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Speech at HR Festival Asia

Mr Zaqy Mohamad, Minister of State, Ministry of National Development, Ministry of Manpower, Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. Good morning. I am happy to join you today at HR Festival Asia.
Good progress of HR Industry Manpower Plan initiatives

2. The HR industry, comprising HR professionals and the HR services sector, has an important role to play in Singapore’s on-going economic transformation efforts.

3. In 2016, the Government started working with key stakeholders to develop Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) to sustain growth and competitiveness for our businesses and in our economy. With people at the heart of business success, the tripartite partners also recognised that we would stand a much better chance of succeeding with our ITM strategies if we could effectively mobilise the HR industry in this effort. Hence, we launched the HR Industry Manpower Plan in 2017 to strengthen the HR industry in Singapore, and enable human capital development in support of business transformation.

4. Over the past 2 years, we have implemented many of the recommendations in the HR Industry Manpower Plan:

• Through the Skills Framework for HR, HR professionals now have greater clarity on the skills and competencies they need. Skills Framework adoption workshops have also supported HR professionals to implement relevant Skills Frameworks for their organisations. 
• We set up the tripartite Institute for HR Professionals (IHRP) as a HR professional body that administers the national HR certification framework, or IHRP Certification. To better equip HR professionals with future-ready capabilities, IHRP also provides its certified professionals with a wide range of learning and networking opportunities to learn from industry experts and best practices.

o To date, more than 1,100 HR professionals from various sectors, in both MNCs and SMEs, have been certified.

o Today, we will confer another 6 HR leaders as IHRP Master Professionals. This is the pinnacle-level achievement that recognises HR leaders as role models of the HR community. I congratulate them on this achievement, and look forward to their continued contributions to the community.   

5. For employers, we have made more resources available. Employers can now tap on the national Human Capital Diagnostic Tool to holistically assess the maturity of their organisations’ HR processes.

6. Our community of progressive employers, or Human Capital Partners (HCPartners), also continues to grow. It demonstrates that progressive people practices can support continued business growth and competitiveness. Our HCPartners come from a wide range of sectors, in both MNCs and SMEs. Today, another 15 new HCPartners will join this community, bringing the total to over 550 companies, employing more than 190,000 locals.

Workforce rejuvenation is key to successful business transformation

7. However, we need to do more. Structural changes to our employment landscape and rapid technological advances mean that a business-as-usual approach to workforce planning and addressing manpower needs is no longer tenable.

8. Instead, businesses must embrace workforce rejuvenation, so that every job is a better job, and every worker is a better worker.

 •This requires rejuvenating mental models.

  o For example, with slowing workforce growth and the price premium on talent, a “plug-and-play” approach that relies solely on “buying” talent, will become unsustainable. Instead, employers need to “build” talent, and shift towards a “plug-train-play” model for workforce planning. Business leaders need to support their HR teams as they implement competency-based hiring and on-the-job training programmes to “build” talent.

  o At the same time, workers need to be open to learning new skills and embracing new job roles that will enhance their career mobility.

 •Employers also have a key role to play in rejuvenating jobs and supporting workers to rejuvenate their skills. Concerted efforts to redesign jobs, identify and address workforce skills gaps, as well as facilitate job transitions will support inclusive hiring and allow workers to be deployed into new and exciting growth areas. Employers must also help their workers manage and build confidence in such change journeys. 

9. By understanding companies’ overall workforce needs and optimising workforce development efforts across different business units, HR professionals can be business leaders’ strategic partner in building a stronger, manpower-lean organisation that is ready to tap new business opportunities in Singapore and abroad. 

HR tech can build capacity for HR professionals to drive workforce rejuvenation and business transformation

10. Some employers may still see the HR function as a transactional one, confined to tasks such as payroll processing and putting up job postings. Others may feel that their small HR teams have limited capacity to do more. The good news is that the HR services sector, comprising HR consultancies, HR training providers and HR tech firms, provides many solutions that can amplify the effectiveness and capacity of in-house HR professionals.

