Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jobs in security

When First Warrant Officer A retired from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) after decades serving the military, he decided to stay with the organisation he had grown to love by signing a fresh contract as a civilian Unit Safety Officer.

For all his years of experience and dedication serving the SAF, he saw his pay slashed by some 30 per cent after his pay was realigned with his new job scope.

Warrant Officer A should count himself lucky.

From what we are told, this Warrant Officer's experience isn't unique. Some SAF officers who moved from a combat vocation to a civilian desk job in the SAF saw their pay plummet by 50 per cent.

If you want to be clinical about things, the new remuneration packages result from the realignment of pay to the new job size. Reduced job scope, lighter responsibilities, fixed working hours, no night training and weekends off should count as suitable tradeoffs for the burden our men and women in uniform shoulder while in SAF service.

What's more, our former Regulars who switched to civilian appointments signed their new contracts with their eyes open under a willing buyer, willing seller relationship. So they ought to have done their sums to figure out if the civilian job is worth the trouble.

Valuing military experience
Be that as it may, there is something to be said about the experience an individual gains after serving an organisation for many years. And the strength of the former Regular's military experience and institutional memory is something that the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and SAF should consider pricing in when working out civilian terms for former Regulars.

Many of these old hands know SOPs inside out. Many of them know how the processes and protocols evolved and can reinforce SOPs with stories they gained from their years of service that can drive home and strengthen key points in topics such as training safety.

Using a Human Resources (HR) Compensation and Benefits framework to resize the quantum of one's pay risks downplaying the immense value of real world experience that MINDEF/SAF would benefit richly from, if the former Regular was persuaded to stay with the SAF under a civilian contract.

In many instances, such experience is incalculable under HR matrices that factor in job size, peer comparisons and so on. If experience is worth paying for, this isn't obvious when one looks at some of the renegotiated salaries for our former Regulars who are now holding civilian appointments.

In the case of Warrant Officer A, his USO job scope may well compare favourably with a safety officer job in another industry sector (i.e. alignment of remuneration through peer comparison). But how does one price in operational experience (which he gained during an SAF operational overseas) and firsthand experience watching safety systems and processes evolve over the years?

Knowing how to set the sweet spot when pricing in real world, operational experience of our Regulars is relevant and timely as MINDEF/SAF looks set to expand the training cadre by some 1,000 Regulars in the coming work year.

Their terms of service, whether they are hired as uniformed or civilian personnel, career path and the synergy forged between training schools from BMTC to OCS will be closely watched by Regulars and job-seekers as they weigh the benefits of a career in uniform.

If uniformed Regulars are appointed for our training schools, MINDEF/SAF must guard against the evolution of a pecking order where some training appointments (OCS or teeth arms such as the School or Armour, School of Artillery) are viewed as being more prestigious compared to a trainer role in some support unit.

Beyond the arithmetic of how HR works out rewards and benefits for our servicemen and servicewomen emerges many heart-warming stories of SAF Regulars who stay with the profession of arms out of a (misguided?) sense of duty - not because they cannot find anything else to do when chucked on civvie street.

Among the scores of former combat Regulars whose pay was slashed by half are many loyal, dedicated and engaged individuals who put SAF before self.

But does the organisation care enough?

Tipping point
When job scopes and remuneration packages are renegotiated, there comes a point beyond which the erosion in pay can be belittling, demeaning and potentially damaging to morale. That 50 per cent pay drop is such a tipping point.

Seen in the context of a breadwinner who provided for his family for decades, the sharp drop in income will result in a lifestyle shift in his 40s - a period when the children are probably in their teens and when maximum support is needed for their higher education.

Self esteem is real and needs to be nurtured carefully.

The 50 per cent pay drop is potentially toxic to MINDEF/SAF engagement efforts because the cost savings in the person's new civilian contract are pitifully small when measured against the erosion in morale among Regulars who do their own horizon scanning and realise they may be better off making a job switch sooner rather than later. This could explain why not a few young servicemen and servicewomen decide to call it quits in their mid to late 20s after their first contract, or in their early 30s in the case of non-scholars who realise their career runway will be limited knowing their CEP is pegged at a certain level.

