Hwang Yu-Ning: Luck Plays A Role In One’s Career, But Favours Those Who Dare

URA’s Hwang Yu-Ning shares about overcoming an initial setback in her career path from architecture student to Chief Planner and Deputy Chief Executive Officer.
Kwang Yu-Ning, Chief Planner and DCE of URA advises young public officers to seize opportunities

A letter from Hwang Yu-Ning

Dear Young Officer,

Those who know me in my present role as Chief Planner and Deputy Chief Executive of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) may not know that my scholarship application to the URA was actually rejected. Yet my one and only job application after graduation was to the URA.

What made me join an organisation that had already rejected me once, and spend almost my entire public service career here? These can be attributed to some personal values that I would like to share. 

Do what you enjoy and enjoy what you do

I studied architecture at the National University of Singapore. Halfway through my studies, I realised that my interest was in urban planning and shaping our physical environment on a strategic level.

I was glad that I found my passion early on, as this gave me a clear goal to work towards.

For a start, I applied to the URA for a mid-course scholarship. However, I was rejected! Nonetheless, I was still very keen on the work that URA was doing and not too proud to apply for a job here after my graduation, so I did.

Happily, this time around I was offered a position, and that kick-started my decades-long career in the Public Service. I haven’t looked back since.

  • Chief Planner and Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Urban Redevelopment Authority (October 2017–present)
  • Director for Land & Liveability, Strategy Group, Prime Minister’s Office (July 2015–September 2017)
  • Group Director, Physical Planning Group, Urban Redevelopment Authority (February 2009–June 2015)
  • Deputy Director, Strategic Planning Division, Ministry of National Development (August 2006–January 2009)
  • Head of Development Planning, Physical Planning Division, Urban Redevelopment Authority (July 2001–July 2006)
  • Architect, Conservation & Urban Design Division, Urban Redevelopment Authority (July 1994–June 2001)

In joining the URA, I am glad to be able to contribute meaningfully to our nation-building through my work. I was able to build on the pioneering work of urban planners before me and contribute to shaping Singapore as a distinctive city and home for our people. For example, my colleagues and I worked with the community and other stakeholders to develop an exciting blueprint for Jurong Lake District as part of the western economic gateway. These transformative plans were shared with the public a few years ago and will gradually materialise over the next couple of decades.

My job was made more enjoyable as I had the privilege to work with passionate and competent colleagues. They continually inspire me and energise me each day to do even better, making my journey all the more enjoyable.

Be open to new opportunities

While luck can play a role in one’s career, it will only favour those who reach out and seize the occasion. An important advice for young officers is to always seize opportunities when they come and think about the difference you can make. So be open to taking on new assignments, portfolios, postings, or even speaking engagements if there is a chance.

This mindset opened many opportunities for me within the URA and outside. I have continued to say ‘yes’ to every new posting. This mentality allowed me the opportunity to be seconded to the then newly-formed Strategic Policy Office in PMO, and be among the ‘pioneer generation’ of officers to look at critical issues facing Singapore and develop whole-of-government policies to address these issues.

The experience allowed me to gain deeper insights towards the meaningful work we do in the Public Service, as well as cross-cutting exposure to the issues that our ministries and agencies have to grapple with.


Always seize opportunities and think about the difference you can make.

Amplify others

An insight I have gleaned over the years working with different colleagues and being a leader is that when you nurture and build up your teammates or subordinates, it can have an amplifying effect.

When speaking opportunities come my way, I try to redirect it to one of my colleagues so that he or she can gain confidence in speaking publicly about that topic. Such engagements also serve as platforms for my colleagues to interact with experts from the field. Over time, this helps to establish the URA as having some thought leadership in these topics and attract experts to share their ideas with us. As a result, more people join us.

Privilege to serve

I have not regretted making the URA my first and only job. Urban planning has been and continues to be extremely satisfying and meaningful for me, and it is an amazing privilege to be able to serve the public throughout my public service career.

It must be with this mentality that we join the Public Service. A willingness to serve and passion for the work we do will make all the difference in motivating and sustaining us in our public service career.

    Apr 23, 2020
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