Equipping workers with digital skills for a new future: SkillsFuture Forum 2020 panel, Companies & Markets - THE BUSINESS TIMES

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Equipping workers with digital skills for a new future: SkillsFuture Forum 2020 panel

With Covid-19 outbreak accelerating the rate of change, businesses can tap available resources to help employees with reskilling and upskilling


  • Ong Tze-Ch'in, Chief Executive, SkillsFuture Singapore
  • Choe Peng Sum, Group CEO, Pan Pacific Hotels
  • Susan Chong, CEO, Greenpac
  • Toby Koh, Group Managing Director, Ademco Security
  • Adeline Sim, Executive Director and Chief Legal Officer, HRnetGroup Limited

Moderator: Christopher Lim, Digital Editor, The Business Times

Q: Singapore has been looking at reskilling and retraining for a long time. What's really different this time with Covid-19 and how can we be sure that it will be more successful?

Mr Ong: The scale that we need to do this at is unprecedented. The rate of change has been accelerated significantly. The work that we have been doing has been to mobilise the training of the adult education ecosystem.

We are hoping to generate more than 20,000 training opportunities under the SgUnited Skills Programme.

The scale of it is unprecedented due to the amount of transformation and change that is happening in the industries and workplace. To support that, we need to equip workers with those skills for the new future.

Mr Choe: Even job redesign and reskilling takes a lot of work. Even training a bellman to be a concierge is not straightforward. With the SkillsFuture training, we get a lot of funds to help.

We have the enhanced skills support package as well. Sometimes, all it takes is for us to find out what is out there and take advantage of it. There is a lot of help available.

Ms Chong: The difference between now and pre-Covid is the mindset. When you talk to SMEs, they don't see the real need but because of all the initiatives, they have been sending staff for more productivity training. Sometimes when you talk about productivity, you talk about investment.

So it has to be top-down about leadership and mindset change. Today with the current situation, everybody knows the importance of upskilling.

Everybody can drive but how can you determine a good driver? In the case of an emergency, how do you react? That is the life-saving moment. This takes a lot of skill and experience. It is not pure luck. So continuous learning and upskilling is very important.

Mr Koh: Traditionally, a lot of business owners always want to get people from within the same industry when making a new hire. But from what I found, I get a lot of value from getting people from outside the industry. You get fresh ideas and a new way of looking at things.

With SgUnited and all the young graduates and interns, we have gotten some really great interns who have come in and looked at our problem statement and proposed different solutions.

It's been fantastic, and there is so much of drive within young Singaporeans. So I urge business owners to not just look within the industry. Sometimes getting a fresh perspective is extremely important for you to move ahead and be more competitive.

Ms Chong: I fully agree. For us, we employ people from diverse backgrounds. We have structure engineers, mathematicians and chemists, who bring in deep skills. Typically, we don't bring in people from the same industry.

Mr Choe: What has changed is in the digital space. A lot of hotels are now stepping up in the digital marketing sector. That's one sector from where we are adding more people. A lot of the young people are tremendously skilled in this area, it is almost natural for them. This is one big area of change.

Q: How can companies redesign jobs to emerge from this crisis stronger?

Mr Choe: Lately, we have been taking the whole company to a design-based thinking. Don't change things just for the sake of changing. One way is to be customer-centric and design the ideas on based on what a customer needs. One example is the hotel. For years, you've got a front desk where people check in and out.

The big question is, do the guests even want to go to the front desk? All they want to do is, get out from the airport into their car, go to the hotel and head to their room. That's it.

The whole job redesign could go into what the customer needs. Get rid of the front desk and have mobile check-in and check-outs. This is innovation based on the needs, rather than innovation by itself.

As long as we centre on the customer, we have tons of opportunities for redesign.

Mr Ong: I think the real truth is that there is just not enough digital talent to support the huge demand that is out there. Beyond looking at young and fresh hires, it is also important to think about how you can up-skill and equip the current workforce with digital skills.

Yes, sometimes it is a bit of a challenge but during the circuit breaker we encountered very heartwarming stories about how mature workers have picked up digital and telecommuting skills simply because the circumstances have called for it. It goes to show that there is a capacity for that.

Ms Sim: On digital skills, and now with everything online, you can actually access training that is not just in Singapore, and that is amazing because there are no boundaries and you can access material beyond Singapore.

Q: Delayering and clustering can lead to job redundancies. How serious are companies about achieving job enlargement that does not lead to layoffs?

Mr Choe: The whole idea of delayering and clustering is not about making people redundant, it is about value. It's not really about cutting down on staff. It's about getting the best deal in the best time. There are benefits to clustering and delayering that leads to a much higher performing team.

Q: What are the most urgent reskilling needs for businesses or for your own businesses?

Ms Sim: For us, it's really about being able to flow with the market. We had operations in China that were impacted as well. We had a scheme called "Come walk with me", which was to appeal to clients to say, if you take one of our candidates now, there will be a co-payment to help you out.

There were many clients that took up the scheme and said they would hire someone. So it's very important to keep moving, keep evolving and keep training so that you can move forward.

Q: What are some effective ways to convince employees to step up and try something different? What are the trends in the industry?

Ms Chong: Company culture is very important. You need to build a mindset and culture of up-skilling and doing things differently. Today, businesses are moving very quickly and in different directions.

The key is to provide the right resources to help them. For us, our appraisal is based on competency. We rank them and address the gaps. We do the gap analysis to help them to move forward.

Mr Choe: Culture is a glue. If there is no trust in the company, we end up with a lot of barriers. It becomes a very long process just to get things done. When you ask people what they want from a boss, all they say is that they want their boss to be sincere - what he says is what he does.

Trust is important to get the whole team moving and that is part of culture. If the whole team moves together, that's powerful.

Mr Koh: Everyone wants a dynamic culture in a company but it always comes with a risk. I always tell my team, we are never on a witch-hunt. If something fails, let's learn from it.

Having that right learning culture is extremely important. The business world is too dynamic, there is no way of getting it right all the time, we want to get it right most of the time.

So the support and mindset is extremely important. It takes time, and it won't change overnight but it starts from the top.

Q: What certifications do you look for when you hire?

Ms Sim: I don't need certifications. I need people with the attitude of saying, 'Yes, I'll give it a try'. It's a very agile sense of thinking. Just launch, fail, try again and improve. You don't need a certificate for that. But you need to get the skills and learn new things, and try.

Mr Choe: I suppose people do want to have certification for their resumes and that's fine. More importantly, when employees go for training and they get all excited only to go back to work and the boss says, "Let's get back to the real world", so they can't really practice.

You need to have an environment where you let the staff be part of the company and apply (their skills). If I ask the front desk, what slows you down when you check-in a guest, they will tell me the reason.

But sometimes we don't ask them, we assume, and that is the problem. Certification is important, but what's more important is how they apply it in the workplace and we need to allow that to happen.

  • This roundtable is an excerpt of the forum

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