Tackling Labour Shortage: A Singapore Case Study

There’s not many chances one gets to stand in front of an over 300-strength audience to facilitate a panel discussion with respectable professionals across various industries. Last month, I was given that very opportunity when I hosted a conference at the HR Summit 2014; Asia's largest HR event in Singapore.

The panel discussion was entitled "Tackling Labour Shortage in Singapore". Contextually, due to the high proportion of the Singapore workforce made up of foreign nationality, the Singapore government implemented measures towards a healthier mix of locals and foreigners. Such measures include the tightening of foreign worker quota, increase of foreign worker levies, and the revision of the employment pass tiered system. These measures were effective and companies across various industries had to innovate their HR practice to fulfill their manpower needs. The following are examples of what I learned while facilitating the panel discussion.

Part-time, Mature, Back-to-Work Women & PWDS

The Hospitality and Food and Beverage industries traditionally employ a large population of foreign workers. Christina Kong, Senior Director, HR & Corporate Affairs for JUMBO Group of Restaurant, highlighted how her company has taken full and successful advantage of the part-time talent pool. This part-time talent pool even includes the hiring of high-school-goers of eligible age. In addition, her company has looked at innovative ways to attract and hire mature workers and back-to-work women. Within the hospitality industry, James Lee, HR Director for Holiday Inn Hotel Singapore Orchard City Centre, targeted another segment of the talent pool: Persons with Disabilities (PWDS). Not only does this talent pool enable his company to fulfill its manpower needs, but this engagement sends a strong signal, both internally and externally, out on the company’s belief in enabling employees to discover their potential and perform at their best both in life and at work.

Employer Branding

The security industry is another sector that employs foreigners from Malaysia only. In fact, for Certis CISCO Security, the hiring rate may exceed 300 in any single month for locals and Malaysians. Richard Lau, Vice President for Group Marketing & Communications and Recruitment, Certis CISCO Security, attends to the tightened foreign worker pool situation differently. Being in a unique position of working within the marketing and communications department of the company, and also overseeing recruitment within the Certis Group, Richard convinced senior management to increase the company’s Employer Branding in order to attract talents. One example would be the creation of a music video that features Certis CISCO Security employees taking time off to enjoy work-life balance. Another example is the management performing for their staff at their “Battle of the Bands” event.

Focus on the Foundation

The majority of the employee population in the above-cited companies is at an operational level. It is interesting to see how companies with a large employee population at the professional level are able to navigate successfully in this tightened labour market. Baker & McKenzie. Wong & Leow is one of the world’s leading and most internationally diverse law firms. The firm is able to staff a huge amount of locally admitted and internationally qualified lawyers. Victoria Oddy, Head of Talent Management, Baker & McKenzie. Wong & Leow attributed the reasons for her company's success to her company's focus on talent development (e.g. secondment, oversees training and structured training programmes), rigorous performance management processes, and recruitment of graduates and interns. Although these practices may be core HR activities, the integration and seamless execution of these initiatives send a strong positive signal to employees. It is the inside-out approach that forms the 'secret sauce' in attracting talent.

In a Nutshell: Think Inside-and-Outside the Box

Although there is sound rationale for the Singapore government in limiting foreign workers, the measures implemented have resulted in a talent crunch for various industries, especially those with the majority of the employee population at the operational level. The leveraging of various talent strategies by the above-mentioned companies is noteworthy. Specifically, it is the out-of-the-box thinking that we should all emulate. In addition, it is not about simply copying what others have done, but how we contextualize our industry's unique differences, and strategizing in that environment, that will make the difference.

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