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Speech at Launch of the Retail Job Redesign Framework

Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower, DBS Auditorium, Marina Bay Financial Centre

Mr R Dhinakaran, President of Singapore Retailers Association

Friends and colleagues

  1. Thank you for inviting me.

The retail sector remains an important part of Singapore’s economy

  1. The retail sector plays an important part in our economy and society. Besides providing essential goods and services, retail can create experiences that have the power to influence and enhance people’s lifestyle and quality of life. At the same time, a vibrant retail sector will continue to be key in making Singapore a top destination for visitors.
  2. The sector is also a significant employer. About 144,000 people or about 4% of the total workforce in Singapore work in retail. Together, they helped to chalk up $36.7 billion in operating receipts last year, contributing to 1.3% of our GDP.

It’s an exciting time in retail, that brings both opportunities and challenges

  1. However, our retail sector is at an inflection point.
  2. First, the advent of the digital economy and e-commerce has allowed consumers to shop anytime, anywhere, remotely, in an omni-channel retail landscape. This disruption to traditional retail is taking place across the world. Globally, e-commerce is estimated to increase by about 20% year-on-year.
  3. Second, consumer expectations continue to rise. The easy access to product information and product reviews online has made it much easier to compare across a range of other products before making a purchase, in-store or online. There is also a desire for more personalised retail experiences.
  4. Third, as e-commerce intensifies to grab the attention and wallets of consumers at home and abroad, retailers, especially brick-and-mortar stores, can no longer compete on cost. With access through online platforms like Taobao, manufacturers can now sell their products directly to consumers and completely bypass the middleman. Be it high-end products or mass-market brands, retailers will need to compete with online retailers that do not have the overheads of a brick-and-mortar store. Major online retailers also have the economies of scale that increases their cost competitiveness.
  5. Everywhere, retailers are under pressure to reinvent themselves. Retailers in Singapore too, are responding.
  6. Take Swee Lee for example, a retailer and distributor of musical instruments in Singapore and Southeast Asia. Its flagship store, that was newly opened at Star Vista in November last year, has integrated e-commerce with the physical store. Customers can view the much wider range of products online while not losing the touch-and-feel experience in store. Besides selling instruments, it has also redefined a music retail lifestyle with performance spaces and a café for people to showcase their techniques, hang out and create new music, fostering a shared love of music among like-minded people.
  7. Retailers, like Swee Lee, are able to thrive in this challenging and dynamic operating environment as they have demonstrated tremendous agility in their business.
  8. They are flexible and quick in responding to global market trends and competition, and in responding to the needs of customers.
  9. A good number of retailers have started to use new technologies to streamline back-end operations and store-front processes. This should pave the way for retailers to redeploy and redevelop your resources effectively, so that you can experiment with new retail concepts, and provide consumers with more value-added and higher-value retail services.
  10. Therefore, I am very heartened by the theme for this event - ‘Rethink Retail, Advance Careers’. There’s always value in coming together to exchange notes on ways to transform your businesses. At the same time, I am encouraged by your commitment to do more to help workers stay relevant. Such an approach is a win-win-win for your business, your workers and your customers.

Job Redesign to drive the future of retail jobs and for businesses to thrive in the challenging operating environment

  1. How do we promote more win-win-win partnerships? A big part is to be bold in adopting new technologies, to be able to quickly redesign jobs to support shifts in business strategies, and help workers adapt to the changing operating environment.
  2. Take Star International as an example. It is an integrated retailer, manufacturer and exporter of household furniture with over 40 branches in Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. It has harnessed the power of digitalisation to redesign jobs for their employees, so that they can provide better customer services. 
  3. In the past, their customer service executives would call and remind their customers on delivery orders 7 days before a delivery, and again one day before. This practice would take three customer service executives up to three hours a day to carry out – almost half a day for them! Now, they use an automated SMS system to generate delivery reminders. The time spent on making calls reduced by 80%. Customer executives have thus freed up time to perform more value-added tasks.
  4. Star International has also redesigned the job of their retail sales executive. Mr Shukor Mohd, who has worked 18 years with the company, will very soon be upskilled with interior design knowledge. This will empower and enable him to draw on design principles to better advise his customers in the selection of furniture.
  5. Job redesign is therefore intrinsically tied to business strategy and growth. Done correctly, it can increase productivity while bringing more value to customers, and ultimately, the business. Job quality improves and there’s also more room for wages to go up.

Launch of the Job Redesign Framework

  1. Star International was one of the seven pilot companies that have embarked on their job redesign journey with Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and Workforce Singapore (WSG).
  2. Together with Mercer Singapore, the two agencies have co-developed a Retail Job Redesign Framework to raise local retailers’ know-how of the job redesign process.
  3. This arose because we recognise that there may be some who want to redesign their jobs or processes, but lack the know-how and insights.
  4. Six other pilot companies, Benjamin Barker, Charles & Keith, Gain City, Robinsons & Co, Sheng Siong and Soo Kee Group have used the framework and achieved tangible results from their job redesign efforts. They have also provided useful feedback to enhance and shape the framework.
  5. The pilot study has proven its usefulness. We want to help more retailers who wish to embark on the job redesign journey, to implement an impactful and sustainable job redesign project. Therefore, I’m pleased to launch the Retail Job Redesign Framework today.
  6. It is a framework to help retailers go through the three phases of job redesign:
  • diagnose potential areas for job redesign;
  • select suitable job redesign solutions from the many plug-and-play, pre-fitted solutions;
  • deploy the solutions and measure outcome.
  1. It provides a simple step-by-step guide and is applicable to companies with different business models, which are at different stages of transformation. I hope the Retail Job Redesign Framework helps more businesses to start their own Job Redesign projects.
  2. I also want to register our appreciation to the Singapore Retailers Association for hosting the Retail Job Redesign Framework on their website (http://jobredesign.sra.org.sg) which would be helpful in extending its reach to SRA members and retailers.
  3. For retailers who may need more guidance than is available through the Framework, WSG and ESG have appointed five job redesign consultants to help. They are A.advantage Consulting, Align Group, Carrots Consulting, Solutionsatwork, and Mercer in partnership with the Singapore Institute of Retail Studies. These consultants are certified management consultants who have been trained in the new framework. They also have a wealth of experience serving our local retailers, with strong understanding in the operational and HR challenges within the sector.
  4. These consultants will work with you to identify potential areas for job redesign, implement job redesign for targeted jobs, and make subsequent recommendations to your company’s Human Capital policies to support the newly redesigned jobs. You can arrange a meeting with them easily through the website.
  5. If you need funding to help implement your desired job redesign project, please feel free to approach WSG and ESG for further assistance.

Conclusion

  1. Retail is at a very exciting phase.
  2. When I interacted with Benjamin Barker earlier, they told me that they had to take ginger steps when they first started in 2009. By 2013, they had found a model that worked for them, acceptance by their customers, and became bolder in terms of expansion. Today, Benjamin Barker not only has stores in Singapore, but also in Phnom Penh. This is something to be encouraged. I know that many other retailers are also looking to expand beyond Singapore and take their businesses international.
  3. Benjamin Barker told me that they have to be very agile. They have to be aware of what’s in the market, and adjust accordingly. They are also always looking out for new ways to enhance the customer experience.
  4. It is this attitude of staying agile and responsive that will help businesses to not just survive, but thrive. As you transform and grow, my hope is that you will bring your employees along with you, by redesigning their jobs and advancing their careers.
  5. The introduction of the Retail Job Redesign Framework and the Job Redesign Consultants today is intended to support you in this process. I’m confident it will also give the most agile among you a further leg up. My best wishes to you all!