan how we can achieve our future goals.
Lennis: One significant challenge that my department faces would be the amount of public feedback that we have to address on a regular basis. Sometimes, the feedback is not provided in the friendliest manner, and we have to manage the expectations of the public.
There are occasions where the customers become very demanding – which often result in difficult situations to manage. But as public officers, we always try to look at things from their point of view, so incidents of this sort simply feel like part of a day’s work.
Any advice for those who wish to follow in your footsteps?
Zijian: I think prospective scholars should possess a sense of inquisitiveness as well as humility. They must be willing to learn in order to have the capacity and hunger to improve, and accept mistakes and setbacks as learning opportunities. After all, nobody has a monopoly on all information and knowledge.
Lennis: I think the most important quality that NEW scholars—and public servants in general—should have is the willingness to serve. It is crucial for them to realise that what they do will not only affect themselves, but also impact the people around them. Being involved in this line of work means being able to look past tangible benefits, and having the motivation to do something for the greater good. At the end of the day, they have to determine whether they are sufficiently motivated to serve the public to the best of their abilities.