11. In particular, HR tech solutions can minimise transactional HR tasks, and free up HR professionals’ bandwidth for more high touch, strategic work. This includes engaging employees to better understand their needs, concerns and aspirations, and build a strong organisational culture that supports change. HR tech solutions and analytics can also provide valuable workforce and industry insights, on skills and competency gaps that need to be addressed for successful business transformation.

12. More importantly, HR tech solutions are increasingly accessible and affordable as more investments pour into what is already a USD$400 billion HR tech industry globally. In Singapore, there are close to 200 HR tech firms already receiving about USD$1.4 billion of funding . That the organisers of today’s HR Festival Asia adopted a HR tech focus for this long-standing regional HR industry event this year reflects the growth potential and increasing emphasis on using technology for better HR. The wide range and sheer number of HR tech providers at today’s event – the largest HR tech expo in South East Asia – is testament to the sector’s vibrancy. It is also a valuable opportunity for business leaders and HR professionals in Singapore and in the region to explore the latest product offerings in this field.

Companies are already benefitting from HR tech adoption

13. The use of HR tech to create capacity for HR professionals to better support business transformation is already bearing fruit for some companies.

14. At DBS Bank, one of our IHRP Master Professionals, Ms Lee Yan Hong, has been leading the bank’s HR tech adoption and workforce rejuvenation efforts. By using AI, digital platforms and chatbots, the DBS HR team has streamlined recruitment processes, strengthened employee engagement touchpoints and made staff training and development more accessible to employees. 

15. At the management level, data analytics capability is also helping to drive stronger evidence-based decision-making in areas such as recruitment and productivity. For HR staff, the introduction of a recruitment chatbot has allowed them to focus on more strategic functions such as talent advisory and candidate sourcing. The transfer of knowledge during the chatbot development process has also benefited many in DBS’ talent acquisition team, some of whom can now call themselves “chatbot coaches”. Collectively, these improvements have translated into savings of 626,000 man hours for DBS since the transformation began in 2012.

16. For smaller companies, we recognise that the barriers to adopting HR tech solutions can sometimes be higher. Therefore, the Government is working with industry to help SMEs digitalise, including their HR functions.

 • For example, we have the SME Start Digital programme by the Infocomm & Media Authority (IMDA) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG). Selected banks, telcos and insurance providers are now offering SMEs affordable HR tech solutions with their suite of digital products.

 • In addition, companies are supported to adopt pre-scoped HR tech solutions through ESG’s Productivity Solutions Grant.

17. Love, Bonito, a home-grown e-commerce fashion retailer, is a salient example of an SME that has benefited from such support. With the company growing its full-time international headcount by more than 50% to support its overseas expansion, the company owners turned to HR tech to better manage their growing workforce.

18. HR tech has helped the company eliminate the need for manual processing of employees’ medical claims. It has also allowed the company to provide flexible employee benefits in the form of credits. This has led to better staff welfare, and freed up Love, Bonito’s People and Culture team to improve their talent management and development initiatives necessary for their expansion plans.

HRTAP set up to lead efforts in HR transformation

19. DBS and Love, Bonito are examples of how companies, regardless of size, are benefitting from the solutions offered by the HR services sector. We would like to see more companies support their HR teams to leverage on HR services and HR tech to augment their capacity for workforce rejuvenation. We also need our HR professionals to build up new skills and embrace technology in light of changing job demands.

20. Hence, I am pleased to announce that the Ministry of Manpower has convened the HR Industry Transformation Advisory Panel (HRTAP) comprising HR and business leaders, representatives from the HR services sector and tripartite partners. Building on the HR Industry Manpower Plan, the Panel will formulate strategies and lead efforts to further develop the HR services sector in Singapore. It will also propose measures to support HR professionals in walking the tech journey to better enable workforce rejuvenation and business transformation. I look forward to the Panel’s recommendations.

21. Ladies and Gentlemen, a strong HR industry will put our businesses and workforce in good stead to navigate their respective transformation journeys.  Let us continue to work together to build a strong HR that benefits our businesses and our workers.

22. I wish all of you a fruitful day ahead. Thank you.