The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the urgency for companies to embark on digital transformation efforts to reimagine how their businesses operate and adapt to new opportunities. It has also exposed the vulnerability of employment and the close nexus between business and workforce transformation in order for companies and individuals to build resilience.
Clearly, people remains at the core of any transformation. As Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said during the recent Budget 2021 announcement, “enabling our people to have access to good jobs and job opportunities is the purpose, for developing a strong economy.”
The three-pronged strategy of company transformation, job redesign and workforce reskilling to build a vibrant economy, which is central to Budget 2021, is therefore holistic and well-calibrated.
Company transformation, job redesign and workforce reskilling
The first prong underscores companies as the fundamental economic unit for transformation. With uneven sectoral and market recoveries to be expected, the only way forward for companies is to innovate, connect and collaborate – locally and beyond.
Much of today’s innovation rely on technology and digital adoption, which demands both enterprise capabilities and capital investments. The new CTO-as-a-Service initiative should offer many smaller SMEs the needed technological know-how to embark on their digitalisation efforts. For bigger SMEs and large enterprises, the new Digital Leaders Programme will support them to build a core digital team, and develop and accelerate their digital transformation plans.
As companies digitalise, redesigning jobs must be on their minds. The enhanced support through the Support for Job Redesign under Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG-JR) will be useful for companies that recognize the impetus for job redesign.
Essentially, job redesign seeks to create a more optimal combination of tasks in a job role for efficiency and productivity. Without job redesign and change management efforts to bring employee mindsets and behaviours on the same transformation journey, companies’ efforts at digital transformation may not be sustainable. Entrenched ways of working and lack of requisite digital readiness skills are common barriers to extracting the full value of improved processes.
It therefore makes workforce reskilling, which is not new, ever more important. A macro-approach towards workforce reallocation and reskilling is needed to ensure that sufficient workforce is in the right places to drive new growth areas in the economy. Companies should look to tap the enhanced SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package, which supports those with growth potential to accelerate the hiring of locals and reskilling of workers. Companies can also leverage the various attachments, traineeships and mid-career pathway programmes to expand their workforce footprint and access new skillsets.
A greater emphasis on cross-sectoral approach
Ongoing experience with the COVID-19 pandemic shows that companies that undertook transformation efforts to survive and grow can be broadly put into two groups. The first group of companies innovated within their industry lines, for example, retail outlets expanding their e-commerce operations to maintain or improve direct access to consumers. The second group of companies pivoted from their current core industries into new areas of growth in other industries. For example, food manufacturing companies shifted away providing B2B service offerings to restaurants and hotels, and moved to retailing products through supermarkets, given that their customer bases were working from home and dining out less.
The existing Industry Transformation Maps provide ample resources to help companies undertake the first type of transformation. More efforts are needed to develop new cross-industry transformation maps to help companies understand the adjacent sectors and business lines that they can pivot to, given their organic skills and capabilities, so as to create more diversity and resilience in their revenue channels.
In tandem with that, our Skills Framework too should be enhanced.
The current set of Skills Frameworks for sectors provide clear insights on how individuals can embark on continuous skills acquisition to realise career growth within the sector. It also provides a key anchor to bring companies, individuals and institutes of higher learning together in a synergistic manner to enable workforce transformation within each sector.
For a better macro-workforce reallocation of skills, alongside the Cross-Industry Transformation Maps mentioned earlier, accompanying cross-industry Skills Frameworks will need to be developed to help workers understand how they can upskill and reskill to take on jobs in growth areas within adjacent sectors and realise cross-industry career pathways to maximise their career potential.
Budget 2021 builds upon the efforts of earlier budgets to provide a suite of grants and programmes to help companies to innovate and transform. For these to truly land with businesses and make an impact, Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) and SME Centres have an increasingly vital role to help business leaders understand and navigate the plethora of support available. Hence, we look forward to details in the upcoming Committee of Supply debates on how the TAC 3.0 and SME Centre 3.0 efforts will better assist businesses looking to transform.
Similarly, we look forward to further enhancements to the career advisory services and the national jobs portal so as to better enable individuals, especially those in at-risk jobs, understand the myriad of upskilling and reskilling schemes available to them to secure their employability.
Singapore’s three-pronged strategy to drive economic and workforce transformation has set the country in the right direction to build long-term resilience and competitiveness. Can execution, which calls for rallied efforts across entire ecosystems of corporate stakeholders and individual workers, match up to the strategic intentions? Continual reframing of what is relevant and what makes for effective outreach and engagement will be key.
Samir Bedi is EY Asean Workforce Advisory Services Leader and Goh Jia Yong is Partner, People Advisory Services at Ernst & Young Advisory Pte. Ltd.
This article was first published in The Business Times on 23 February 2021.