Leadership & talent

Developing future-ready talent in Singapore

28 June 2017 by Chia Sihan

As industries undergo digital transformation to navigate commercial demands, the required skill sets for Singapore’s workforce are more diverse than ever.

Although Singapore remains an attractive destination for businesses, multinational corporations (MNCs) and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) based in the country still find it challenging to attract and retain the right talent, according to the “Impact Report on Singapore Talent Policy” study conducted by the European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham) Human Resources Committee in Singapore.

The Singapore government has recognised the need to address this labour demand. The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) report released in February 2017 is aimed at helping Singapore reshape its future. One of the report's seven strategies recommends that the workforce needs to “acquire and utilise deep skills” to stay relevant and adapt to new job demands.

Enhancing workforce mobility

While technical skills and competency rank highly on employers’ wish lists, 'soft' skills such as workforce mobility and in-market knowledge are equally important. According to the EuroCham study, MNCs in Singapore expect diversity in Asian talent with exposure and understanding of regional markets.

One way for companies to identify and develop qualified talent is through internships. Internships are also valuable in providing candidates with the opportunity to hone their soft skills, develop a leadership mentality and better understand a company’s corporate culture.

For instance, through its Asia Internship Exchange programme launched in 2015, Proctor & Gamble in Singapore has been sending selected candidates to work on an eight-week business project in various Asian markets.

Swiss flavour and fragrance manufacturer Givaudan offers internships and training programmes for students and graduates across 90 global offices including Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Fostering a culture of continuous learning

Companies can also leverage the experience of early-career hires looking to switch industries. Some have put programmes in place to help potential employees gain immersive regional market exposure, which is essential for capability building and career advancement.

For example, DHL Singapore has implemented the AGILE programme, which provides modular-based training for emerging professionals to develop skill sets that will help transform the logistics industry. The 18-month programme also offers opportunities for trainees to work in an emerging market in Asia.

In addition to training programmes offered by companies, individuals are also encouraged to take ownership of upskilling through government initiatives such as Enhanced Internships and the SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programme.

Corinna Cheang, head of human resources (HR) at Nestlé Singapore, acknowledged that attracting and retaining the right talent can be challenging even for MNCs. As consumers become more discerning and embrace new trends, habits and lifestyles, Nestlé has invested time and resources to grow and develop its existing talent pool to better engage with consumers.

“We believe in investing in our people and have dedicated resources allocated for staff to attend global or regional trainings, as well as take on cross-functional and cross-geographical assignments. Ultimately, by investing in our people and the capabilities that we need, we will continue to generate sustainable, profitable growth,” Cheang said. 

She also noted that with the prevalence of social media and e-commerce, digital business agility and cross-functional competencies are essential.

“Our workforce needs to be flexible and nimble, equipped with both broad-based learnings and cross-sector skill sets. Cross-sector disciplines bring fresh perspectives and innovation, enabling companies and teams to grow their knowledge, expertise and outlook,” she said.

Building closer ties between public and private sectors

A consultative approach between the public and private sectors is also crucial for Singapore’s workforce to stay relevant and nimble.

Bob Aubrey, chairman of EuroCham Singapore HR Committee, praises Singapore’s progress in evolving from a market to a destination for expats looking to base themselves in Asia. To improve Singapore’s economy and job market outlook in the long term, he highlighted the importance of maintaining the conversation between the public and private sectors.   

“As a talent hub, Singapore has very good working and living conditions, which have made it grow in recent years as a brand. The challenge for the government is to build on that attractiveness as a destination,” said Aubrey.

He cited EuroCham as a platform to facilitate the conversation between public and private sectors, ensuring feedback on policy issues can be brought up and addressed in a timely manner.

“As the Southeast Asia workforce progresses rapidly, Singapore will also benefit from having regional and national policies to better manage manpower issues. What would also enhance the relationship between the public and private sectors is for the government to continue listening, understanding and providing greater visibility on the way to go,” he added.

As digital disruption continues to drive industry transformation in Singapore, local talent will need to acquire a more holistic skill set to help businesses meet the demands of Asia’s evolving consumers. In the meantime, as Aubrey stressed, maintaining openness and building working relationships between public and private sectors will also be key to ensuring further growth in Singapore’s manpower capability.

Edited by Sophie Chen and Marisa Low