Staying relevant through training

Companies need to keep upgrading their workers’ skills to stay competitive in the long term

With talk of a looming recession in recent months, businesses may be tempted to scale back on training in a bid to cut costs. Yet, in the face of technological disruption, it is imperative for companies to continue equipping their staff with the skillsets needed for these firms to stay competitive over the long run.

Singapore narrowly avoided a technical session in the third quarter of 2019, when GDP inched up 0.6 per cent on a seasonally adjusted basis, over the previous quarter. A technical recession occurs when there are two straight quarters of quarter-on-quarter decline. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) latest figures show that the citizen unemployment rate rose slightly to 3.3 per cent in June 2019, from 3.2 per cent in March 2019.

The numbers point to the oft-spoken need for employees to reskilling to ready for new opportunities that come their way. However, companies also benefit from investing in training for their staff. “Through the right training, employees will have the right skillsets and companies can remain competitive,” said Ms Mabel Tang, director of the SBF Business Institute (SBI). “Hence, companies should embrace training and lifelong learning to promote inclusive economic growth and provide a future of opportunity for all,” she added.

Preparing for the upswing

SBI aims to help SBF members and the wider business community build capabilities to “achieve inclusive and quality-driven growth” as Singapore restructures. To do so, it leverages professional practitioners, certified trainers and mentors to provide training services tailored to upgrading the capabilities of the workforce. The institute encourages companies to train their employees even during an economic downturn to prepare for the up-cycle.

SBI’s programmes covers a wide range of skillsets, from managing procurement agreements to accounting 101 for non-accountants. The institute also runs e-learning programmes on topics such as people management and business continuity.

Flexibility is important when faced with a job market that is constantly changing as industries transform as a result of digital technologies. Instead of looking at digitalisation as disruption, however, companies should embrace and integrate technology into their daily operations.

“Companies should look at their processes and use technology to replace manual and repetitive work, and encourage their employees to work hand-in-hand with technology to reskill and upskill them to meet the demands of the changing landscape,” said Ms Tang. Businesses that adopt this transformation are likely to benefit, as their employees become more productive and efficient, she added.

A holistic approach

SBI takes a holistic approach to help companies develop capabilities and competencies to meet their business goals. It looks at three specific areas—skills development, business excellence, and human capital development. To help companies prepare for transformation, for instance, the institute recently started a course called “Masterclass on Job Redesign through Robotic Process Automation (RPA)”. It enables attendees to use RPA to overcome their constraints and to identify areas in their work processes that can be redesigned to meet their operational demands.

SBI also runs programmes to help companies understand the use of technologies and data. This enables them to spot upcoming trends and deliver insights to improve a company’s performance. Said Ms Tang: “In a nutshell, we need to provide companies with the essential and emerging skills to prepare them for business transformation.”

Another major area of focus for SBI is internationalisation. The institute organises a one-day workshop on the strategic choices that organisations can make when considering the right mode of entries into overseas markets. It also conducts workshops on investment, employment laws and taxation in ASEAN countries.

Said Ms Tang: “A crucial part of company’s strategy on internationalisation depends on their understanding of the overseas markets and their alignment with the opportunities and threats presented by such markets.”

Reaping the benefits of training

One Singapore company that is working with SBI to develop training programmes for their staff is Mentor Media, a supply chain service provider. At the most basic level, it has been preparing its staff for the future by getting them comfortable using apps for self-service human resource (HR) functions.

Mr Tan Ching Huat, the company’s vice-president for corporate HR, said there is an urgent need to upskill because of intense competition in the market, especially from regional rivals. He said Mentor Media has its own multi-year digitalisation roadmap aimed at upskilling and investing in cutting-edge technology and processes to boost productivity and service quality.

“As we intensify the automation and digitalisation of our own proprietary processes, our employees are also benefiting from acquiring such skills and knowledge that make their jobs easier.”

Training grants for businesses

Just as individuals can apply for government grants to help pay for training fees, employers and businesses can seek funding support to ensure that their staff are equipped with the right capabilities for the future. The grants from the Workforce Singapore agency cover both external and in-house courses for Singaporeans and permanent citizens, though the financial support varies.

For example, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can receive support for up to 95 per cent of fees for courses offered at appointed centres. For more details, find out more here.