From national gymnast to joining the public service: 24-year-old S’porean shares how & why she made the change

She pirouetted her way into adulthood.

| Syahindah Ishak | Sponsored | August 05, 2022, 11:58 AM

She tumbled into the gymnastics world at the tender age of four, with the hopes and dreams to make it professionally one day.

20 years on, Michelle Teo has represented Singapore in various competitions, both locally and internationally.

She first made the Singapore Women Artistic Gymnastics National Team in 2011, and secured the silver medal in the Women's Artistic Team event alongside her teammates at the 2015 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games held on home soil.

She also carried Singapore’s name in the 2014 Commonwealth Games held in Glasgow, where Team Singapore attained the seventh position.

Stopped gymnastics to pursue other passions

After all the accolades she had received in her 20-year sporting career, Teo felt that the time was right for her to look to the future and pursue her other passions.

Coupled with the many lingering injuries she had to endure, Teo decided that it was the right time to move on.

"I have achieved all that I had set out to achieve [in gymnastics]," she explained.

Although bittersweet, Teo took the change in stride.

Joined CPF Board in June 2021

Teo graduated from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) with a Bachelor in Business with honours (Marketing) in 2020 and started out as a business development manager in the private sector shortly after.

Though she loved her work, Teo wanted to pursue a career where she would have opportunities to shine. But more importantly, she wanted to be able to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

"I was browsing through the management associate programmes offered by various organisations, and CPF Board’s Management Associate Programme stood out to me."

Teo felt that the programme met her requirements of a fulfilling and meaningful career that brings benefit to Singaporeans' lives. She embraced the opportunity and joined CPF Board as a management associate in June 2021.

More about CPF Board’s Management Associate Programme

CPF Board's Management Associate Programme provides structured rotations, learning and development programmes, as well as leadership guidance to groom future leaders for the Board.

According to Teo, new management associates undergo an induction programme in the first two months.

They go through various courses and talks so that they can learn more about the CPF system and its different policies.

On top of their daily work, the new management associates are also assigned a group project during these first two months, where they are mentored by senior management members.

Sharing her experience when she first joined the Board, Teo told Mothership:

"For this group project, we had to propose workable solutions for existing problems faced within the Board. This required us to work with the relevant departments to gain deeper insights into the issues, as well as gather data to support our proposed solutions.

Through this, I managed to meet and interact with many colleagues across the Board, including senior management, and that really helped ease me into the organisation. My batchmates were also some of the first friends I made in the Board, and we still check in with each other regularly due to the special bond we had forged through the induction programme."

Work culture in CPF Board

Teo added that CPF Board’s working culture is "very people-oriented".

"My colleagues, my bosses — they are all very friendly, and they are always there to guide me when I am unsure," she explained.

One of the initial challenges that Teo faced was the amount of abbreviations she had to familiarise herself with.

"CPF Board is a very big organisation. There are so many different processes and abbreviations to learn."

Perhaps, that’s just part and parcel of anyone who’s first starting out at the Board. Teo was grateful that her colleagues and bosses were patient towards a newbie like herself.

"My colleagues and bosses were always very patient in explaining everything to me. That really helped me to not feel so lost and overwhelmed with the new environment and the new job."

Applying what she learnt from gymnastics

On top of the help she received from her colleagues, Teo was also thankful for the habits she had picked up from her gymnastics days, the main ones being time management and discipline.

"The importance of time management and optimisation – making the most out of the little time I have – is something I learnt from a young age as an athlete, having to juggle between my schooling commitments and intense training schedules. For example, I often had to give up on going out with my friends after school as I had to rush to training and make use of the time before training to complete my schoolwork."

What makes her feel fulfilled at work

So what’s Teo doing at CPF Board exactly?

"For me, my job scope is rather dynamic where I conceptualise and implement ideas to drive digitalisation," she said.

One such digitalisation project would be the recent upgrade to the CPF service centres’ queue management system.

Previously, Singaporeans would have to take a physical queue number at the service centre and wait for their turn, a process which Teo described as "manual and tedious".

To tackle this, Teo and her team upgraded the system so that Singaporeans can scan a QR code to immediately receive a digital queue number. This new system was especially useful during the pandemic, as it mitigated crowding, while allowing Singaporeans to easily keep track of their queue number on their mobile devices.

"This was one of the projects that I've worked on that had a direct impact on members of the public. The digital queue system was well-received by members as they felt that it was effective and easy to use.

Knowing that my work has impacted people’s lives positively reaffirms my belief in its meaningfulness. It also motivates me to work harder in my other projects to improve the lives of Singaporeans."

Understanding what CPF officers do

The above-mentioned project may surprise some of us as the common understanding is that CPF officers deal mainly with policies or queries about CPF monies.

Teo concurred that people often do not realise how varied the work at CPF Board can be.

"Many people that I talked to would assume my work is either related to policy rollout or customer service. However, there is much more going on behind-the-scenes, especially centred around digitalisation."

She also disagreed with the notion that the Board’s work is mundane.

"For me, my role doesn't feel mundane at all. No day is the same for me as I’m constantly brainstorming and working on new ideas to better the lives of Singaporeans and improve their experiences with the Board."

If you are interested in CPF Board’s Management Associate Programme, here are more details.

CPF Board Management Associate Programme

To be eligible for the programme, you must be a graduating Singaporean/Singapore Permanent Resident student with a good honours degree in any discipline, or have recently graduated with less than three years of work experience.

CPF Board is looking for someone who is "Agile, Bold, Customer-obsessed and Data-smart".

The application will open on [email protected] from August to Nov. 30, 2022.

More information on how to apply can be found here.

All images courtesy of CPF Board & Michelle Teo. Quotes were edited for clarity.

This article is sponsored by CPF Board.