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Speech at Tripartite Alliance Award Presentation Ceremony 2018

Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister for Manpower , Resorts World Convention Centre

Mr Stephen Lee, Chairman, Tripartite Alliance Limited,
Ms Mary Liew, President, National Trades Union Congress,
Dr Robert Yap, President, Singapore National Employers Federation,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

  1. Good evening. I am happy to join you for the inaugural Tripartite Alliance Award presentation ceremony.
  2. Tonight, we recognise a group of exemplary employers who have built fair and progressive workplaces and have kept their employees at the heart of their progress. The values they embody and the achievements they have attained are important in tackling a key challenge faced by companies today – attracting and retaining talent in a tight labour market.
  3. The winners have differentiated themselves by creating inclusive workplaces where employees can contribute their best. Tonight, I would like to share three common characteristics from these winning companies.

    A People-Centric Culture
  4. First, the winners adopt a people-centric culture. Their employees describe themselves as being part of a family that cares and working for bosses who adopt an “employee first” philosophy.
  5. DLE M&E Pte Ltd is an example of such a company. As an SME in the construction line providing one-stop mechanical and electrical services, DLE is in an industry that may not be commonly associated with work-life harmony. Due to nature of their work, providing flexible hours may not be feasible. However, work-life balance is not only about flexible work arrangements. It also includes employee support schemes to help employees better manage career and personal demands and improve their well-being.
  6. For example, DLE provides its project staff with the use of an Enterprise Resource Planning system, to help automate the process of submitting quotations and claims. Staff need not return to the office just to submit these documents to beat the deadlines. This gives them more flexibility in managing their time. DLE also organises a wide range of exercise programmes to support employees’ health and wellness. Employees who prefer less strenuous activities can choose to take part in tai-chi while laser tag is available for those who are more adventurous.
  7. Such work-life initiatives are simple but important in employee retention and job satisfaction. DLE’s employees said that the company’s work-life programmes were among the top reasons why they wanted to join, stay and recommend the company to their friends. Their work-life initiatives have also helped to keep the turnover rate low at 1%, and reduced the company’s healthcare costs per employee by 40%, from about $330 in 2016 to $200 in 2017.

    Taking Time to Listen to Employees
  8. The second characteristic of these winning companies is that they invest time to listen to their employees. They actively seek employees’ feedback and respond to it appropriately. While not every suggestion is implemented, employees know that management pays attention to what they say and is willing to improve.
  9. This reminds me of the story behind the Post-It Note. 3M had created an adhesive that did not bond too tightly to surfaces. For many years, the company searched to find a commercial application for it, but to no avail. That was when an employee suggested using the adhesive to secure his bookmark in place within his hymn book. The idea was quickly embraced by the management at 3M, and has evolved into the Post-It Notes we see and use everywhere today.
  10. As leaders, it is important to have a strong voice. But it is also equally important to know when to listen, to hear what is being shared and to recognise that employees have something of value. Active and emphatic listening will help your employees feel respected and create a workplace where not only do they perform better, but are also grateful for and loyal to.

    Embracing Digital Transformation
  11. Last but not least, the winners have embraced digital transformation in an age of technological disruption. As companies transform themselves for a digital future, they need to keep in mind how such changes might affect their employees. Are they given a chance to reskill to leverage technology? How can I, as an employer, create more meaningful and enjoyable work for them using technology?
  12. While technology will certainly change how businesses operate and our jobs, it also provides opportunity. Technological advancements lead to jobs in growing firms or industries, potentially creating more meaningful and enjoyable work and better prospects for workers.
  13. I am glad that DBS Bank, one of our Human Capital Partners, is helping its employees ride the digital wave to new, bigger roles. The bank had announced its $20 million investment over five years to train Singapore-based employees in digital banking and other new technologies. It also committed to reskill and redeploy 1,500 employees in client-facing roles and back-end operations in consumer banking and institutional banking. This will be done through Workforce Singapore’s Professional Conversion Programme for Banking Executives.
  14. To date, more than two-thirds of all DBS branch employees have been retrained to take on roles in areas such as data analytics with their newly acquired digital capabilities. And the bank’s initiatives to equip employees with new skills have produced positive results. Employee engagement scores increased from 77% in 2015 to 83% in 2017. Employee retention rate has been among the best in the banking industry.

    Progressive SMEs punching above their weight
  15. I would also like to commend the SMEs which were shortlisted for the Tripartite Alliance Awards. Given that SMEs form 99% of all enterprises in Singapore and employ almost 65% of our workforce, it is crucial for our workers and our economy that SMEs continue to do well.
  16. I am encouraged to learn that out of the 24 organisations that have won tonight, half of them are SMEs. Despite their limited resources as compared to bigger companies, these SMEs recognise that employees are key to an organisation’s success.
  17. Aerospace Component Engineering Services is one exemplary SME. With more than 60% of their workforce aged above 40 years old, the company knew it needed to implement age-inclusive initiatives to develop their workers’ capabilities. Besides a buddy system where older workers mentor and train younger recruits, the company also tapped on the WorkPro Job Redesign Grant to invest in technology. It installed a laser engraving machine with a large preview monitor to help its older workers. This resulted in fewer printing errors and increased productivity, with a reported time-savings of 10 minutes per task.
  18. The implementation of such age inclusive practices has also decreased the company’s attrition rate from 19% in 2010 to 9% in 2017. Each worker has also been with the company for about 7 years – a strong indication that the company’s employment practices have been well received. In fact, about one-third of the workforce have served for at least 10 years! This is an impressive result, especially when you consider that the company has only been established for 13 years.

    Closing the Gaps
  19. While we are here today to celebrate excellence in employment practices, we can still do better. During the assessment for the Awards, we observed that most companies want to do right by their employees. But to truly be an exemplary employer, you need to consciously build a long-term strategy and continuously evolve to meet the changing needs of the workforce.
  20. In other words, turn intention into attention, and attention into action. Everyone, from CEO to the middle management to the staff, has to be aligned with the organisation’s vision and values and be motivated to help the company succeed. This is what will uplift our workplace practices further.

  21. As the saying goes, “Take care of your employees, and they will take care of your business”. By investing in the human capital of each employee, these employers have fostered a work culture that encourages continual learning and leadership development. Organisations that excel at doing so can be part of the community of progressive employers, also known as our Human Capital Partners.
  22. I am encouraged that one third of today’s winners are our Human Capital Partners. They, along with other exemplary employers here today have built fair and progressive workplaces and kept their employees at the heart of their progress. I applaud them for their efforts. They show us that when companies invest in their employees, they can stay ahead of the curve.
  23. Keep up the good work and strive to be the best employer we can be, for our employees and also for your organisation’s success. Thank you, and I hope you enjoy the rest of this evening.