Maritime Initiation

Two MPA highlight the dynamism of the Singapore maritime industry and the challenges it poses.

By Grace Swee

With most people opting for more conventional paths such as engineering and finance in his school days, Wong Kai Cheong walked the path less travelled and took up a Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) scholarship.

Kai Cheong saw the potential for his personal growth amidst the diverse maritime industry, and wanted to play a part in growing one of Singapore’s key industries.

Path to success

“MPA is an organisation where one can pursue a career dealing with a multitude of disciplines and issues that are unlike what you find in common mainstream industries,” the 31-year-old shares.

As the nation’s maritime administrator, MPA is tasked with promoting and developing Singapore as a premier global hub port and international maritime centre, and to advance and safeguard Singapore’s strategic maritime interests.

Kai Cheong’s journey towards a maritime career started at the University of Glasgow and Strathclyde in Scotland where he pursued a degree in Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering.

After graduation, he started out as a marine surveyor, where he managed ship safety and ship regulation development.

Two years later, Kai Cheong wanted to “delve further into in-depth engineering subjects” and enrolled in a Masters programme concentrating on Offshore Engineering at Nanyang Technological University.

With that in hand, he then scaled the career rungs to his current position as Assistant Director in the Registry & Manning department.

Diverse job scope

Singapore is a major flag state, with the Singapore Registry of Ships being ranked among the top ten registries in the world. Apart from providing the expected services as a flag administration unit, Kai Cheong’s department is at the frontline when dealing with clients such as ship owners and operators.

Kai Cheong also helps to promote Singapore as an international maritime centre to ship owners and recounts a particularly gratifying project, in which a presentation to Korean ship owners proved successful.

“Most of the Korean ship owners were totally unfamiliar with the Singapore business environment and came with no expectations. But through the session, in which we showed them Singapore’s efficient services, high operational and pollution control standards, and our good safety record, we managed to generate a keen interest. A few months later, I was pleased to have a few of them joining us,” he shares.

Job satisfaction

For Kai Cheong, his greatest job satisfaction is getting to deal with diverse issues and not get mired in routines.

“Every day is never the same and you never get bored,” he enthuses.

He also gets ample opportunities to interact with various people from all over the world and is able to garner many different perspectives to an issue.

“With a diverse portfolio of responsibilities, MPA consists of an equally diverse group of people. But we are all guided by our FIRST values, which is forward-thinking, integrity, respect, service excellence, and teamwork,” Kai Cheong shares about how the employees work together to fulfil a common vision.

Versatility is key

One of his compatriots, Wong Ming Guang, has taken a leaf out of his book.

Ming Guang has an impressive passion for learning and displays a strong sense of adaptability no matter what the situation.

After graduating from the National University of Singapore with a degree in Industrial & Systems Engineering, the 27-year-old wanted to tailor his own learning curve and decided to study for a Masters in Public Administration at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

For him, scouting for scholarships was a step towards “pro-independence”, a way to support his own education.

Ming Guang’s days as a young scholar interning at MPA further honed his independence as MPA posed challenging projects for scholars to tackle.

Embracing challenges

Ming Guang embraces such challenges, seeing them as benefits and opportunities to grow.

“One reason why MPA provides a number of challenging tasks to scholars is because it is a way of stretching you to achieve your potential. Most of the time you need to learn and figure things out for yourself, and these are the skills that stay with you,” Ming Guang shares.

As an Assistant Manager in MPA’s policy department, port development is one of his key responsibilities. He is involved in direct projects with port operators, such as Jurong Port and PSA Singapore.

On top of that, he also engages in “forward-planning,” a crucial element to port development. “Forward-planning is the ability to make an informed decision about something that’s going to happen decades later, while maintaining the flexibility to make changes. That’s the strategic challenge of port development,” Ming Guang says.

Continuous learning

“We have a comprehensive training programme at MPA, from attachments to terminal ports to economic courses! So there is a wide range of courses targeted to help you improve your capabilities,” Ming Guang enthuses.

MPA also has in place various schemes to encourage staff to continuously improve themselves such as the UPGRADE account.

The UPGRADE account is an initiative launched by MPA to give employees funds to pursue their own interests and hobbies.

Employees who have worked for two years will have an account created for them.

With an initial deposit of $1,500, the account can be used for items like language classes and self-development programmes.

With a collaborative work environment and a model of continuous learning in the company, Ming Guang looks set to continue his pursuit of excellence at MPA.

Nevertheless, he hasn’t forgotten his initial uncertainty as a student and gives some friendly advice, “Embrace challenges and learn from the process. You may succeed or fail, but they are all experiences that give you a better idea of what you want in life.”

Kai Cheong agrees with Ming Guang and encourages young opportunists to “be adaptable and open-minded to all things as well as stay motivated.”

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