How skills picked up in NS can apply to the commercial world

July 09, 2021

How skills picked up in NS can apply to the commercial world

In all the years we’ve been providing career counselling and coaching, we have noticed — and heard firsthand — from our candidates that some skills picked up in National Service (NS) are highly applicable to the workforce. Contrary to popular belief, NS can be a period in a man’s life where essential skills are picked up that can be applied to his professional endeavours.

Often deemed a rite of passage where boys become men, National Service is the mandatory conscription and duty that every male citizen and PR are to undergo upon reaching 18 years old.

Some may dread it, or recall it with less-than-fond memories, but NS does inculcate some lifelong skills that can prepare NSmen for the commercial and professional arenas, whether they decide to sign on as a career soldier or pursue professions as a civilian.

During CTES’ learning and bonding session, we spoke to our male colleagues and spouses of our staff, and managed to discover there are number of transferable skills that we can pick up from NS, such as:

People skills
In the army, you might be given tasks or projects to implement, and you need to coordinate with multiple stakeholders.

“Be it improvement projects or planning for outfield exercise, many of these projects are large-scale and involve several people,” NSman Melvin shares. “As such, you need to take into consideration a diverse group of attitudes, opinions, sensitivities, and needs. That way, these projects teach one to work collaboratively in teams to overcome obstacles.

“Being in the army also instills qualities such as perseverance and resilience so you have the tenacity to keep going even during the tough times.”

Qualities such as empathy and a strong EQ also help to set a strong foundation for being a good leader. A good leader is inspiring and compassionate, so developing those people skills in NS can help you in the workplace.

Communication skills
Communication is one of the most vital soft skills you need to have in the professional world. More than just talking, it is about active listening, keen observations and sincere interactions. It’s a two-way street, so you need to know how to give and receive, and also pick up social cues along the way and learn how to respond to them.

Communicating affects your interpersonal relationships with everyone - coworkers and bosses alike - which in turn has an impact on how you advance in your career.

Problem-solving skills
Employees are hired to solve problems, and being in the military trains you to do just that. “Whether you’re a combat engineer who provides engineering solutions on the battlefield or a tank operator, you learn to adopt systematic and critical approaches to performing your task”, said Clifford. That cognitive process in decision making trains you to develop effective solutions in the workplace.

Being adaptable is a valuable trait, but it’s not just being able to fit into any environment. It’s also about adjusting to company-specific processes and protocols, behaviour moderation, and acceptance of differences.

Behaviour moderation means playing up certain aspects of your personality to suit the organisational culture. For instance, if communication and teamwork are highly valued, then you will need to be more collaborative and sociable.

More than just adjusting to the different work/social culture, you also need to respect everyone who comes from various backgrounds and cultures, something you learn in NS as you meet people from different walks of life.

Leadership skills
One of Singapore Armed Forces’ core values is leadership. But you don’t have to be an officer to possess leadership skills. Because every soldier is a leader; they are responsible for serving and protecting the people, which is a form of leadership on its own. Being responsible and punctual and looking out for your platoon mates is a form of leadership too, and that quality can be transposed into the workplace.

Management skills
Hard skills picked up in NS - such as project management (planning, scheduling, resource management, and as aforementioned, communication), customer relationship management (working with internal stakeholders from other units and external stakeholders such as support crew for logistics or catering), and inventory management (monitoring usage of limited resources and ordering supplies in advance as needed) - can be translated into the workplace.

Time management is also a key skill picked up in NS. Timelines are tight in the army, and it’s up to the individual to take the initiative to plan and execute according to instructions and deadlines.

As part of project management, you also learn to anticipate changes and challenges, as well as manage expectations and re-assemble plans.
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PART I of X – “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”