How are employers helping workers upgrade themselves?

Mar 10, 2017 06.58PM |

by Abraham Lee

THE G has emphasised that workers have to upgrade and pick up new skills to keep up with the changing economy.

At a Marsiling job fair two weeks ago (Feb 24 and Feb 25), Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob exhorted job seekers to learn new skills. Last Tuesday (Feb 28), Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran said in Parliament that “a key focus of the Government’s efforts” would be to “support the development of deep skills in workers”.

Yet, while there is a call for workers to better themselves, it can be an uphill battle without supportive employers. Companies can help develop their employees through mentorship programmes, opportunities to pursue further education, funds and other credits to attend courses, and providing paid time off to attend them. To see how employers help their employees maximise their potential, we talked to two companies about employer best practices and their employees on how they benefited from these skills development initiatives.

1. Funds and in-house credits

DBS Bank provides avenues for skills upgrading by pursuing a “Triple E” approach, “providing staff with experience, exposure, and education”. DBS has conducted digital mastery classes and hackathons to better prepare its employees for the move towards digital in the industry and to gear their mindsets to adopt a “more nimble and digital approach” to problem-solving.

DBS also plans to use hackathons to identify top talent skilled in disruptive technology such as machine learning and Big Data. On Feb 20, the company announced they would hire 100 top coders through a two-part coding and hackathon challenge. DBS hopes to gauge technical ability and problem-solving capabilities through the challenge, to “attract the right talent” and to boost its “digital transformation efforts”.

Bolstering this vision is DBS SkillsFlex, a programme set up in 2015 to complement the nationwide SkillsFuture movement. Employees can use another $500 DBS SkillsFlex credit annually on top of their existing SkillsFuture credit to apply for 90 courses customised to be relevant specifically for DBS employees, and the thousands of courses that employees can use SkillsFuture credit for.

Parenting products retailer Mothercare also supports its employees with further skills training by sending them for various service courses and supervisors for advanced certification courses run by Singapore Institute of Retail Studies (SIRS). Employees are also encouraged to use their SkillsFuture credits while time spent in courses are also counted toward working hours. Mothercare helps to cover course fees for its foreign staff by subsidising half and allowing the rest of the fee to be paid in instalments, over a year.

2. Company courses and programmes

DBS has in place structured training programmes for entry level staff all the way to senior management. Managing Director of Group Human Resources Khoo Teng Cheong said, “…we believe in developing our people from the ground up. Building a succession pipeline across the organisation from fresh university graduates to senior leaders is one of our key priorities.”

Of these programmes, Senior Vice President Tan Tsze Shin most notably benefited from was DBS’ Strategic Talent Assignment and Rotation (STAR) programme in which participants spend two years in a cross-country assignment, working in a different role. Prior to the programme, Mr Tan was a business director in the wealth management department but was sent to attend sales courses and trained to better understand DBS products like equities, derivatives and insurance. In preparation to be based in Hong Kong for his new role in the risk management group, Mr Tan also took technical courses in credit management and regulatory requirement. “These courses were largely subsidised by the bank and I was given paid time off work to focus on these courses,” said Mr Tan.

Mr Tan also highlighted the bank’s mentorship programme for its “extremely approachable” senior management team who are “willing to spend time to guide and mentor employees”. He is still in contact with a few managing directors who have guided him in the past few years.

These courses were largely subsidised by the bank and I was given paid time off work to focus on these courses

Mothercare has also conducted coaching programmes. It ran one for its mid-management team last year and is planning to extend another to its store supervisors and assistant supervisors for operations, to equip them with team building and managing skills.

3. Opportunities for further education

Apart from its own courses and programmes, DBS also offers sponsorship for further education in the form of the DBS Group Education Sponsorship Programme (GESP) to those who wish to take up diplomas, degree courses and postgraduate programmes.

At Mothercare, employees with at least one year experience and good performance and attendance records are supported to pursue further education. The company nominated Mr Wilson Ke, an assistant store manager at the time, for the MasterCard scholarship for Diploma in Retail Management with The Retail Academy. He has since graduated and was promoted to store manager upon the completion of his diploma, with his time spent in class counting toward his working hours.

Another employee to benefit from Mothercare’s commitment to developing its staff is Ms Gloria Loh who joined the company as an entry level sales assistant in 2011 while she was still taking a certificate course on retail supervision at SIRS. She continued to study in the subsequent advanced course and eventually graduated with a diploma in retail management in 2013. During this time, Ms Loh attended her classes two days per week and worked full-time during the other five days. She highlighted that the company encouraged her to go for training, provided her with “good managers” and allowed her fixed off days during this time. Ms Loh has since been promoted four times, to her current position as senior supervisor.

Ms Loh said that it was “most important” that her company and family gave her “moral support” when asked how she persevered through working five days and studying two days a week.

When asked whether courses and other skills training impact employee promotions and pay raises, both companies said that the two do not directly correlate and that performance remains a key factor. Mothercare HR Director Pang Shu Xin said that going for courses helps employees to upgrade skills and develop new ones and that they “have better chances for promotion or salary adjustments as their job scope changes”.

And there is recognition, albeit non-monetary, for employers that have “made significant efforts in investing in their employees” in the form of SkillsFuture Employer Awards. The award is open to all Singapore registered entities that show strong support for SkillsFuture and other national manpower objectives, and acknowledge skills and mastery in hiring and employee development. Up to 10 awards will be given out in 2017 and up to 30 awards in the future.

Applications for SkillsFuture Employer Awards 2017 will close on April 30 and can be made here.


This article is part of a series on SkillsFuture, in collaboration with MOE and SSG. Read the other pieces here:


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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