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Opening Speech at 29th Annual Singapore Retail Industry Conference and Exhibition 2022

Zaqy Mohamad, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Manpower, Huone @ Clarke Quay

SRA Treasurer, Mr Pang Fu Wei, 

SRA Council Members,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1. It is my pleasure to be here, and I am glad that the Annual Singapore Retail Industry Conference and Exhibition is back this year, after a two-year hiatus. 

Industry Transformation

2. Since the last time this conference was held in 2019, the retail landscape has transformed significantly. Before COVID-19, the retail industry was already moving towards digitalisation. But COVID has accelerated this shift – it required the industry to deal with lower footfall in physical stores and shifted customers’ preference towards online shopping. Today, many retailers, large and small, have established an online presence to keep up with the changing customer needs.

3. Even as we emerge from COVID, the retail industry will no doubt need to continue to transform to seize opportunities and tackle challenges. Consumers are demanding more customised products and unique experiences. At the same time, greater access to e-commerce platforms, including overseas retailers, brings on greater competition. Manpower shortage is also a challenge, and there is a need to address the underlying issues in getting our local talents, such as providing opportunities that meet the career aspirations of our workers. 

4. We often ask ourselves – even as the industry transforms, how do we ensure that many of our businesses and workers can succeed, especially in a time where Singapore is recovering from the pandemic? How do we help our businesses and workers move into growth segments that create value for customers, and good jobs for our workers?

5. There are many exciting opportunities ahead, laid out in the recently launched Retail Industry Transformation Map (ITM) 2025. The refreshed ITM will focus on strengthening Singapore as a global lifestyle and retail hub, anchored in new experiential concepts and innovative products. This will entail building a core of global Singapore brands and raising the quality of jobs.

6. To stay relevant, retailers increasingly need to engage customers with unique in-store experiences, complemented by user friendly online interactions. These shifts in business models need to be supported by a quality workforce that can fill emerging roles, such as:
i. Customer experience managers to better engage customers and build brand loyalty;
ii. Omni-channel managers to create integrated and seamless customer experiences across various touchpoints; and
iii. Customer intelligence analysts to generate customer insights from large volumes of data. Today, you are all very comfortable with this because you are both online, offline and even within the store, you have many data points that you are receiving.

Upskilling our workers 

7. The theme of this year’s conference is ENGAGE.ENABLE.EMPOWER. In my view, the retail workforce is a key party that we need to engage, enable and empower, in order for our retail industry and companies to succeed. We want to see you succeed. We must make retail a meaningful career that offers good progression prospects, in order to retain existing employees, to deepen skills and expertise, and maximise the potential of Singapore’s retail workforce. To do this, we will help retailers redesign and enhance job roles, and equip their employees with new and emerging skills.

8. WSG has introduced a revamped Career Conversion Programme for the retail industry. SRA is a programme partner for this Career Conversion Programme. This Career Conversion Programme supports employers to train new mid-career hires or reskill existing employees to take on redesigned roles in job functions such as e-commerce, branding, Data & Artificial Intelligence. Job redesign, enabled by technology, injects greater value into traditional job roles, both for the worker and for the business. 

9. Career Conversion Programmes for the retail industry are not new. But this revamped Career Conversion Programme provides even more flexibility for companies to customise your own structured on-the-job training to equip workers with the necessary skills. If there are competencies that are not available inhouse, employers can choose to complement it with external training. Companies have different needs, and we want to be flexible to ensure that we meet your needs.

10. We hope the retail industry will actively tap on this revamped Career Conversion Programme to equip new and existing employees with these in-demand skillsets and build a future-ready retail workforce. We have seen progressive employers who looked after their employees by using the downturn to reskill them to take on redesigned job roles. Workforce Singapore had earlier recognised such employers through the Workforce Resilience Award at SRA’s event last week.

11. One company that has upskilled its employees and redesigned jobs with WSG’s support is Kwanpen, a retailer of luxury products. Kwanpen took the opportunity during COVID-19 to equip its design and logistics team with data analytics skills so that they can make data-driven business decisions. At the same time, its production staff was equipped with new skillsets, including intricate stitching techniques and the use of skiving machines to craft prototype leather handbags. Redesigning job roles and upskilling its employees to take on new responsibilities have helped Kwanpen alleviate its manpower challenges, and the company can now revisit their earlier plan of expanding into Japan and China.

12. In a while, we will witness the MOU signing between SRA, 21 retailers and Skills Development Partners. I am heartened to see the strong commitment from retailers provide meaningful development and career opportunities for the retail workforce. It is important that we maintain this close partnership between government agencies, industry and training institutions as we press on with industry and workforce transformation. 

13. I would like to thank SRA for being a key partner in this journey. Besides working with Workforce Singapore on the revamped Career Conversion Programme, the Association also partners Enterprise Singapore on the Global Ready Talent programme to groom global ready young talent to support companies’ internationalisation efforts. That is one key part of growth. Beyond our shores, we want to help companies to develop talents to grow overseas. These efforts will help our retail industry and workforce to be more competitive, not just in Singapore, but in the region, and hopefully the world.

Uplifting our lower-wage workers

14. I’ve spoken about the importance of upskilling our workers, and upskilling applies to all segments of our workforce. 

15. This is why we have introduced the Progressive Wage Model (PWM) for the retail industry. The Progressive Wage Model outlines a structured wage and skill progression pathway for the retail workforce that will help promote retail as an attractive career choice for locals.

16. I am glad that we had representatives from the SRA and retailers in the Tripartite Cluster that developed the Progressive Wage Model requirements for the retail sector. Thank you for working hard with us on this. It was not easy arriving at a tripartite consensus on the Progressive Wage Model wage and training requirements, especially amidst the backdrop of COVID. We were very mindful especially for retail and F&B, that this was an area that was quite hard hit, but at the same time, we thank them for working with us through this. It is an important piece of work that is needed to help uplift and bridge inequality in Singapore. But I am heartened that tripartite partners, employers and unions alike, are aligned in recognising the importance of uplifting our retail workers, with wages commensurate with their skills and productivity. 

17. Indeed, our overarching principle continues to be that wages and productivity should rise in tandem. This is the way to achieve win-win outcomes for both our workers and companies. To help businesses with the transition to the Progressive Wage Model, the Government has enhanced the Progressive Wage Credit Scheme to co-fund wage increases of eligible employees. For 2022, we will co-fund up to 75% of wage increases that employers give to their lower-wage workers. From yesterday’s National Wage Council recommendation, we recommend giving them a 5.5% to 7.5% increase. But I think this is where Government comes in to support, knowing that we are all coming out of COVID. With the Progressive Wage Credit Scheme, we will co-fund 75% this year, 50% next year, and over the next few years as well, to buffer the salary increases. But at the same time, I think it is meaningful for many of our lower-wage workers in retail. This will soften the impact on business cost, and also give employers time to invest in upskilling employees and improve firm-level productivity—it is not just on the worker but also on the firm. As we redesign jobs, digitalise, it is important to give them the necessary tools so we can help you be more productive sales wise and on the business level, and so that these are all sustainable in the long term. It is a whole ecosystem, able to retain workers and attract workers, and at the same time work is done more productively with better systems and better jobs.


18. To conclude, I would like to wish everyone a fruitful conference ahead, and I hope that you will gain new insights and ideas to help your businesses and workers grow and thrive in the new retail environment.  I know it has not been an easy two and a half years with the pandemic. I want to thank all of you once again for putting your trust and working with us, not just on the manpower front, but with the Government as a whole, as we have ridden through the pandemic situation. Once again, thank you very much and I wish you a fruitful day ahead.