Conversations with Velda Wong

By Jejhar Singh and Clarinda Ong

Velda Wong is an Assistant Director at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, and was previously from the Public Service Division. In this article, she shares the lessons she’s learnt from her time in the public service.

To start, can you tell us more about yourself and what you do?

Currently, I am a civil servant at the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). I was previously from the Public Service Division (PSD), doing a Human Resource Management Information Systems role, heavily involved in project management, stakeholder engagement, change management and secretariat duties. In that portfolio, I picked up valuable skillsets which are considered highly essential, such as minutes writing, staffing and engaging stakeholders at all levels. Overall, it was what I considered a foundational role as I learnt a lot of useful skills which will enhance my employability, critical thinking capabilities and problem solving competencies. Additionally, the skillsets I had honed from my first role further fuelled my interest in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry and helped me realise the importance of obtaining a variety of skills (or a wide range of skillsets) to stay relevant in our ever-changing VUCA world. At MTI now, I am in-charge of the learning and development of my fellow officers and tasked to train them to equip officers with the relevant knowledge and know-how in the various businesses’ eco-systems and international economic landscape. Looking ahead, my goal is to become a skilled policymaker and seasoned negotiator to advance Singapore’s economic interests and better our nation in the international fora. 

What are your views on the recent COVID-19 pandemic and how do you think it affected your work?

Personally, I view COVID-19 as a blessing in disguise as it has generated higher awareness of the importance of hygiene and sanitation. This had resulted in greater emphasis on workplace health and safety in the public and private domain. Strong enforcement has to be put in place or implemented to ensure high levels of cleanliness and hygiene are maintained and met. As for how it has affected my workplace, the pandemic had brought about much needed change as well. One example would be the office space on-site. Some agencies had to rethink and redesign their office spaces to transform from having many open shared spaces for close collaboration to one with widened common spaces and contactless (using sensor-operated) high-touch facilities to cater for safe distancing in a post COVID era. With a perceived increase in psychological space for each individual, this also adds to an improved mental well-being for employees as gone are the days when we had to squeeze tightly side by side in the smaller meeting rooms when space was more limited (when everyone was in office in the yesteryears before COVID-19). Everyone also had to condition themselves to the new normal of working from home, having to juggle and draw a line between their personal and professional duties. 

What do you like most about your job?

To be challenged intellectually, expanding my mind and perspectives, helping people grow and achieve tangible and intangible outcomes for Singapore and the world. Also, I enjoy playing an active part in the community by creating new initiatives and contributing ideas to deliver a positive impact to my team and various stakeholders. Enabling and empowering people by streamlining processes, making lives easier and simplifying processes to create a more seamless end-to-end user experience also bring immense joy and satisfaction to me. I also love conceptualizing efficient strategies to overcome challenges at work. 

What advice would have for people who would like to join the civil service?

I think it is important to always be versatile, adaptable to change and open-minded. These are crucial skills for one to be able to solve problems and provide invaluable insights. In our current generation, one’s character, values, ethos and virtues in the workplace are becoming increasingly vital. This is because one’s working philosophy, ethics and character will affect the quality of work being produced. There is this saying which I think is true, and is inadvertently tied to one’s work performance, on “Your character will determine the longevity of your career”. It holds truth to some extent. Be of upright character and stay true to your moral compass. I am a firm and strong believer in “you reap what you sow”. Your character does reflect in the work you produce or create, so stay close to your true north, values and beliefs. Also, develop your soft skills. Your soft skills are as important as your hard skills. 

What does the civil service look for when hiring?

Employers in the civil service now place heavy emphasis on one’s skillsets and character (i.e. who you are as a person) They focus a lot more on your values, emotional intelligence, personality fit to the team (if you are a right fit to the team and align with the agency’s vision). Employers will appreciate it if you can bring alternative perspectives to the table, by sharing something new, interesting and innovative. This will set you apart from the rest. Being able to think critically and communicate clearly would also stand you in good stead. While being critical, it is also prudent to offer a balanced viewpoint. Clarity in writing equates to clarity of thought. Communication skills are of paramount importance. 

What is the next step in your career?

To be a good policymaker and a leader. Moving forward, I hope to be able to represent Singapore at the global stage, such as at the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader, and play an active role in contributing to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations. I look up to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Eunice Olsen, Prof Lim Sun Sun, Anthea Ong, Tiana Desker, Dr Wee Hong Ling and Melissa Kwee as my role models in life. On top of emulating their positive examples, I hope to build on the good work they have done and carry on their generous spirits of giving.

How has the government digitised internally?

We are doing our best, by automating processes and adopting the latest digital tools and technologies in the market to help us do our work faster, better, and smarter. Some of the initiatives being deployed at the workplace and in society can be understood more from the Smart Nation programmes at our Smart Nation Digital Government Office (SNDGO) website. Govtech is also playing a very integral role in our efforts to combat and control the pandemic by developing services such as Safe Entry, Trace Together and more. We are also investing more in developing and training all our employees to be kept abreast in cyber security knowledge and upskilling, reskilling our workforce in digital capabilities and data analytics skills. We are certainly well placed in advancing our nation’s digital interests and capabilities. 

How do you adapt to a constantly changing environment?

Reskill, upskill and never stop learning. You have to constantly stay on top of the latest skills and knowledge, and equip yourself with new skillsets to stay relevant. Also, be adaptable to change. Like what Charles Darwin said, “It is not the most intelligent or strongest that will survive, it is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Change is the name of the game, always be ready to adapt, keep an open mind and be flexible. Versatility is key.

Always have foolproof, holistic work plans but also prepare contingency back-up plans for all that you do as well. In a highly fluid environment, anything can happen. It is always good practice to have contingency plans in the event of Murphy’s law happening. 

In essence, be like water. Always be ready to change, adapt and roll with the punches.