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“I treated my scholarship like a career application”
Mr Weng Qi Hua, 25, is currently going through training to become a Guardian of our Borders. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

By seeking answers to what he wants out of his first job, this chemist-by-training landed himself a mid-term scholarship and a front-line role in border security at ICA

Whenever Mr Weng Qi Hua is faced with a problem, he deals with it by asking questions.

“During my university studies, one of my sources of stress came from having an unclear direction of which career to pursue after graduation,” says the 25-year-old.

Mr Weng chose to major in chemistry because he liked the subject. Deciding on a career path, however, was less straightforward.

“I kept asking myself whether I should find a job that is related to my field of study or if I should try out other options,” he says.

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Though he lacked a post-graduation plan at the time, his vision for a fulfilling career was clear: He wanted a job that extended beyond the confines of a desk or the typical nine-to-five routine.

Identifying himself as an analytical thinker, Mr Weng tackled his career dilemma with an open mind and in a methodical manner.

“My approach to this issue involved exploring and trying out different options through internships and attachments. These experiences gave me a clearer idea of what suits me better and which fields interest me more,” he shares.

While at university, he took up internships in sectors such as teaching and research. However, it was only at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) that he realised he fit right in.

A dynamic and exciting career

As a former National Police Cadet Corps member, Mr Weng has always had an interest in law enforcement, so he signed up for career talks by various Home Team departments under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

Out of all the talks he attended during his undergraduate days, the ICA session caught his attention as he learnt more about what the agency does and the wide breadth of roles that its officers perform in front-line duty.

“It completely changed my impression of ICA, and I began to view it in a new light – as a law enforcement agency, not just an agency dealing with passports,” says Mr Weng.

“I learnt that the work of ICA officers detecting and responding to security threats at our borders has a big impact on our society, and that is meaningful to me,” he says.

Mr Weng (left) learnt how to lift fingerprints during his undergraduate days. PHOTO: COURTESY OF WENG QI HUA

Still, Mr Weng was unsure if a uniformed career would be a good fit for him. “I asked myself whether such a career aligns with my interests, and whether I could envision a long-term future with ICA,” he adds.

To find his answers, Mr Weng signed up for an internship at ICA’s Air Cargo Command, where he gained first-hand insights into how the agency leverages technology for its operations.

He also had the opportunity to work with scientists and engineers from HTX’s (Home Team Science and Technology Agency) CBRNE (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosives) Centre of Expertise to develop an image analytics software. The software uses artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the detection of weapons and controlled items passing through the X-ray scanners at ICA’s checkpoints.

HTX is a key agency that ICA is working with to continuously explore different technological solutions to safeguard Singapore’s borders. Apart from that, ICA also works with various Home Team departments to ensure the safety and security of Singapore.

Diverse roles of ICA officers

At the Woodlands and Tuas land checkpoints, Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers are responsible for detecting and thwarting the entry of illicit goods and illegal activities. They are also trained to handle firearms and be the first responders for security incidents, having taken over these duties from the Singapore Police Force since January 2023.

Beyond the land, air and sea checkpoints, ICA contributes to the safety and security of Singapore in other ways. At the agency’s Enforcement and Intelligence Divisions, ICA officers investigate and prosecute cases involving offences such as overstaying and forged Singapore passports or identity cards.

They keep Singapore safe through conducting inland enforcement operations, including arresting immigration offenders and conducting the full range of court proceedings at the State Courts, such as pre-trial conferences, criminal case disclosures, and ancillary hearings and trials.

ICA officers also participate in enforcement operations with other agencies such as the Singapore Police Force, Central Narcotics Bureau and Health Sciences Authority.

“It was a memorable experience because AI was new to me, and I never thought I would ever do something related to AI since it is not my field of study,” says Mr Weng. “I felt a sense of accomplishment to be able to contribute to the transformation journey of ICA as it incorporates more technology into its operations at the checkpoints.”

This internship was pivotal, revealing the multifaceted nature of a career at ICA, where he could make a difference as a front-line officer while continually picking up new skills in cutting-edge fields like AI and data analytics.

“I learnt that the work of ICA officers detecting and responding to security threats at our borders has a big impact on our society, and that is meaningful to me.”

Mr Weng Qi Hua, recipient of the MHA Uniformed Scholarship (ICA)

“A degree in chemistry developed my analytical thinking skills, which are useful for processing complex problems as well as gathering and interpreting data,” he says.

From classroom to checkpoint

With one academic year left, Mr Weng applied mid-term for the MHA Uniformed Scholarship (ICA).

“I treated the scholarship like a career application. Even though there is a four-year bond, four years would be enough time for me to get to know more about ICA and its different job scopes,” he says, adding that the mid-term scholarship back-pays previous years of his tuition fees.

After graduating in 2023, the scholar is now going through the 26-week ICA Basic Course (Inspector) training, which further solidifies his commitment to serve as a Guardian of our Borders.

Tactical movements are part of the First Response Team training that ICA officers undergo. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA

“I became even more sure of my decision during my training at the Home Team Academy, when trainers shared case studies about the detection of immigration offenders. It emphasised the importance of ICA officers in assessing the profiles and intents of travellers, thereby enforcing our laws on immigration,” explains Mr Weng.

As he prepares for his posting as a Team Leader at one of Singapore’s checkpoints, the comprehensive training has equipped him with the confidence to lead, despite initial apprehensions about his experience level.

“One of our trainers told us: ‘Don’t be sorry, be better.’ This reminds me not to be overly critical of myself for making mistakes,” says Mr Weng. “It is more important to recognise the takeaways from an incident and improve ourselves so that we do not make the same mistake in the future.”

Together with his batch mates, Mr Weng (top row, second from right) will graduate from the ICA Basic Course (Inspector) training on Feb 29, 2024. PHOTO: ICA

Looking back – from the internship at the Air Cargo Command to his training with ICA’s dedicated personnel – his journey has cultivated a robust sense of belonging and purpose, reaffirming his decision to join the agency.

“I am glad to have found a job after graduation, but even more so, with ICA, I have a clear direction of the career path I am taking,” he says.

About the MHA Uniformed Scholarship
Depending on your interests and aspirations, this scholarship will allow you to kick-start your leadership journey as a uniformed officer in one of these five Home Team departments: Singapore Police Force (SPF), Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Singapore Prison Service (SPS) and Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) or as a paramedic with SCDF.

This article is brought to you by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.

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