Learning Is A Lifelong Journey

Lim Mei Mei highlights the importance of meeting the evolving needs of NSmen, and to embrace lifelong learning in the face of economic uncertainty.

By Yong Shu Chiang      28 December 2021

In our Men of SAFRA series, we shine the spotlight on the leaders of SAFRA who have also made outstanding contributions to the community. One such leader is Lim Mei Mei, Deputy Director, Continuing Education and Training (Nursing), at the National University of Singapore and a member of SAFRA’s Strategic Review and Education committees. We find out what drives her to help keep SAFRA relevant in supporting NSmen and their needs, particularly in terms of education and career opportunities.

Q: How have you “experienced” National Service over the years, perhaps through friends and family, and how does NS resonate with you today?

Mei Mei: My views of NS have been shaped by the shared experiences of family, including my two brothers, and friends, with their stories of camaraderie, growing pains, friendship and life lessons. I also saw the humorous side in the Ah Boys to Men series of films!

On a more serious note, NS to me means ensuring the total defence of our country. This is a responsibility that should be shouldered by every citizen in various roles. In my own household, my eldest daughter, who is 28, has experienced NS by attending basic training as a part of the SAF Volunteer Corps.

Q: Why is volunteering important for you, and how did you get involved with SAFRA as a volunteer?

Mei Mei: The essence of volunteering is to enable positive change in someone’s life. With my background in the education space, I have done pro-bono coaching to youth at risk and working professionals in my personal capacity, which is very fulfilling.

My first experience with SAFRA came from being a member of the Recognise the Contributions of Operationally Ready NSmen to Total Defence, or RECORD IV, committee in 2006. I facilitated focus group sessions to derive insights on how spouses and families could support NSmen as they fulfilled their commitments to the nation.

I enjoyed these interactions very much and was then glad to take up the invitation from SAFRA to join the Education Committee, a role I have served for more than 10 years. 

My belief as a volunteer is that there needs to be sincere commitment to the purpose, availability to attend meetings and proactive contributions in order to be effective in support of the Management and Secretariat. 

Dress from Lark & Peony

Q: What have you learned about catering to the needs of NSmen and their loved ones since you’ve been volunteering with SAFRA?

Mei Mei: With my experience with RECORD IV, I’ve learned to better understand and address the concerns of wives and family members to the demands of NS, such that these demands would not place undue stress on their households.

One emerging trend of NSmen’s needs is that SAFRA Clubs are being seen as spaces for social connectedness as well as healthy and active aging. Based on demographic trends, SAFRA’s membership benefits could evolve to better cater to these lifestyle needs.

Q: Could you share your roles on the Strategic Review Implementation and Education committees, and what are the key issues discussed?

Mei Mei: The Strategic Review Implementation evaluates strategic propositions to transform SAFRA and ensure that it remains relevant and vital to the lives of NSmen and their loved ones. It involves the provision of direction and guidance to shape the action plans and KPIs of the various Strategic Review programmes, engagement with internal and external stakeholders and evaluation of how to better serve our customers both in the present and future.

As a member of this committee, I drew upon my marketing communications and business development experiences, and industry knowledge of the professional development space to contribute as much as I can. I was entrusted with the opportunity to advise on the goal of Enabling Transition and Adult Learning for our NSmen. This involved facilitating partnerships with government agencies and training providers.

As part of the SAFRA Education Committee, the mission is to provide NSmen with life-changing opportunities, such as the SAFRA Educational Sponsorship, to further their educational pursuit up to post-graduate and doctoral programmes. In addition, we identify reputable institutional partners that offer relevant tertiary and professional programmes for our NSmen to continue their lifelong learning.

This committee conducts twice-yearly sponsorship interview sessions with applicants to shortlist candidates for sponsorships of tertiary studies. The Committee also evaluates sponsorship proposals offered by educational institutions to ensure the credibility and legitimacy of the programmes offered to our NSmen. 

Q: In your volunteer roles with SAFRA, what have you found to be some of the biggest obstacles NSmen face, and what can be done to support them? 

Mei Mei: During the process of our Education Sponsorship interview sessions, we do observe that some NSmen candidates may not necessarily have clarity on how to map out their career pathways. It would be beneficial to conduct focus group sessions with NSmen in various age groups to gain deeper insights on their challenges in their career planning. This would enable the Strategic Review initiative on transition to be shaped with more relevance to the NSmen.  

Against the current backdrop of economic uncertainty, SAFRA is continuously exploring  new collaborations with public agencies and educational providers to broaden the opportunities of continuing education for NSmen, as some transit from full-time national service back to their civilian lives. 

Charting the learning pathways with reputable educational institutions for upskilling, re-skilling and the acquisition of industry-related professional competencies is ongoing, and more opportunities are being explored progressively. Members are encouraged to be proactively engaged with SAFRA’s social media spaces to keep up with announcements in all of SAFRA’s programmes for members.

Lim Mei Mei (back row, 6th from left) with Education Award recipients at the 2019 SAFRA AGM.

Q: In your opinion, for young NSmen just starting out in their careers, what objectives should they set for themselves, so as to be more agile and resilient in their careers?

Mei Mei: In embarking on a new career, the opportunity to learn at the workplace is key in honing skills and sharpening knowledge. Aim to do so by being proactive in your interactions with internal and external stakeholders where there is a wealth of experience to be harnessed. Be a humble, curious, and proactive learner. 

You should also embrace a growth mindset. This is demonstrated by putting in extra effort beyond the basics required in the job, keeping up with the future trends of the industry that you are working in, to envision the skills required, and taking ownership to chart your own pathway of professional development. 

Remember to sharpen your planning, execution, and communication skills. These are fundamental skills required in any profession and applicable in personal life. Agility in your career can only be possible with knowledge, skill and aptitude. 

Q: For NSmen looking to make a mid-career switch, what are some key considerations they should weigh?

Mei Mei: My advice would be: 

  1. With the retirement age extended to 65 years, one should reflect on what is the span of years ahead to embark on a career switch. This span of years translates to the potential of career growth in a new job.  
  2. Re-skilling and upskilling are critical for a successful career switch. This requires formal training and sometimes, even academic or professional certification. The investment of time and commitment is critical.  
  3. Mindset is the most challenging yet a key criterion to the decision for mid-career switch. Are you mentally ready for change? Having an open mind to re-learn, the mind to translate your past skills into the new job, and the reimagination of how your future might look like. 

Q: What are some of the avenues NSmen can look to for assistance, at SAFRA or beyond?

Mei Mei: SAFRA has collaborated with WSG, SSG and e2i on a virtual Job and Learning Fair and will look into similar initiatives in the future. However, these opportunities are not exclusive to SAFRA, as these agencies are well-positioned to offer career counselling and jobs via their well-established job portals and virtual career fairs, which are well publicised. Aside from these, there are additional job portals that list updated career opportunities.  

Q: Do you have any additional advice on volunteering and career development?

Mei Mei: Having served in the Education Committee for more than 10 years, and assumed the Chairperson role since 2020, I do see the potential in some of our younger committee members who have been committed and active in contribution of ideas and efforts. And I would call for others to volunteer with SAFRA if they believe they can make a difference.

I myself believe in lifelong learning, as I am currently pursuing my second postgraduate degree, a Master of Science in Applied Gerontology with Nanyang Technological University, as a part-time student. Learning is a joy for me and there is a wealth of knowledge and experience I have yet to discover.

For NSmen, I would advise that you embrace the same mental grit and physical fitness in withstanding challenges during your NS, and to apply it to your life and career. Life is a lesson and learning is a lifelong journey.

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Hair and make-up: Zoel Tee | Stylist: CK