Benjamin Yow Thiam Hui
I would advise fresh graduates to embrace challenges, as they teach us priceless lessons.
I graduated in 2014 with an electrical and electronic degree, and I was drawn to SMRT’s Engineering and Management Associates programme as it provided a structured induction which helped me bridge the experience gap from a fresh graduate to working professional.
In the programme, I was exposed to engagement with senior management from different business units, which gave me good insight into how the different business units contribute to the public transport business. After I was assigned to the power maintenance team as an executive engineer, there was a constant focus on developing each engineer’s management skills as well as technical engineering capability.
As an electrical engineer specialising in power, I started my career with the SMRT Power maintenance department. My role as a power executive engineer was to ensure the reliability of the power system in SMRT. Behind the scenes, this job was challenging as every second counts whenever a power fault occurs. Our stress levels peak during the troubleshooting process, but there is always a high level of satisfaction once we manage to get the power system recovered without delay.
Challenges I faced
The greatest challenge I faced early in my career was doubting myself about whether I was a good engineer and whether I was ready to lead. As a young engineer, there was a steep learning curve when it came to troubleshooting faults and leading the assistant engineer and technical officer on my team.
Eventually, I realised the key to overcoming those challenges was my attitude. By being humble and not afraid to ask questions, that’s how you gain the knowledge you need. Likewise, you gain the necessary experience for the job when you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty and dive into the work. The knowledge and experience I gained that way have been valuable to my career progression.
The turning point
As I continued to build my technical engineering capabilities, I eventually shifted focus to a role as an engineering leader when my supervisor gave me the opportunity to take on an acting section manager role in 2016.
The role was a new challenge for me, as I had to manage over 50 staff and be accountable for the reliability, manpower, budgets and maintenance of the power system for the East West Line. It was a huge responsibility, but my supervisor spent a lot of time guiding me to make sure I was ready for the role. Yet she made sure I still had the freedom to make decisions on the job, so that I could grow professionally.
My biggest achievement
In 2016, I was tasked with setting up a power maintenance team for the Tuas Extension Line. It was a challenging yet meaningful task, as the operation of the Tuas extension line would allow commuters to travel to Tuas much easier. I treaded into new territory with a team of four assistant engineers in a temporary holding office. The learning curve was steep as I had to familiarise myself with a new railway power system, as well as hire engineers, set up processes and build a strong team culture. The team and I worked through countless nights and weekends in order to meet the tight deadline for the start of line operations.
There was tremendous satisfaction when I looked back at the team’s achievements. We grew from a mere four-man team to a strong 18-man team motivated to ensure a reliable power system on the Tuas extension line.
Important skills as a leader
A leader should have empathy and yet be firm when making decisions. When I was first tasked to take up a system replacement project which was valued at more than a million dollars, I was not ready to make decisions on my own. I had to consult my then-supervisor very frequently. She never questioned my capability, and was always empathetic and very generous with her advice and guidance. This helped me build up my confidence level over time.
Yet, when a bad decision was made during the execution of the project, my supervisor made a firm decision to stop the work and rectify things despite the fact that we were operating on a tight timeline. The leadership she showed then has been a great example for me since, and has motivated me to learn from my mistakes and build my resilience to propel myself further.
Advice for graduates
I would advise fresh graduates to embrace challenges, as they teach us priceless lessons on the job. Be humble yet firm when it comes to making decisions, and always have an open mind towards receiving criticism.