There are about 146,000 government positions in Singapore. The positions run the gamut from soldiers employed by the Ministry of Defence to economic advisers working for the Ministry of Manpower, with a lot more in between.
In times of uncertainty, especially as private firms in Singapore have reached record retrenchment levels, people are weighing their employment prospects and options. “The iron rice bowl,” as the Civil Service is often called, looks like an increasingly attractive option.
The Civil Service comprises about 85,000 of those government jobs in Singapore, and its employees are responsible for the country’s day-to-day operations. Unlike the situation in many other countries, the government of Singapore offers competitive wages and impressive bonuses to attract and reward the best talent.
In addition to the competitive salary, there’s tremendous job security as a civil servant. Once you’ve secured one of these enviable positions, you also gain the coveted ability to rise within the ranks of the bureaucracy.
The main drawback to working for the government is that—well, it’s the government. Those who are creative and like to understand the logic behind everything that they do may feel stifled in these roles. The system is designed to function well and for the greatest good without too much deviation. If you can live with those trade-offs, you may want to seriously consider the Civil Service.
In the face of the pandemic, the Civil Service has managed to continue to maintain relatively undisturbed operations. Although no mid-year bonuses were offered and most positions suffered system-wide pay cuts to weather the storm, job security in this unpredictable climate is a huge benefit.
In response to the pandemic, the Ministry of Manpower has announced some changes to promote native Singaporeans within the Civil Service. These changes make it more difficult for foreigners to secure these jobs.
Here’s what you need to know about preparing for, applying to, and rising through the ranks of a civil service position.
If Singapore’s government is responsible for it, then there’s a decent chance that it concerns the Civil Service. Civil servants are usually the people who work in government ministries and state organizations. All of the civil servants employed by these organizations and several others are required for the government to function:
- Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI)
- Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY)
- Ministry of Defence (MINDEF)
- Ministry of Finance (MOF)
- Ministry of Manpower (MOM)
- Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI)
People employed by the statutory boards, like the PUB, IRA, or the AVA, are considered “public servants” instead. Those in uniform—including members of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) or Singapore Police Force, or who work in hospitals—are also considered “public servants.”
Which Government Job has the Highest Salary?
The highest-paid government position is held by the Prime Minister, who takes home a considerable and controversial sum of $2.2 million each year before bonuses. Below that position, are several high-ranking officials who earn wages according to a tiered system of salaries and bonuses.
How Much do Civil Servants make?
According to the official pay scale, civil servants are paid the equivalent of 60% of the top earners’ average income in Singapore across all professions. This number is supposed to represent a high enough figure to attract and keep the most talented people in a given field. But it also incorporates an element of sacrifice in willing to work for the public good to attract candidates who will do the job well.
Beyond the initial salary, there are a number of performance-driven bonuses that are awarded mid-year or at the end of the year to the service as a whole and to individuals. In addition to the standard yearly salary, civil servants can earn some or all of these bonuses:
- Non-Pensionable Annual Allowance (NPAA): commonly known as the 13th-month bonus or Annual Wage Supplement
- Annual Variable Component (AVC): awarded mid-year at year-end to all civil servants based on Singapore’s economic performance. The AVC is equivalent to 0-1.5 months of pay and typically comes out to about 1 month. If Singapore achieves exceptional economic performance, a one-off Special Variable payment can be granted.
- Performance Bonus (PB): Ranges from 0-6 months of pay, with an average of 3 months. Based on individual performance and determined by the Prime Minister.
- National Bonus: Ranges from 0-6 months. 3 months are awarded if four socio-economic indicators (economic growth, unemployment, etc.) are met; 6 months if they are far exceeded.
All told, a Minister can earn up to 20 months of salary each year, if all bonuses are fully achieved, providing a healthy incentive for going above and beyond. Unofficially, fresh graduates can earn a monthly $3,000 salary when they obtain entry-level government jobs in Singapore with little experience.
Mangers on the MX12 pay grade report that they earn between $3,000-$5,900 monthly, while Middle Management (MX11) brings home between $4,740 to just over $8,000. Senior Management as MX10 earn $7,000-$11,470 per month. As the top earners, Directors (MX9) collect $11,000-$17,000 a month.
