SINGAPORE — The public sector needs more mid-career entrants from the private sector to boost diversity among leaders in the public service, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Jan 17).
Speaking at the Annual Public Service Leadership Dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel, Mr Lee said that the public sector needs “a broader diversity of experiences, temperaments and mindsets” to view issues holistically.
To this end, mid-career entrants from the private sector can bring “direct experience” on how the private sector operates and “what it takes to win business and make a bottom line”, said Mr Lee at the event, which recognises the responsibility and duty of public servants.
However, he acknowledged that the public sector has not been very successful at mid-career recruitment.
He attributed this to the gulf in the culture and mission between the private and public sectors.
“It is not easy at all for someone to join the public sector mid-career, because when they first come in, they will almost by definition lack the knowledge and instincts that take many years to build,” said Mr Lee to 900 public service leaders present at the dinner.
Nevertheless, he said that it is precisely this freshness of perspective that makes mid-career entrants valuable to the public service.
“Because they can, when it works out, see with fresh eyes what we have long taken for granted, and ask some basic questions why that should be so,” said Mr Lee.
He added that the public sector should not seek to make mid-career entrants conform to how public servants are but instead, help them to settle in, integrate into and win the trust of the public service.
At the same time, the public sector should also retain the unique experiences and differences of these new entrants and make extra effort to take in their ideas and perspectives, said Mr Lee.
The Prime Minister said he was glad the public service leadership is doing more to recruit and help mid-career entrants assimilate into the public sector.
He said that the diversity of background and experiences will sensitise public sector leaders to issues faced by different segments of the population.
Mr Lee also gave examples of efforts by the public service to hone a better understanding of issues faced by people on the ground.
These include posting young public service leaders to the People’s Association and unions, as well as to private companies such as Shell, Singtel and Lazada.
One other way to attract a greater diversity of views to the public service is by deliberately selecting and recruiting public service leaders, said Mr Lee.
To this end, he said that the Public Service Commission interviews scholarship applicants, not just based on intellectual acumen and good character but also on their qualities, unique backgrounds and experiences.
Mr Lee said there also needs to be more permeability between different schemes and services in the public sector.
For instance, officers from the Public Service Leadership Programme (PSLP) who demonstrate strong whole-of-government perspectives and have the aptitude to work in different domains should be brought into the Administrative Service.
Correspondingly, officers in the Administrative Service who show potential or interest to develop deeper
expertise in a professional area should be encouraged to join the PSLP, said Mr Lee.
PSLP officers are groomed to become specialist leaders in key sectors such as economy building, infrastructure and environment while the Administrative Service develops officers who can operate broadly across multiple sectors of the public service.
There are currently more than 950 PSLP officers and 330 officers in the Administrative Service.
“More officers moving across schemes will reinforce the idea of a collaborative network and a collective leadership,” added Mr Lee.