Meet the agency that’s keeping Singapore's workforce up to speed

By Rachel Teng

Julia Ng, Group Director of the Enterprise Development Group at Workforce Singapore, explains the strategies the agency is using to help employers and employees adapt amid the Covid pandemic, the climate crisis and the digital transformation.

Image: Canva

Ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously once said: “There is nothing permanent but change.” That sentiment rings particularly true today in Singapore, and perhaps nowhere more so than in the city-state’s workforce, its most valuable resource.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that we will not always have the luxury of sticking to traditional means of operating,” says Julia Ng, Group Director of the Enterprise Development Group at Workforce Singapore.

Although the pandemic served as a wake-up call, the looming climate crisis and digital transformation are increasingly demanding a rethink of old ways of operating. A digitally-transformed workforce has been the subject of much discussion for almost a decade, but Covid has undoubtedly accelerated the shift towards that becoming a reality.

Ng says it’s a chance for companies to move towards broader value creation, with jobs redesigned such that “digital technologies could alleviate rote work” and employees can enjoy greater job satisfaction.

Singapore’s food service industry, for instance, was prompted by the pandemic to introduce digital technology such as self-ordering kiosks, cashless payment systems and automated systems for food preparation. That was a direct response to growing consumer demand for online food sales and delivery, Ng says. Existing jobs such as those done by servers and cashiers had to be merged into “service ambassador” roles, which involve employees spending more time interacting with customers.

One of Workforce Singapore’s key initiatives is its Career Conversion Programme (CCP), which aims to retain and reskill employees so they can take on redesigned roles. “Currently, there are about 100 CCPs in 30 sectors, and we have seen healthy interest from companies that have considered taking in mid-career job-seekers to augment their current workforce,” Ng says.

In 2020, Workforce Singapore ramped up CCPs in industries badly hit by the pandemic – in particular the air transport and maritime sectors, which came to a near-standstill due to global travel restrictions.

Pandemic pivot

“We had to act fast and step in with measures to ensure that companies could retain their employees so that they could continue to be gainfully employed,” Ng says. Working closely with companies, sector agencies and unions, Workforce Singapore rolled out a CCP for air transport coordinators in March 2020, which helped reskill workers in digital literacy and data analytics.

Similarly, its CCP for sea transport professionals and associates launched last November, reskilling maritime workers in data analytics, automation and robotics to help mid-career switchers enter the maritime automation, decarbonisation and cybersecurity fields.

Unprecedented safety management measures over the past two years have also called for an operations makeover of sorts in the hospitality and recreation industries. “This was amid an ageing workforce and changing career aspirations, where companies had to adopt creative ways to overcome manpower crunches,” Ng says.

Even before the pandemic brought new imperatives for businesses, Workforce Singapore and the Singapore Productivity Centre jointly rolled out their Service Industry Transformation Programme in September 2019, helping more than 60 companies redesign processes and jobs to become more productive and labour-efficient.

The programme involved dedicated facilitators helping companies to conduct customer satisfaction surveys and process mapping, and recommending best practices after identifying key areas for improvement.

Greener economy, greener workforce

According to the Green Economy part of the Singapore Green Plan 2030, the nation aims to be a leading centre for green finance and services by the end of the decade. In line with this goal, Workforce Singapore launched a CCP for the agritech sector at the beginning of the year.

The programme will aim to engage 100 individuals over the next two years, equipping them with expertise on sustainable farming practices and know-how surrounding the integration of the Internet of Things to enable precision farming, vertical farming and urban farming.

Workforce Singapore is also working alongside the Land Transport Authority to reskill new and existing automotive technicians to take on roles in electric vehicle maintenance.

Companies cannot be resilient if their workforces are not, and as such, Ng said that redesigning jobs should be viewed not as an end goal, but as an ongoing process that enables work itself to be redefined so that the workforce creates new value for both companies and their customers.