Volunteer corps: Some bosses worry over staff impact

New citizens, first-generation PRs and women will soon be able to serve alongside national servicemen. -- ST FILE PHOTO
New citizens, first-generation PRs and women will soon be able to serve alongside national servicemen. -- ST FILE PHOTO

But most employers polled would support staff keen on signing up

While most bosses support national service, some are concerned that a new volunteer corps could sap even more of their manpower in an already tight labour market.

The first SAF Volunteer Corps next year will see women, new citizens and first-generation permanent residents participating in NS. These groups usually pick up the slack when male colleagues go for NSmen call-ups.

The volunteer corps proposal is one of 30 by the Committee to Strengthen National Service, which released its report on Thursday.

Participants will first attend a month-long course on basic military skills and values. Then, they will serve up to two weeks of duty, for at least three years. They can choose to join operations to protect key installations or be uniformed specialists, using their professional expertise in domains such as law, engineering and psychology.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) foresees about 100 to 150 people joining the first intake. More details on the scheme will be available later this year.

Most employers interviewed by The Straits Times, such as biodiesel maker Alpha Biofuels chief executive Allan Lim, said they would support staff keen on signing up.

"It is good for them to do NS as it gives them some perspective on how our country works that they would not get elsewhere," said Mr Lim, who has about 30 employees.

Employers should also see such volunteering as "work-life integration and harmony", noted Mr Erman Tan, president of the Singapore Human Resources Institute. Staff can still check their work e-mail in camp, the way some NSmen do now, he pointed out.

"Companies must know how to deploy their manpower and provide flexible arrangements using technology," he said.

But employers become less supportive if freeing their workers for a stint causes a labour crunch, said Mr Peter Lim, chairman of Soo Kee Jewellery and MoneyMax Financial Services.

Seventy per cent of his staff are women, while a fifth are permanent residents.

"If my employees were to go for this, I would approve as it improves their commitment and sense of belonging to the country. But I will be concerned if it affects my manpower, especially since we are already so tight on workers," he said.

"My sales personnel must be at the stores to attend to customers. They cannot work from camp."

The committee has also recommended that an "NS mark" of accreditation be awarded to firms that support NS. This would be given to firms which release servicemen on time to do their remedial training and make other arrangements when NSmen are called up for training stints, among others.

Alpha Biofuels' Mr Lim said: "It is an achievement we should strive for, especially now, when employees choose us as much as we choose them. They want employers who understand their NS obligations."

And employees agree. NSman Kelvin Koh, 26, a customer service executive, said he would prefer an employer with the "NS mark".

"It is easier to bring up and discuss these issues with such a boss," he said.