On top of that salary, civil servants report bonuses that range from as low as 1.5 months +$2,300 for lower-wage civil servants up to 2.5 months + $300 for everyone else. Although many bonuses and pay cuts were instituted in 2020 to cope with the pandemic, that is a rare occurrence.
Every few years, legislation usually increases the base salaries to keep pace with private-sector employment. In addition, consistently good performance will set you up for future promotion and added responsibilities.
How Much can you Expect to Earn Working for the SAF?
Working for the Singapore Army is a worthwhile consideration if you’re interested in public service. There are four main promotion tracks within the Army, and their respective salaries and bonuses:
- The Officers Scheme:
- This scheme starts at the Officer Cadet trainee level, where those in the service take home $1,990 per month, and those with a combat vocation earn $2,420. Promotion to 2nd Lieutenant (2LT) will net you a $200-$400 pay increase. The move to Lieutenant (LTA) can almost effectively double your monthly salary. Once you reach this rank, you’ll make as much as the median Singapore worker does each month.
- Captains (CPT) earn $4,000-$6,000, Major’s can earn up to 50% more, and Lieutenant Colonels (LTC) earn 50% than Majors do. Senior Lieutenant Colonels (SLTC) earn $12,000 or more. Colonels (COL) receive at least $15,000 per month, and Generals make at least $20,000 per month.
- This track provides a $5,000-$20,000 sign-on bonus.
- The Warrant Officers and Specialists Scheme:
- Typically receives a $30,000 sign-on bonus.
- Salary depends on military and academic standings and chosen vocation, but ranges from $1,590-$2,610 per month starting as a 3rd Sergeant in the Army.
- Military Experts:
- Intelligence experts, medics, and engineers can earn $1,590-$2,580 to start. Experts with university training in the same fields earn more than twice as much, between $3,670 and $5,300 per month.
- There is no accompanying sign-on bonus, but expect generous bonuses pegged to age throughout your career.
- The Army Deployment Force (ADF):
- $20,000 Sign-on bonus for Combat and Service Troopers and Specialists. Monthly salary between $1,330-$2,610.
Can Foreigners Apply to Work for the Government of Singapore?
Since the government’s goal is to attract the best and brightest minds, there are opportunities for foreigners, mainly permanent residents, to work in government positions. The main exclusions are that areas concerning national security are reserved for citizens only. Besides that, however, preference is usually given to citizens unless the foreigner holds exceptional credentials or no viable Singaporean candidates apply.
However, in light of the coronavirus, the MOM implemented new rules earlier this year that make it even more challenging to obtain an Employment Pass (EP) to bring foreign workers to Singapore. The new rules, which went into effect in May 2020, raised the salary threshold for an EP from $3,600 to $3,900. The increase is to deter firms, private and otherwise, from seeking outside talent, thus ensuring that citizens and optimal employment levels are realized. These figures will increase in the future in an effort to continue to provide jobs for eligible Singapore citizens.
Quotas for S Pass permits that allow foreigners to work in construction, marine, and process sectors have also been reduced. With many retrenchments, severely reduced working hours, and uneven reopening across different sectors because of the pandemic, these rules will make it more attractive to hire locals and permanent residents.
Which Degree is Best for Government Jobs?
This depends mainly on which ministry you’d like to join and which role you’d like to fill. Here’s what you might consider studying based on current openings.
- Cyber Security Consultant: There is always a demand for tech-savvy individuals in the Singapore government. A bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Information Systems, or a related field is required for you to apply to this position. Additional security certificates can help to set you apart from other candidates.
- Forensic Technical Officer: To regulate and investigate the approval of all therapeutic products in Singapore, you’ll need at least a Diploma in Biomedical Science or an equivalent degree. There are also Health Promotion activities that will suit you if you have a scientific inclination.
- Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore: Procurement officers need to have a relevant Diploma/Degree, preferably in Business Studies. Other degrees, like one in Management or Finance, would also serve you well to find entry-level government jobs in Singapore.
There are plenty of opportunities for you to find a niche in the Singapore government. If you have yet to select a career path, review the currently available listings’ requirements to help you prepare. These highly competitive contracts routinely open and close as new roles are designed, people are promoted or retire.
