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Address at HR Tech Festival Asia 2020

SMS Zaqy Mohamad, Virtual Conference

Ladies and gentlemen


1.           Good morning. I am happy to join you virtually today at HR Festival Asia.


Navigating the COVID-19 HR challenges


2.           Today’s online format is another stark reminder of COVID-19’s far-reaching impact on businesses. It has been more than 6 months since the pandemic reached our shores, and we have all seen how it has severely disrupted our lives and work.


3.           In the hardest-hit industries, such as aviation, businesses have needed to take significant cost-saving measures, including taking painful decisions to retrench workers, in order to stay afloat, even with substantial support from the Government. On the other hand, in other sectors, new opportunities have arisen for businesses, brought on by new needs and demands in response to the pandemic. For these businesses, they need to pivot and, in doing so, reskill and redeploy their workforce. In both instances, HR was thrust into the spotlight to provide strategic leadership on workforce matters, whether it was to implement responsible cost-saving measures and retrenchments, to plan and execute the reskilling and redeployment of employees to new job functions, or to ensure that employees stayed safe and continued performing optimally, both onsite and at home. 


4.           I am heartened to see the HR professionals in Singapore rising to the occasion. The Institute for HR Professionals (IHRP) set up a COVID-19 Taskforce comprising HR leaders and professionals. The Taskforce has curated resources and toolkits to equip the HR community at large to navigate the HR challenges posed by the pandemic.


5.           Some of the firms that have proven themselves to be agile and innovative in the face of these challenges are smaller ones.Take the example of MatchMove Pay, a local FinTech start-up. Besides curating bite-sized app-based resources to support employees’ mental well-being during the Circuit Breaker period, it uses a Manager Dashboard to aggregate and track anonymous employee sentiments as they work remotely, so that managers can devise timely interventions to maintain morale and productivity.  


HR as a strategic enabler to support business and workforce transformation


6.           While we fight today’s battles, it is equally important to prepare for recovery to emerge stronger post-COVID. At this event last year, I announced the formation of the HR Industry Transformation Advisory Panel (HRTAP) to develop recommendations for a stronger HR sector that could drive business and workforce transformation.


7.           COVID-19 has accelerated this timeline. Businesses have had to reset and rethink their modus operandi. Some need to pivot to new areas of growth. Other need to transform their workplaces or processes to be more resilient and agile in face of future disruptions. Businesses must also establish a system of safe management measures even as restrictions ease. All these require both HR and employees to adapt and learn new skills.   


8.           The transformation work ahead of us demands organisations to harness the best talent available to lead the change. This requires robust and merit-based talent hiring processes, as well as measures that ensure workplace diversity and inclusiveness, so that organisations can recruit from a wide and diverse pool of talent. Workforce analytics can use data to solve this challenge, by generating deep insights into organisation and job requirements in the new normal and the suitability of prospective candidates.


9.           At the same time, it makes business sense for our companies to invest in the local talent pipeline, the closest source of talent. The COVID-19 experience has highlighted the importance of a skilled local core for greater workforce resilience and sustainability, in the event of major travel disruptions.


10.         In all this, HR has a key role to play. The profession must be ready to meet new and changing expectations from business leaders and workers.


Recommendations by the HR Industry Transformation Advisory Panel


11.         Therefore, the HRTAP recommendations are timely. The two key thrusts of these recommendations will guide the next bound of HR transformation:

  • The first key thrust is strengthening HR capabilities in organisations to support business and workforce transformation;
  • Secondly, equipping HR professionals with emerging skills to be better prepared for tech transformation.


[Thrust 1] Strengthen HR capabilities in organisations


12.         We will support HR capability building in businesses as they transform, so that the two are tightly integrated. We will mobilise our network of stakeholders in the HR ecosystem to do this. For instance, IHRP and MOM are working together with sector agencies and HR experts to curate best practices, tools, and practical use cases in the form of sector-specific HR Playbooks. This will guide HR professionals to address and solve sector-specific HR challenges. We will be piloting these Playbooks in the Finance and Food Services sectors, before expanding this to more sectors.


13.         The Government will also integrate HR capability building components into its various enterprise support schemes. One example is the Scale-Up SG programme, which helps high-growth companies scale rapidly to become local champions. Under this programme, people strategy is now embedded into the company’s growth strategy discussions. MOM and Enterprise Singapore are also working to provide additional support for businesses in implementing workforce strategies to complement their companies’ growth plans, such as mentors from the IHRP-certified community.


