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Foo Wah Teng, HR director for Amgen Singapore Manufacturing, on ensuring the right people are in the right roles and location at the right time to drive the firm’s “best place for talent” initiatives.
Q. Starting out as a production planner, you quickly moved into an HR role with Apple when you started your career more than 20 years ago. What attracted you to HR?
HR is such a multi-faceted field which fulfils both my passion to work with people and the desire to always improve and make things better – be it in recruiting and retaining talent, making HR processes more efficient or developing a more robust development and benefits plan for the organisation. There is never a dull moment, and there are a lot of different things to do and see and I get to meet different people and experience diverse cultures.
I also enjoy the ever-changing settings of not knowing exactly what my day will bring and the surprises that may come my way which I thrive on. All in all, this is an extremely rewarding and exciting career to be in.
Q. Since then, you have spent a lot of time in heavy industries such as Keppel FELS, Eastman Chemical, and now Amgen. What is unique about HR in this sector?
The biggest commonality are all these industries are highly niche with each requiring a large number of extremely skilled workforces to perform very specific roles and in shifts. Most of these companies are also located in what is usually deemed as less “central” and “accessible” locations so it does take HR more effort to develop creative programmes to draw and retain talent.
HR practitioners in this sector also need to have experience working from a corporate centralised HR level, but to also have a sound knowledge of all the laws pertaining to the manufacturing industry – such as implementing and suggesting policies for different types of employees, in understanding the existing skills of employees and having a good view of the various types of future skills needed to align with the business strategy specifically for the manufacturing industry.
Q. What has been the most memorable HR initiative you’ve been a part of in your career?
That would certainly have to be a new organisational structure I designed and implemented to support a more effective and efficient delivery of valued-added HR services for both the commercial and manufacturing offices. Though constrained by lean resources, we leveraged on the power of technology and implemented the programme across nine countries which impacted over a thousand employees in Asia Pacific.
It is necessary we not only offer a competitive development and benefits plan, but also a structured career roadmap to retain our top talent.
Q. At Amgen, what are the HR priorities that keep you awake at night? What role does HR play for the business?
At Amgen, our mission to serve patients drives all that we do. As a HR business partner, we partner closely with site leaders to create a competitive advantage through an agile and differentiated workforce strategy. This means ensuring we have the right people in the right roles and location at the right time to drive our “best place for talent” initiatives that meet local needs while remaining aligned with global strategies.
Given the complex and dynamic nature of the future of manufacturing and with new disruptive technologies emerging, we always need to innovate faster to be ahead of the game and to constantly evolve our strategies to achieve a highly engaged and motivated world-class workforce.
Q. In the recent National Day rally, Singapore’s PM Lee highlighted diabetes as a rising concern for the nation. How do you motivate your team of researchers to find the next medical breakthrough? What do they value most?
As with the rest of our global workforce, Amgen scientists are motivated through our shared mission of helping patients. As a biotechnology pioneer, Amgen scientists are designing new types of medicines with novel capabilities and innovative manufacturing capabilities that push the boundaries of science to develop a pipeline of medicines with breakaway potential and to launch new medicines at unprecedented rates to reach millions of patients worldwide.
By employing a “biology first” approach, our world-class talent utilises the industry’s largest toolkit of modalities, and leverages industry-leading partnerships and state-of-the-art technology to develop new processes and products to turn the tide of serious and life-interrupting illnesses.
Our next-generation biomanufacturing facility located in Singapore is also another great example of a new biomanufacturing paradigm that is leaner, greener, more flexible and productive, and less costly to build and operate compared with a conventional manufacturing facility. This high value-added innovative manufacturing has provided Amgen with improved productivity, speed and flexibility to which a drug is available for patients.
Q. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the lack of talent in the healthcare sector. Does this spill over to the biotech sector as well, especially since you have two manufacturing facilities in the nation? If so, how do you manage this challenge?
Biomedical manufacturing is a key contributor to the overall manufacturing sector, which last year accounted for one-fifth of Singapore’s gross domestic product. The sector has grown rapidly over the past few years and we expect continued strong interest. It is necessary we not only offer a competitive development and benefits plan, but also a comprehensive structured career roadmap and programme to retain our top talent.
Partnering key stakeholders such as the Singapore Economic Development Board and Workforce Singapore, Amgen plays an active role to build a pipeline of professionals for Singapore’s biologics manufacturing sector through talent and manpower development programmes such as the development and apprenticeship programme.
Through our Amgen Foundation signature programme, we also proactively seek to advance excellence in science education to inspire and groom our next generation of innovators through programmes such as Amgen Biotech Experience and Amgen Scholars at local schools and universities to spark their interest and a future career in STEM.
Amgen’s new manager assimilation programme is a mandatory training that eligible people managers have to complete within a year of starting in the role.
Q. Can you describe one HR campaign at Amgen that you believe non-manufacturing corporations can learn a lot from?
There probably is no hotter topic in the world of global business than talent. Amgen’s global new manager assimilation programme is a mandatory training that all eligible people managers have to participate and complete within a year of starting in the role. The curriculum empowers new managers with tacit skills, including coaching on how to manage a group of workers, on effective communications, how to manage projects, and so forth, that can usually only be learnt mainly on-the-job and through real-life experience.
Through this structured programme, we equip new managers with the management skills so that the risks of failure are minimised and as a way to keep attracting and retaining talent who report under them.
Q. Is there someone in your career who has inspired you or mentored you? If so, what is the number one thing they always told you?
I have had several HR mentors throughout my career. The key takeaway is not to be complacent, but to always apply continuous learning to stay current and ahead to step up to the challenges of a disruptive world. That said, keeping oneself adaptable and resilient are also important attributes to avoid becoming irrelevant.
Q. How do you spend your free time or your weekends?
I enjoy running, travelling, surfing the net, reading, watching National Geographic programmes, chauffeuring my daughter for her weekend classes and going for walks with my wife in nature parks.
Q. What’s the one myth you would bust about working in HR?
One myth is that HR is a back room function. As a matter of fact, HR is now in the forefront of corporate strategy. As HR professionals develop a strategic mindset and possess the knowledge and skills needed to shape an organisation workforce and effectiveness, they become key players in charting the organisation’s path.
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