Tackling Singapore’s labour challenge

Manpower issues continue to plague both SMEs and large companies in Singapore, according to the National Business Survey

Hiring people with the right skills and attitude was at the top of the list of challenges cited by local businesses in 2018, according to an annual survey, with some 61% of respondents citing this as their number one issue. Meanwhile, rising labour costs was named as the top challenge by 50% of respondents in the latest National Business Survey (NBS) conducted by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

Despite these challenges, only 12% of companies invested in better training for their staff in 2018. The survey, carried out from 19 September to 7 December 2018, drew responses from more than 700 companies across all key industries. Of the responses, 88% were from SMEs and 12% were from large companies.

Unsurprisingly, SMEs were less likely to invest in training, possibly due to lower profit expectations, according to SBF CEO Mr Ho Meng Kit. “SMEs are thinly-resourced. Functions are done by the same team so sparing people for training is a challenge,” he said.

SBF CEO Mr Ho Meng Kit and Mr David Black, Managing Director, Blackbox Research, fielding questions during the Q&A session

Investing in training

At a feedback session on the NBS organised by SBF, one participant said that existing training schemes sometimes did not address the specific needs of SMEs. “We need to mitigate the negative effects of digitalisation so that it does not affect the overall employability of Singaporeans. We should find new products, processes and training courses which we can promulgate,” said Mr John Venning, a machinist from mechanical engineering firm Silver Maker ARF.

However, more progressive companies have already realised the importance of investing in training. Mr N. Subramanian, CEO of Singapore-based trading company Tionale, said that the company started investing in its talent a few years ago when it saw a clear link between people development and business results following an assessment of its operations.

Established in 1982, the company trades in a wide range of consumer and industrial products, and has customers and suppliers across 90 countries. “In our business, people play a very important role and are our principal asset. The right team members and good processes add a huge value to our business,” said Mr Subramanian.

Beyond training, the company also installed new HR software to improve the employee experience with HR transactions and also to manage its people information better. Employees are able to apply for leave, check leave balances, as well as view and download salary slips in real time though a mobile app.

Mr Fong Fatt Chee, Manager, Sewers & Drainage Services, sharing his insights on workforce training

Seeking support from Industry Transformation Maps

The SBF survey showed that 36% of companies were also looking at the Government’s Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) for ways to improve their manpower needs and talent pipeline. The ITMs are sector-specific roadmaps to help industries transform. All 23 roadmaps covering 80% of the local economy have been rolled out as of March last year.

However, large companies and SMEs have different expectations of what they aim to get out of the ITMs. While large companies hope to see help for productivity and manpower needs, SMEs are more focused on getting assistance from Government schemes and access to overseas markets.

Furthermore, some 63% of businesses are banking their hopes on the upcoming Budget to provide support for accessing new and critical technologies, while another 53% of respondents hope for Budget 2018 to provide relief when it comes to foreign worker quotas.

For the full survey click here