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Speech at Human Capital Breakthrough Award Gala Dinner Organised by Human Capital Singapore

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, Acting Minister for Manpower , Senior Minister of State for National Development, Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

Ms Fang Ai Lian, HCS Chairman,
Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. Good evening. I am honoured to be here tonight to be part of a conversation on what matters most. Our people. This is a topic close to my heart not because I am from the Ministry of Manpower, but because it has been the central focus for the better part of my life.
  2. You would think that being in the Army, managing people would be the easiest thing to do. You give the order, and it gets executed.
  3. But what is not so apparent is that being a National Service Army, you cannot order people to believe in the cause of defending our nation. You can direct them to run faster, to dig deeper but unless they believe there is a purpose in all that, they will give you only what you ask for, and that’s only when you are looking. The extra mile comes with belief. The question is how do you instil a sense of purpose. That’s when you are able to lead well, engage and win their hearts and minds, and build something more than just a compulsory duty.
  4. I’d suggest that the principles that undergird this do not differ in our workplaces. As Ai Lian so rightly pointed out, our employees are our greatest asset. Many of us echo this. Let us pause. What do we mean when we say that? What then do we really do on a day to day basis to translate this into reality?
  5. Our people are not assets to be consumed, maximised or used. It cannot be seen in economic terms. Instead, it is about nurturing, developing and engaging.
  6. In some ways, tonight, we are recognising some of those who are trying to walk the talk. Those who believe that people are important. The experiences of the 22 Human Capital Breakthrough Award (HCBA) participants show us what can be done. And being in the private sector, where the bottom line matters, they also show us how it underpins good performance. For those who believe in building great sustainable companies, perhaps this is a key ingredient.

    Importance of good people management practice
  7. In this decade, we will be going through an important and difficult phase of our economic development. We will be restructuring to become a more productivity-driven economy where we look primarily at quality of people and not just quantity. We will move towards manpower leaner practices. Where automation and IT can make a difference, we bring it in. Where changing processes help, we need to make it happen. But behind all this, our workforce must be prepared to apply its full potential to make that difference, and make the changes work.
  8. We can talk about PIC funding, new techniques, machines and processes. But where do our people fit in all of this? Do not go for short term gains by targeting the quick and dirty solutions. If your people are not well engaged, they will job hop. They will look for the best offer in town and move.
  9. So have a care. Put our people first even as we weave in the other things which seem to be the lower hanging fruit. I know that that is easier said than done when companies may be fighting to just stay afloat.
  10. We have all been in companies where we have been looked after well have we not? Where we have had exemplary leaders who have in one way or another inspired us where we actually care about how the company performs. Where we were prepared to go that extra mile for our bosses and for our colleagues. That is what is needed now amidst these changes we must make. We talk a lot about economic transformation but central to all this is how our people fit in.
  11. Have faith. A study conducted by Gallup in 2010 showed that businesses with better employee engagement are 18% more productive and 16% more profitable than businesses with poor employee engagement.1
  12. Like the participants of today’s Award, we must prioritise the need to manage our employees well. A better skilled, more motivated employee will be more effective and productive, resulting in better business outcomes for companies.

