Left: Sew Zhen Tao is an Executive Engineer in the Department of Sustainability Strategy at NEA. He is a Singapore Sustainability scholar, and he holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from University of California (Los Angeles).
Middle: Kelvin Chen helps to secure Singapore's supply of safe food in his role as Manager, Operations Management Department, Joint Operations Division at SFA*. He is a Singapore Sustainability scholar and he holds a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences with a Second Major in Food Science and Technology with Honours (Highest Distinction) from NTU.
Right: Zhang Che oversees the daily operations at Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant in his role as Engineer, Water Reclamation (Plants) Department at PUB. He is a Singapore Sustainability scholar, and he holds a Master of Engineering in Electrical Engineering from Imperial College London.
You can survive without Wi-Fi, but not without food, water, and a healthy environment. This is why in Singapore, we are grateful for the convenient availability of these basic needs.
Obviously, it takes a lot of planning and execution in order to realise and sustain what we have and for that, we have the National Environment Agency (NEA), PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to thank.
These agencies and their officers work tirelessly around the clock to strengthen environmental resilience and food and water security for Singapore. To attract young talents to do just that, the NEA, PUB and SFA collectively offer the Singapore Sustainability Scholarship (SSS).
Sew Zhen Tao, Zhang Che and Kelvin Chen are recipients of the SSS and they have embarked on an engaging and fulfilling career with their respective agencies.
Zhen Tao is an Executive Engineer in the Department of Sustainability Strategy at NEA and he supports the GreenGov.SG initiative in his organisation’s capacity as one of the Environmental Sustainability Advisory (ESA) agencies. Zhang Che, an Engineer at the Water Reclamation (Plants) Department at PUB, looks after the day-to-day operations of the Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant. Kelvin is a Manager at SFA’s Operations Management Department and he manages the operations to ensure and secure a supply of safe food for Singapore.
We spoke to Zhen Tao, Zhang Che and Kelvin, who shared their scholarship journeys and gave us a glimpse of what it is like to work in Singapore’s most essential agencies.
Firstly, how did you discover the Singapore Sustainability Scholarship, and what made you accept it over the others that you were considering?
Zhen Tao: I was keen to build a career in sustainability, but felt that most private sector organisations focused on revenue generation as their key performance indicator. The public push to hold corporations accountable for their environmental impact was not as strong back then, than it is now. Hence, I actively sought out the Singapore Sustainability scholarship via Brightsparks.
Zhang Che: I visited the Bedok NEWater Factory and it made me find out more about the processes. In the process, I learned the role of PUB in the water industry and that “scarcity of water resources” meant more than just a line of words in textbooks. I want to be a part of the water industry so that I can help to ensure the sustainability of water in Singapore.
SSS caught my attention when it was introduced during the career talk in my school, considering how it can support my studies and at the same time, land me a foot in the industry that I was interested in.
Kelvin: I learnt about the scholarship through BrightSparks magazine. Intrigued, I did more research and realised that the career opportunities offered which were the most relevant to the degree of my choice. In addition, I wanted a career with a sense of purpose. I am very glad that I made that decision then. Until now, I resonate very much with SFA’s mission, in ensuring and securing a supply of safe food for Singapore.
How did the SSS support you when you were studying?
Zhen Tao: The SSS gave me the opportunity to study overseas, and with that, the chance to experience environmental activism in the States first-hand. More importantly, I had the chance to interact with people of differing views on climate change and renewable energy.
Zhang Che: I was really grateful to be able to study beyond Singapore’s shores. Occasionally, colleagues from PUB would pay visits to overseas countries and they would always arrange a meeting with the scholars abroad, to both enhance the cohesion among scholars as well as understand any problems we were facing. They entrusted us and gave us the flexibility to explore beyond academia. Sponsored exchange programs, interesting conferences are some opportunities SSS provides us with.
Kelvin: Coming from a middle-income household, the scholarship offered many learning opportunities without having to deliberate too much financially. As such, I was able to focus on making the most out of my education. For one, I went on a semester-long overseas exchange program in 2018, where I had the opportunity to take on interesting modules not offered by my university and this had helped broaden my perspective in my course of study.
Tell us more about your current role and responsibilities.
Zhen Tao: My current role is to drive Whole-of-Government efforts to achieve the ambitious energy and waste targets under GreenGov.SG. Aside from providing technical inputs, NEA also assists agencies in identifying energy and waste reduction measures by conducting audits. Within NEA, I also consolidate the demand for solar panels across NEA premises, in order for NEA to tap on HDB’s SolarNova tenders which is a Whole-of-Government effort to accelerate the deployment of solar photovoltaic systems (PV) in Singapore, via promoting and aggregating demand across government agencies.
Zhang Che: Currently, I’m working in Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant as an electrical engineer. I’m currently in charge of some of the maintenance for the electrical equipment, and I manage several smart projects to help realise the digitisation of PUB as well as explore energy efficiency aspects such as initiatives to reduce the energy consumption in the plant.
Kelvin: I am currently a manager at SFA’s Joint Operations Division, Operations Management Department. Primarily, my job is to plan and coordinate operations to ensure and secure a supply of safe food. In addition, I am often involved in reviews of existing work processes and regulatory regimes to augment the operations of SFA.
What is the work culture at your respective organisations?
Zhen Tao: The people are friendly and ready to help. NEA also values its older staff who are often happy to share and pass on their knowledge. NEA also understands the importance of work-life balance and actively provides resources to support mental well-being.
Zhang Che: The people are friendly and ready to help. NEA also values its older staff who are often happy to share and pass on their knowledge. NEA also understands the importance of work-life balance and actively provides resources to support mental well-being.
Kelvin: I started work in the midst of the pandemic and communication amongst my team mates took place mostly virtually. Despite the physical distance, I was able to experience the comradery in SFA where colleagues are supportive and warm. I am also very fortunate to have superiors that are very nurturing. Overall, these provide a great environment to develop and learn.
What opportunities are available for people working at NEA, PUB and SFA?
Zhen Tao: NEA is a large organisation with a wide range of public-facing functions, enabling staff to make meaningful contributions to society through a diverse range of roles, from mitigating climate change and encouraging energy efficiency, to managing public health in Singapore. NEA also actively supports career development of their staff, with rotation opportunities to broaden employees’ knowledge of functions in various departments and job areas, providing challenges and opportunities to see things from different perspectives.
Zhang Che: PUB offers a range of opportunities for people at different phases of their career. We are constantly sent for courses to reskill ourselves to be up to date. Due to the sheer number of job poses we have in PUB, one is able to possess the flexibility to rotate job positions and understand deeper in the area of his/her interests and forte.
Kelvin: There are endless opportunities given the dynamic landscape of the food industry and the ever-developing local food scene from farm-to-fork. With many innovations to produce food sustainably, officers can expect to be exposed to different food technologies and novel food business concepts (such as lab-grown meat and cloud kitchens); the work in SFA will never feel mundane.
What would you say to convince someone to take up the SSS?
Zhen Tao: Passions can change but at its core, being a Singapore Sustainability Scholar is about serving the people of Singapore and ensuring a livable environment for generations to come.
Zhang Che: The water industry is a booming industry, it has tons to offer and joining the national water agency will expedite your understanding and ability to grasp new knowledge as you will experience operations throughout the entire water loop.
Kelvin: Join SFA to pursue a fulfilling career with ample learning opportunities!