If left unchecked, the end result could see HR practitioners in MINDEF spending more time and tax money backfilling certain appointments due to the constant churn in personnel. It is false economy that shortchanges tax payers in the long run.

We have in the SAF today a wealth of experience amassed by Regulars who serve in declared units and even more valuable knowhow and experience from those in classified battalions and squadrons (1xx SQN, 1xx SQN, 2xx SQN).

This experience is worth paying for because retaining this data-information-knowledge-wisdom within the MINDEF/SAF workforce will strengthen the core institutional memory of the organisation. It will pay dividends many times more than the pittance saved from cutting salaries.

Our war fighters are not mere digits that fit into a matrix of job size and remuneration.

We must learn to do our sums right.


Unknown said...

Your analysis is completely off.

SAF regulars are intentionally overpaid during their service, because they are expected to retire in their 40s and 50s. The pay they would have received over a 40 year career into their 60s is compressed into a 20-30 year period. This is why some WOSE with at best a diploma can be paid like he had a Master's degree -- he is getting 40 years of diploma holder pay in 30.

This is not a secret. In fact, this point is emphasized over and over again to regulars and many attempts are made to encourage them to save up and invest their pay so it will last after they retire. However, nearly all regulars instead live high on the hog and develop lifestyles far beyond their means, then have a rude shock when their service runs out.

The exception are the MEs. In return for being allowed to keep working to a normal retirement age to retain their knowledge, they are paid much less, more in line with pay elsewhere at their level of training and experience.

Now, you want to reward the poor financial habits of our regulars and allow them to keep their elevated, compressed pay scale even after the early retirement that justifies it. That makes no sense. If anything, I would recommend a return to the old pension scheme, where the "extra" pay regulars get for their short service is kept from them, and only handed to them after their service as a pension -- basically forced disciplined saving like CPF. However, this was always horribly unpopular, for exactly the same reasons CPF is unpopular.

leonwhy said...

It's ironic that you accuse the writer of a 'completely-off' analysis, when he has deconstructed the issue logically and has backed it up with rationale and evidence. You, on the other, based your analysis likely on your own observation of select Regulars, then commit a logical fallacy with a sweeping statement.

Between David's and your argument, it's clear which one's the better one.

kingkongbundyboo said...

David's article is nigh impossible to disprove nor to prove - the point is, a military vocation has no civilian equivalent.

Since that is the case, you can draw whatever conclusion you want from a pay cut of 30% when one moves from a military vocation to a civilian posting.

ZeoiNagePotato said...

I had the chance to work with some of these converted DXOs during my NS days. A common complaint that i used to hear from some of them was that their new job scopes were a poor fit for their skill set.

I served in a paper-pushing unit that relied heavily on IT. (Lucky me.) I got along pretty well with this relatively young warrant who was assigned to us because of a medical down PES. One night during weekend duty, he confided in me that he was feeling down because he felt that his skills and experience were being wasted in a position he was ill-suited for. He was pretty miserable in the job even though he was still drawing a regular's salary. The damage to my friend's self-esteem could not be measured in dollars and cents.

Perhaps the problem is unique to my unit, but it seemed to me at the time that the powers that be were more interested in matching rank/vocation/PES to the vacancies than finding out if the human beings they were sending our way were the right fit for the job.

In our unit, a large part of the job of these former regulars was to produce many written report daily. Problem was, their decades of military service had prepared them for neither the extensive use of IT, nor the sheer amount of writing required. The fact that these papers sometimes filtered up to lvl 4/5 unexpectedly just added to the stress that they were already facing.

A discussion on the retention of institutional knowledge has to go beyond salaries, i think.

If not, the tagline for the new Army recruitment ads might as well read:

"HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT, to Protect our Home?"

Hodge Dislodger said...

