Presentation on the Professional Certificate on Human and Automated Managerial Skills (SGUnited Skills Programme by NUS)

Here’s a transcript of a public presentation I gave last Saturday (4 July 2020) at the SGUnited Skills Programme Presentation by NUS at Kampong Admiralty Career Fair organised by e2i

Hello! My name is Jonathan Sim, and I am an Instructor from the Department of Philosophy. I’m very happy to share with you more about the Professional Certificate in Human and Automated Managerial Skills, under the Human and Managerial Literacies Pillar.

The panel of speakers at the event

This professional certificate is a collaboration between the Department of Social Work and the Department of Philosophy.

Eh? I know some of you may have raised eyebrows, and at this point you might be thinking: How is this relevant to me? Let me explain.

This professional certificate is meant to impart to you the soft skills of problem-solving. Just because a solution works doesn’t mean that it works well. And this is especially so when we have to work with digital tools, whether it’s tools for data analysis or coding, or anything involving a computer. The computer will always throw out an answer. Just because it works, just because it gives you an answer, doesn’t mean it’s the right answer. The solution may not be effective!

It could be that we’re solving the wrong problem, or we might be solving the right problem, but in a way that creates more problems. These days, we are managing people in an automated way. And it’s easy to forget that behind every figure in your data is a real human being. What if the solution is problematic? At a click of a button, lives are affected! Scary, isn’t it?

So that’s why we want to impart to you the soft skills to think critically about the solutions we create.

Social Work is about the heart, and Philosophy is about the mind. We want to develop both your heart and your mind; and we want to equip you with the essential skills to lead people with an impact, and in a way that inspires others to follow you. We want you to have the skills to strategise effectively and efficiently when managing both people and resources.

So let me briefly explain how the 3 courses in the Professional Certificate will help you to achieve all these, alright?

The first programme is called, “Beyond Resilience: Growth and Personal Leadership During Challenging Times.” Here, you’ll learn how to tap on your rich experience in life, your success, your failings, your strengths, and your weaknesses, so that you can develop greater resilience amidst difficult and uncertain times. And more importantly, so that you can use your experiences and strengths to discover your own mission; your own purpose; your own direction. Only in this way can you lead yourself to accomplish this.

This is known as personal leadership: knowing how to lead yourself with purpose and conviction. And only when you are able to lead yourself will you then be able to inspire and lead others with an impact. This a very critical leadership skill that we want to impart to you.

The second programme is called, “How to Critically Reason with Data on Microsoft Excel.” As the name suggests, we will teach you some basic foundational concepts in data analysis and how to use Microsoft Excel to carry out the basics of data analysis.

If you’ve never done any of these things before then this course is for you! Because we want to empower you, make you confident in the basics. So that you can take your learning of data analysis further on your own or in one of the other professional certificate programmes on offer.

The essential skill we want to teach you is how to reason critically. Data doesn’t lie. If the data said X happened on this day, it happened! But we can form flawed interpretations from the data. And in this vast and uncertain world where you don’t know the answer, I don’t know the answer, your boss doesn’t know the answer, how do we know that we have attained the right answer, or the right interpretation? You’ll learn how to be more aware of your own assumptions, identify and challenge other people’s assumptions, and of course, justify your own interpretation with strong support from the data. This is a great soft skill to learn because you will know how to investigate and identify the right problem to solve.

So how then do we solve the problem well?

Ah, this brings me to the third programmed, called, “The Basic Fundamentals of Algorithm Design and How to Critically Evaluate Algorithms to Identify Embedded Politics.” Algorithms are more than just codes on a computer. Policies, Standard Operating Procedures or SOPs, even decision on who gets shortlisted for an interview, or who gets promoted – managerial level decisions. All these are algorithms, whether or not they are executed by a machine or a human!

We want to develop your mind, so that you acquire the skills to break a complex problem down, simplify it, and come up with clear step-by-step instructions to solve it. It’s a skill that will give you great clarity of thought when solving problems.

Now, this is not a coding course. If you’ve never done coding before! Wonderful! Because we’ll empower you with the foundational concepts essential to coding, so that you can learn coding on your own or in one of the other profession certificate programmes.

Of course, it’s not enough to know how to create algorithms. We must also know how to evaluate them. You see, algorithms are reflections of their creators. We can and we do in fact embed our assumptions about people and the world from time to time. And this can discriminate against certain classes of people, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

So we want to develop your heart and mind in order to recognise that you aren’t just looking at numbers. You are managing real people whose lives can be affected at a click of a button. And so we’ll develop in you the skills to critically assess algorithms for these kinds of discrimination, or what we call “embedded politics,” and we’ll teach you how you can work to improve these solutions.

With all these, you’ll acquire an array of skills to lead and manage people, whether manually or automatically.