14.         JUMBO Group Limited, one of Singapore’s leading F&B establishments, is a good example of a Scale-up company that recognises the importance of building up its HR capabilities to support its growth plans. Besides enhancing its appraisal and promotion policies to select better talent to drive its regional expansionary plans, greater emphasis has also been placed on training their overseas team in line with the requirements of the Singapore headquarters. HR priorities are aligned with corporate strategy, by incorporating HR targets into its organisation-wide Balanced Scorecard.


15.         Companies become better places to work in and achieve stronger business outcomes when HR capabilities improve. The national Human Capital Diagnostic Tool (HCDT) is a useful resource that businesses can tap on. It diagnoses strengths and gaps in Human Capital processes, and identifies appropriate solutions. To date, more than 1,000 companies have used the HCDT. One example is Scanteak, a local furniture retailer, which implemented a new HR system and e-learning platform for their sales staff after identifying learning and development as a gap after taking the HCDT. Following a second evaluation, they saw the effectiveness of the new systems in enhancing their staff’s digital competencies, including amongst their older workers.

16.         We want more companies to benefit from the HCDT. By 2025, we aim to achieve 5,000 HCDT assessments, and for at least 80% of companies that have done so to see improved scores.  To encourage more companies to take up HCDT, MOM will offer free HCDTs for up to 3,000 companies that are committed to workforce and business transformation projects.


17.         HR Technology adoption is another key focus for HR capability building. In a study by Willis Towers Watson that was commissioned by MOM and IHRP, HR Technology was identified as a key enabler for HR to deliver more seamless and cutting-edge employee-centric services and experiences, as well as higher strategic value to the business.


18.         I am pleased that IHRP is leading on this front. They have recently signed an MOU with the Institute of Systems Science of the National University of Singapore to develop a Digital Competencies Roadmap for HR. Under this partnership, IHRP and NUS will develop training courses for enterprises to acquire the skills necessary to embark on digital transformation. The flagship programme, the Professional Diploma in Digital Human Capital Leadership, will enable HR professionals to lead and execute business transformation projects.


[Thrust 2] Equip HR professionals with emerging skills


19.         Willis Towers Watson’s study noted that almost 90% of HR job roles today will be impacted by technology. Based on IHRP’s estimate of their certified community, 53% of certified HR professionals in Singapore will be affected. The increased availability of technology-enabled solutions and data analytics will elevate the value-add of many HR functions, creating new opportunities. These include the HR data analyst, and the Learning Designer, who will customise training and development programmes to suit different employee profiles. HR professionals must be ready to embrace these new skills and opportunities for better career development.


20.         In 2017, we launched IHRP Certification to set the benchmark for HR excellence in Singapore. The community is now 2,700 strong and growing. By 2025, we aim to have more than 10,000 HR professionals take up IHRP Certification, or other equivalent certification recognised by IHRP .


21.         To ensure that HR professionals are equipped to harness the benefits of tech transformation, IHRP will develop more and different learning modalities for HR professionals to do so. Since August 2020, besides certification, IHRP is also conferring micro badges on emerging skills. They are available for HR professionals to continuously acquire in a modular format. One example is the Data-led Talent Acquisition Skills Badge. We aim to confer 10,000 such Skills Badges by 2025.


22.         The success of this will be determined by a culture of continuous professional development across the sector. HR professionals in the IHRP community have a big role to play in driving this. The setting up of a series of peer-led Communities of Practice (CoPs) is an example. These CoPs are led by senior HR professionals, where participants share resources and best practices. For example, the ongoing HR Tech CoP has curated 49 learning resources and organised a series of webinars and learning events attended by more than 1,000 HR professionals, to help the community better understand how technology and automation can enhance HR.


23.         For HR professionals in roles identified to be at higher risk of displacement by technology, they can be reassured that there will be upskilling opportunities available across the HR ecosystem to develop new skills and competencies such as HR Ops and Tech and Employee Experience Design.


24.         Through upskilling and supporting business and workforce transformation, we will continue to elevate the HR professionals into strategic business partners and leaders. In turn, this also means better jobs in HR. Today, we have 47,000 HR professionals in Singapore, about 90% of whom are local, across all wage levels. 92% are PMET jobs, which have grown from 85% in 2015. Over the same period, median wages for HR professionals have also grown by about 10%. Through HR transformation, we aim to support HR professionals to take on roles with higher value-add and wages.


25.         A strong HR sector will put our businesses and workforce in good stead to navigate their transformation journeys in the post-COVID world.  Let us continue to work together to build a strong HR that benefits our businesses and our workers.


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