I don't think David actually addressed the issue that regular pay factors in their early retirement age. Maybe he did, and I missed it. Regardless, that's something that cannot be quickly discounted. Yes, it's a huge hit at many levels to have to take a huge pay cut when you leave uniformed service. But with sound financial planning, a regular could have made the premium he or she earned throughout your regular career work for you through the power of compounding interest over 10, 20 even 30 years. In a way, the SAF gives regulars an advance on their salary, and since it takes money to make money, that's another benefit which others elsewhere don't enjoy. And we're not even talking SAVER plans etc., which are in addition to this. The flip side to David's point is, of course, the many regulars who have made the arrangement work for them and leave service financially secure. Of course beyond anecdotes, there isn't available data that establishes what the state of affairs is.

Perhaps the issue then is many regulars may not be going into their careers with their eyes wide open w.r.t. retirement. Perhaps the SAF is transparent about the logic behind SAF salaries, but the regulars aren't getting it. Or don't realise what they should have done with it till it's too late.

Another issue is recognition/respect/appreciation is often tied to remuneration. But in Singapore, can the two be separated? (And this is an issue that surfaces in many other areas too)

earlyfalloutboy said...

Unknown and David both have valid points: a drop in salary at retirement is detrimental to morale, but regulars are paid competitive wages by civilian standards, even when the burdens of the military profession are considered. Financial planning is also poor among many regulars. Unknown also displayed some insight when he compared the salary arrangements of WOSEs to those of MEs.

It is impossible to discern who is closer to reality, without more specific details than "saw his pay pay slashed by some 30 per cent."

What was this Warrant Officer A earning before his retirement at age 55, and what were the components of his salary? Servicemen earn more for serving in combat vocations, and more for specific vocations within the combat arms.

What are the duties of a civilian Unit Safety Officer compared to one in uniform, considering that the former enjoys "reduced job scope, lighter responsibilities, fixed working hours, no night training and weekends off" ?

Is there even a need for the Army to have such a position as a civilian Unit Safety Officer, given the restrictions of their job scope and the duplication of responsibility by uniformed officers? What of the organisational overhead of an additional billet who needs to be kept informed and in the loop?

TheGreenBeenz said...

I have yet to see a wose with a diploma earn a salary equivalent to a masters holder in the civilian sector. Perhaps you exaggerate Sir... (Fancy classified jobs aside with 007 style allowances of course)

Hodge Dislodger said...

I never liked the early retirement age. I always believed the option for a military career to be your first and only should always be there. From the cradle to the grave of your work life.

But the early retirement is a legacy of old norms and old policies which reflected the thinking of the day. The officer career scheme is instructive. It was 55 once upon a time, because military life was hard on the body. Not just physically, but mentally too. No IT to help you manage info and multi-task. In any case, 55 wasn't too far off the national retirement age then.

In 1998, they dropped it to 45 because of two reasons. First, there was a belief that with all the new technology, only younger officers could adapt to it quickly. Second, the older you got, the more set in your ways you would become, and therefore be resistant to newer technologies. The SAF didn't want that. They wanted constant renewal--fresh ideas--which was incidentally the flavour of the month in management. The current remuneration system where regulars are paid a premium because of their shorter careers was also refined.

Of course history has shown experience counts for something, and older workers can adapt. And no one could have anticipated how much of an "efficiency-multiplier" IT could be making the age argument less convincing(of course it's a double-edge sword but that's a separate topic).

In 2009, the SAF introduced MDES and extended the officer retirement age to 50. I don't think they could have pushed it to be the national retirement age (62) because of the legacy manpower policies. They'd have to cut the pay (because officers could now work till 62 so why pay them more first) and that would have been unpopular. The rate of promotion would also have had to slow down, and time in rank or grade increased. This too would have been unpopular because if you're stuck being a MAJ for 7 years that suggests you've "hentak kaki-ed"(incidentally, GEN (RET) David Petreaus was a CPT for 7 years, a MAJ for 6). I sometimes think the SLTC rank was introduced because of this extended retirement age. This need for constant advancement is a very Singaporean thing.