Opening Remarks at the Book Launch for “Memoirs of a Flying Tiger: The Story of a WWII Veteran and SIA Pioneer Pilot”

Today’s the launch of my new book! This book — “Memoirs of a Flying Tiger” — is an account of the exciting life of Captain Ho Weng Toh, a 99 year old World War 2 veteran who fought as a bomber pilot against the Japanese and later became the first of four pioneer local pilots for Malayan Airways (now Singapore Airlines). He went on to train the first 300 local pilots for Singapore Airlines, all of whom now hold senior positions in the aviation industry or have retired.

Co-authored the book with Captain Ho Weng Toh, a 99 year old World War 2 veteran and pioneer pilot of Singapore Airlines who trained the first 300 pilots for SIA.

This book is the fruit of nine months of labour (while I was simultaneously writing my Masters dissertation). More than just editing the original manuscript which he wrote, I had to comb through dozens of historical documents, conduct a great deal of historical research to ensure the authenticity of the chronology. And best of all, I had to interview Captain Ho and the people whom he worked with just to construct a coherent and engaging story, one that would accurately mirror the story-telling of Captain Ho’s own voice.

This has been an incredible journey and one that taught me that the path to greatness doesn’t necessarily entail accomplishing great things, but in being so warm and welcoming to people, especially those in one’s team, that they’re part of a family.

Captain Ho has since been my role model and an example of a human and humane leader worthy of emulation. I have been inspired to follow his example with the way I lead my team of tutors and my class of 800 students. The success of this module is largely thanks to the many life lessons I learnt from him.

It has been fun and I’m so grateful to have been given this beautiful opportunity.

Launching the book together with Captain Ho Weng Toh; Guest-of-Honour Ambassador-at-Large Prof. Tommy Koh; and Director of the National Archives of Singapore, Ms. Wendy Ang.

Captain Ho’s family gave me the honour to be the emcee for the launch, and asked me to give the opening remarks for the event. Here’s the transcript of what I said…

Opening Remarks of the Book Launch,
“Memoirs of a Flying Tiger,”
at the National Archives of Singapore
Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Delivering the Opening Remarks to Guest of Honour, Ambassador-at-Large, Prof. Tommy Koh and many distinguished guests and members of the media.
Delivering the Opening Remarks to Guest of Honour, Ambassador-at-Large, Prof. Tommy Koh and many distinguished guests and members of the media.

The Nobel laureate and father of transplant surgery, Alexis Carrel, once said: “Man cannot remake himself without suffering. For he is both the marble and the sculptor.”

I’ve had the privilege of working very closely with Captain Ho in the writing of this book. And in that process, I’ve heard him recount so many stories of his life: the ups and the downs, and especially the downs and how he handled them. What I can say is that Captain Ho is truly that man who has remade himself.

He is both the marble and the sculptor.

Captain Ho has dealt with the hardships of war, and the pain and anguish of losing friends and loved ones. While it is easy for people to fall into bitterness and despair over such events. Captain Ho held firm to the values and principles his father taught him. In particular, resilience and compassion. He rose up and out of these difficult events, sculpting himself to be more human and humane than ever before.

I have witnessed the fruits of his humanity on so many occasions through my interactions with the people whose lives were touched, changed, and impacted by him while he was a flight instructor in Singapore Airlines.

We’d like to think that people will remember us for accomplishing great things.

Yet, having spoken with the pilots whom Captain Ho trained and the many people he had worked with, there was one thing that stood out so vividly in their memories so many decades later: it was the little things that he did. His warmth, his kindness, the simple gestures and words that make one feel welcome and at home, as if they were a part of a family – his family.

I work very closely with young people, and I can tell you that apart from festive occasions like Chinese New Year or regular family gatherings, young people these days rarely talk to people a generation or two older than they are.

There is so much wisdom, experience, and insight that fails to be transmitted from one generation to the next. That’s partly because we now live in a time of innovation and disruption, and with it comes the idea that many old things are outdated and irrelevant to our lives. We have the technologies, the hardware, that makes us more advanced than ever. But as cliche as it may sound, we lack the HEARTware, for we have forgotten how to be human and humane. We have, in many ways, stopped learning the best practices of living well and of working harmoniously from the generations before us.

If anything, my experience with Captain Ho has shown that there is still so much that we can learn from people in his generation.

In a few months time, Captain Ho will be a hundred years ago. I’ve only spent nine months working closely with him on this book, and that’s not even 1% of his entire life!

Yet I’ve gained and learnt so much from him. In that nine months of labour, I’ve been reborn. My perspective and my life has changed, and I now do my best to follow his model example of leading my own teaching team like a family the way he did. Had I not met Captain Ho, it wouldn’t have occurred to me how important, how worthwhile, and how meaningful it is to run a team the way he did: like a family.

There is so much wisdom and insight that one can gain from Captain Ho. He has a century’s worth of it. And I believe we can gain many insights from his life stories in his book.

Man is both marble and sculptor, and here is that man, that most beautiful work of art, ready to share his life and his stories with us.

Thank you.