    Highlighting good practices in gain-sharing and talent attraction
  13. Many of the HCBA participants had tapped on Government schemes to upgrade the skills and productivity of their workers. These companies do not only provide us with proof that changes to their HR practices are possible and effective, but they also provide us with practical ideas.
  14. One company caught my eye. Let me share what they did.
  15. J’s Beauty International is an SME which offers hair and beauty services. During their 1-year HCBA journey, they have taken proactive steps to address their HR challenges.
  16. First, to improve their rewards system, they implemented gain-sharing with their staff, setting aside 20 percent of their profit before tax to be distributed among staff with good performance. An Incentive Payment Scheme was implemented for salon managers, with clear performance indicators and targets set. J’s Beauty International also helped their managers to manage their staff well by developing staff performance matrices. Together with other initiatives to raise human capital and service standards, J’s Beauty International has benefited from greater demand for its services. This is a good example of how an industry like this, with clear performance measurements and a generous rewards system can help to engage and motivate employees to improve productivity and out-perform themselves. Aside from verbal or written recognition of good achievements, formalised gain-sharing speaks volumes about the employers’ appreciation of a job well done. Employees will be motivated to not only put in time, but effort and passion in their work and their customers will feel and see it.
  17. Second, amidst a tight job market, J’s Beauty International had taken the initiative to work with Central Singapore Community Development Council to identify and recruit new talent. Together, they organised a day camp which gave participants the chance to learn from the company’s stylists. J’s Beauty International’s willingness to provide creative solutions to their talent shortage succeeded in attracting locals with good potential, including those looking for mid-career switches and back-to-work locals.
  18. J’s Beauty International is an SME, but their dedication to improve HR management has resulted in excellent outcomes for their business. This and the other positive outcomes experienced by other HCBA participants are great examples for companies looking for ideas or inspiration to improve their people management practices.

    Strong Government Support to improve people management practices
  19. The Government will help companies achieve such outcomes. Just last month, we introduced two new schemes to help businesses adopt human capital best practices and improve employee productivity.
  20. First, the Ministry of Manpower and the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) launched the new WorkPro programme. WorkPro consolidates and enhances existing schemes to provide holistic support to businesses in implementing progressive workplace practices. Under WorkPro, businesses can tap on several grants to improve work-life harmony, introduce good age management practices or to redesign their workplaces and work processes. This scheme will help businesses attract and retain mature workers and back-to-work locals.
  21. Second, WDA introduced the Enterprise Training Support (or ETS) scheme. ETS is a holistic HR and training support package specifically targeted at raising the human resource capabilities of businesses and increase employees’ productivity. ETS will be instrumental in three key areas – greater variety of training options, development of customised training plans, and enhancement of in-house training capabilities and HR functions.
  22. In addition to the substantial subsidies for Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) training programmes, businesses will receive greater funding support to adopt more training options beyond WSQ. This includes non-WSQ training programmes and structured on-the-job training. Businesses can also benefit from grants to build up capability to administer their customised training plans, and develop training infrastructure and systems. Businesses who want to review their compensation packages to better attract and retain locals can also tap on ETS to engage consultants to benchmark their compensation packages to market rates, to tap on the ideas out there. ETS will benefit SMEs who want to make great strides in reinventing their employee management practices.
  23. In short, the ETS supports all forms of HR management and development relevant to the training needs of the business. It is structured so that companies can easily take the initiative to tap on its advantages. I strongly urge businesses to contact WDA’s programme managers or the SME Centres to find out more about how you can train and develop your people, raise productivity and boost company growth.

  24. In conclusion, I would like to congratulate and laud the 22 HCBA participants who have taken this crucial first step in improving their people management practices. These 22 businesses – large and small – have reinvented various aspects of human resource management. They have enhanced appraisal systems, introduced work-life packages which is important to us in Singapore, created talent development programmes – and above all, demonstrated clearly the commitment of management to continue investing in every employee.
  25. When you win your people over, that’s when positive things begin to happen. Hence, I encourage more companies to join in the journey of improving their human capital practices. Basically to treat our people better, look after them and treat them with respect. On our part, the Government will partner companies to work a change in their businesses, the industry and the economy.
  26. This will be exciting times as we transform not just businesses but the economy as a whole. We look at it from a positive perspective. Our people are well educated and education will continue to strengthen. We have a very well educated workforce, but how can you fulfil the full potential of our people. I suggest to unlock their full potential by making them your business’s central focus. As a nation, as a business and a home, this is where we can provide good opportunities and workplaces for our people.
  27. To end, let me thank all the people who made tonight possible.

1 "The State of the Global Workforce: A world-wide study of employee engagement and well-being.", Gallup Consulting, 2010. The report is based on a sample size of more than 47,000 employees in 120 countries around the world.