Which Degree is Best for Government Jobs?
There are several gateways to government jobs portals that area an ideal way to begin and target your search for government jobs Singapore.
- Mycareersfuture.gov.sg is an excellent government job portal. Singapore citizens and Permanent Residents can quickly and thoroughly look for relevant government jobs in Singapore based on your unique interests and competencies. Under new rules, all job positions (corporate and government) with a monthly salary of up to $20,000 must be advertised here.
- Other government job portals can be found on the main Singapore Government site, gov.sg. This is a quick way to search for entry-level government jobs in Singapore or mid-career options, organized by sector.
- If you know which ministry you’d like to work for, you can start on that site. The Ministry of Manpower, for example, has a government job portal that lists all positions available within that particular Ministry.
- Careers.gov.sg is also a comprehensive government job portal. Simply select the branch that you’d like to look at openings, and you’ll be taken to the official job posting.
- For technology careers, start looking at The Hive, which was designed to feel like a start-up to attract some of the brightest young minds to keep Singapore on the cutting-edge of innovation and incorporating new technology.
Is it Better to Work for the Private or Public Sector?
This answer is subjective, and it depends entirely on what you’d like to get out of your career. While a public service career isn’t right for everyone, some obvious perks make these positions quite enviable. There are also limitations to working for the government that you won’t find in corporate posts, so choose wisely.
Working for the government means seeing that the fundamental needs of the population are met. Everything from education to environmental protection, military defence to transportation or finances to the economy fall under this umbrella. By working for the government, although there are plenty of rules and regulations to follow, you will understand and have the capacity to make a difference in your post.
STABILITY: They don’t call the civil service the “iron rice bowl” for nothing. Once you’re in, as long as you continue to excel in your role, you can expect high job security. The government needs to function regardless of economic conditions, so civil servants will always be necessary.
BUREAUCRACY: The stability and consistency that the government provides is also, as far as many are concerned, its downfall. Orders come from on high, and they must be followed. There’s plenty of red tape and a lack of communication between levels to frustrate you, too.
CONSISTENCY: Expect to be treated well as an employee. As the people who set the labour laws, the government is predictable and fair. In addition to very competitive wages, you’ll know what to expect going into work each day.
PAPER QUALIFICATIONS: Before the divisions were open to all applicants, the competitive job openings relied heavily on paper qualifications rather than the quality of your work. Know that you’ll still be required to submit relevant PSLE, and “O” level, “A” level, Diploma, and University GPA results when you apply, even though there is now a greater official emphasis on meritocracy.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Singapore’s civil service has numerous and easily accessible opportunities for continuous professional development. There is an emphasis on workforce development and lifelong learning. Whether you elect to pursue further training or degree courses, the additional education will be yours for the taking.
ROUTINE: Your success as a civil servant relies on how well you are able to think within the box of government, not necessarily outside of it. If you’re looking for a creative position, then the routine and redundancy of government positions might outweigh the benefits for you.
SUBSIDISED FACILITIES: Civil servants get access to some of the best employee facilities like the SAF yacht club and the CSC Changi Chalets. In addition to those perks, civil servants have access to a lot of discounts.
SERVICE: You’ll sleep well knowing that the services you provide are a vital part of keeping Singapore on the path of growth and excellence. As long as you find a role well suited to your skills and abilities, working for the civil service can be quite fulfilling.
Working for Singapore’s government is a badge of honor worn by nearly 146,000 people, including 85,000 who work for the various ministries as civil servants. The government offers job security and stability that is difficult to find in the private sector. Employment with the government is essential and can be rewarding if you thrive well in an environment that thrives on rules, regulations, and hierarchy.
From the PM to entry-level civil servants in Singapore, each employee shoulders a part of the responsibility of the country’s proper functioning. With recent legislation, there is now the potential for upward mobility, regardless of your initial qualifications. As you fulfill and excel at your duties, you’ll be rewarded.
Civil and public servants are well compensated for their efforts in helping to maintain the country. In addition to all of the perks, you’ll have the satisfaction of helping your fellow countrymen.