In short, it would have been administratively too difficult to up the retirement age. Personnel had gotten used to the system, and expectations established. And few, if any, would want to give what they already received for a chance to work longer.

Looking back, I don't think the SAF messed up with its HR policies. It made sense then. But the world changes fast and adjusting legacy policies can be more difficult than it might appear to the bystander.

I still think regulars have to go in with their eyes wide open and plan ahead. They have to understand why the starting pay of an officer with a good honours degree is $4.5-5k a month when their peers are getting maybe $3+ in the civil service. There is a catch which the SAF is upfront about. Perhaps this has to be reiterated constantly throughout their careers. Perhaps the SAF should even have a financial planning service which interested regulars can subscribe to. It already has a Career Transition Resource Centre. The flipside is is it in the SAF's interest to keep emphasising that a military career is short and that one has to mindful of the need to start a second career outside? Would that affect motivation?

Hodge Dislodger said...

@thegreenbeenz, it is possible, but of course, the devil is always in the detail. It is possible for a WO with a diploma to earn more than a 30 year old with a masters in the private sector. Just base pay without special allowances. Of course, the WO would have been in service for longer (at least 5 years more), and it depends what type of job the masters holder has. A masters doesn't necessarily guarantee you a better paying job in this job market.

In any case, in the civil service, postgraduate qualifications don't necessarily result in a pay rise simply because you have one. The qualification may give you an opportunity to be promoted (by applying for a more senior position), but you can do that without one too.

earlyfalloutboy said...

Air Force pilot A was unable to enter a local university with poor A Level grades. Seven years after enlistment, the SAF put him into Singapore Management University and is paying for his course. Signals WOSE B was not on the JPSAF scheme or enrolled in a polytechnic. He likewise entered a polytechnic he was not qualified for with the SAF's help and had his course paid for. They studied alongside females, pre-enlistees, NSmen and foreigners who had entered through competitive admissions exercises that had weeded out many others, with an outfield paycheck while they were in the classroom, and free of loans to repay.

Lets recognise the SAF's help in getting regulars into universities they would otherwise be unable to enter, paying for their studies with public funds, and continuing their salaries for the duration of the courses.

If the thrust of this article is to pay regulars what their energies and knowledge are worth, in the interest of morale and fairness, rather than what the SAF can get away with paying them given the circumstances, then dare I suggest that NSFs be paid an amount commensurate with their energies as well. Salaries are just a narrow aspect of how the SAF treats NSFs and regulars of equal rank differently in practical terms. It would be a small step towards redressing this unacknowledged discrimination.

leonwhy said...

@earlyfalloutboy who commented on Apr 22, 1:19PM. Not sure what you are insinuating there, but I think you ought to do your research before making wild sweeping statements.

Government academic institutions in Singapore are known for stringent and meritocratic criteria, be it from pure academic results, discretionary admission criteria, or tests set by themselves. The pilot who got in probably went in as a matured candidate, if he did not attempt to attain the necessary academic criteria by retaking his exams or whatever, assuming the pre-requisites were not lowered. Likewise for the WOSE. The means by which they entered is available to all who did not previously qualify for the course through academic results alone. And with regards to the funding for salaries with public funds- there is a ROI that's expected

Hodge Dislodger said...

@leonwhy, I think @earlyfalloutboy was merely saying that SAF regulars receive non-monetary benefits from the SAF through orgnanisational initiatives in addition to their salaries throughout their careers, so we shouldn't hastily condemn MINDEF as being all about dollars and cents. In the bottom line is for SAF's HR policy to be fairly assessed, one has to look at the regular's career from enlistment to retirement, and not just at retirement only. As I mentioned earlier, regulars themselves have the responsibility to do so too.

@earlyfalloutboy, including NSF allowance in this discussion would enlarge it further as NSF allowances are governed by separate policies motivated by different rational/reasons, even though they both involve money. We'd move away from the original post about regulars at retirement.

It would be fascinating discussion, though. :)