I read with great interest the ongoing discussions online regarding this post on Straits Times forum titled "NS stint may hinder job prospects for S'poreans". Some discussions can be found here:
Singapore Media Watch
First of all, I'd say that the 2.5 years spent in NS are some of my most productive and creative years. "Achieving" a higher rank certainly helps as the level of responsibility associated with the rank brings an equal exposure to opportunity for learning about my own weaknesses, learning how to be a follower and a leader, learning how to think under stressful conditions and all those good things. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I might be in the minority. Most of my peers have the worst things to say about the experience in the military, and it's easy to see why.
Just throw in a "lower" rank (a CPL vs a CPT) and a "lower" serving status (NSF/NSmen vs regulars/professional), you'd suddenly find yourself being treated as "expendables" without the ability to think. Granted, in a regimental setting, an order is an order and all good soldier should be taught/trained to execute on what he/she was being told to do. This is how order can be maintained under the chaotic nature of real combat. But under the context of a peace-time armed force and that fact that bulk of the force comes from "civilian" soldiers, there's much more that the SAF can do to ensure that the time the "civilian" solders have sacrificed for the interest of the nation's self-defence is not wasted.
So train us hard, but give us room to exercise our own analytical skills, regardless of rank. Take those 2 years and 3-4 weeks/year of reservist training, but make sure that it will indeed be an enriching experience for all involved. There are many military-style mini-courses overseas that target business executives who want to advance their teamwork or leadership skills; so clearly there is some benefit in this sort of training. Why can't we look forward to our annual reservist training as a time to meet up with old friends and as a time for personal enrichment? I know for a fact that the SAF is working hard to achieve this (as I was a reservists trainer during my NSF days and I'd seen first-hand some of the measures that my unit was implementing to create a fulfilling experience for the reservists), but clearly this is not an easy task at all as it requires a big shift in mentality of everyone involved.
As for the effect of NS on job prospects, I can definitely see the source of hesitation for a firm to recruit a NSmen. Unfortunately, this inherent conflict will never go away so long as our Armed Forces is primarily a civilian-based one. Should we shorten the service duration? Or even go so far to abolish the civilian model and adopt a purely professional SAF (as some of the blogs suggest)? These are questions that require an in-depth analysis, something that I wouldn't dare to offer an opinion without sufficient evidence and data to back up. I have high hopes though that MINDEF will be flexible enough (as shown by their decision to shorten NSF service to 2 years a few years ago) that they will not dismiss these suggestions being discussed and proposed. Nevetheless, I do believe that there's much that SAF can and should do in the meantime; which is to place the "personal enrichment" of individual soldier as one of its topmost priority.