HR Excellence Awards 2023 Singapore
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An educated investment

If yesterday’s L&D was about instructor-led classes, today’s workforce increasingly demands learning that’s engaging, personalised, mobile and immersive. To help L&D professionals shape a next-generation learning environment, Jerene Ang studies the types of continuing and executive education available to the modern learner and how these contribute to meeting business goals.

"Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever,” was the timeless message communicated by Mahatma Gandhi, a student of lifelong learning. Closer to home, the Singapore government has always been a firm advocate for constant upskilling and reskilling, upping its efforts in recent years in light of the many sectors facing structural shifts.

Government and union support are only two parts of this multi-faceted puzzle, and for the concept of lifelong learning to take root in our society, individuals must be willing to learn, and employers must be ready to provide them that opportunity.

As such, corporate L&D is no longer about formal training courses, but blending a range of formal and informal learning experiences such as in-person training, mobile online learning, social discussion forums and even virtual reality (VR).

To help shape a next-generation learning environment and provide employees with the opportunities they need and want, in this feature we speak to HR and business leaders from UTC Climate, Controls & Security, Certis CISCO, and OWNDAYS Singapore to explore the forms of continuing and executive education available to the modern learner, and the business benefits from such opportunities.

Case 1: A climate of lifelong learning

To sustain its name as one of the most innovative high-technology manufacturers of building systems globally, it is no surprise UTC Climate, Controls & Security believes in lifelong learning.

Charlene Ge, vice-president of HR for Asia Pacific at UTC Climate, Controls & Security, explains: “We strive to create an environment where learning and applying new approaches to problems are both encouraged and rewarded and the employee scholar programme (ESP) plays an integral part in advancing this culture.”

Launched in 1996, the goal of the ESP – as it remains today – was for UTC to have the best-educated workforce in the world, as well as to benefit society at large through the pursuit of knowledge. “The world is constantly changing, and it is important that we evolve and learn to adapt to remain competitive,” she says.

UTC believes that by encouraging staff to pursue higher education and giving them the choice to pursue knowledge in the fields of their interest, though it may not be directly related to their current job, it is encouraging passionate lifelong learning. This also empowers employees to take personal ownership of their careers.

“We believe it is not the knowledge itself, but rather the drive to continue to learn and adapt, which will, in the end, help us change the world.”

Renewing employees’ vigour for their jobs through higher education

The ESP is offered to all UTC employees worldwide who have been with the company for at least a year. Under the programme, the cost of tuition, academic fees and books are covered to pursue a degree in any field, whether or not it is related to the employee’s job. To minimise out-of- pocket costs for employees, these payments are made directly to educational institutions.

Ge points out that in the 20 years this programme has been in place, most employees have chosen a course which has benefited them in their professional career development. As for those who chose more unconventional courses that did not fit directly into their careers, she observed that many have found a renewed vigour for their jobs because they were able to pursue their passions outside of work.

“The pursuit of knowledge and experiences outside of their day-to-day job functions helps our employees in their personal and professional development. Moreover, we believe that diversity of thought drives creativity and innovation, two of the most important ingredients to UTC’s success,” she explains.

To ensure employees received quality education, the company put in place a screening process for both the schools and degrees to make sure the curriculum was rigorous enough to meet widely accepted international standards. Interestingly, there is no requirement that employees stay with the company for any period of time following their participation in the programme.

Across APAC, we have invested more than US$49 million into the programme and our employees have earned more than 3,000 degrees since its inception.
- Charlene Ge, vice-president of HR, Asia Pacific, UTC Climate, Controls & Security
Continuing the high-performance culture

To date, the company has invested more than US$1.2 billion into the programme worldwide, helping employees earn more than 38,000 degrees over the past two decades. Some employees have even pursued more than one degree.

“Across APAC, UTC Climate, Controls & Security has invested more than US$49 million into the programme and our employees have earned more than 3,000 degrees,” she says.

On the returns of the programme, she says: “While the ROI is hard to measure from a business sense, many of our employees who participated in the ESP have gone on to rise to senior management positions or transitioned to other job functions within the organisation.”

Two such employees have included Amit Maheshwari and Miao Hui, both of whom have been with UTC for more than 14 years.

An engineer by training, the ESP helped Maheshwari fulfil his dream of completing his MBA in 2011 at the renowned Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. The programme supported him to take on additional responsibilities over time and also in his new role as director of marketing and strategy for the light commercial heating, ventilating and air conditioning products range of UTC Climate, Controls & Security’s international operations unit.

As for Miao, a year into his role as an electrical engineer, he was transferred to a new role as a customer service and logistics supervisor after his supervisors saw his potential in people management.

Quickly realising he needed to upgrade his skills in order to fulfil the needs of his new role, he took the opportunity to enrol in an MBA programme at Fudan University and was even selected to be part of the UTC operations leadership programme where he served three rotations across UTC business units over a two-year period.

In summary, Ge notes the programme is a natural fit for a company founded on innovation and a pursuit of excellence.

“Today, that same high-performance culture continues to thrive because we’re able to attract and retain top-tier talent and provide opportunities for them to further expand their skills throughout their careers at UTC.”

 Case 2: Securing skills for the future

As a leading security organisation, employees are Certis CISCO’s most valuable assets. Over the past decade, the company has devoted substantial resources to support its staff in upgrading their skills to meet the changing needs of the security industry.

Daniel Low, vice-president and deputy head of group human resources at Certis Group, says: “Certis CISCO has always been committed to the training and development of our employees at all levels. To promote lifelong learning, Certis CISCO arranges internal and external programmes that teach officers the most recent industry practices, including new technology catered towards imminent terror threats.”

Empowering staff to pursue aspirations

In 1973, the company established the Certis CISCO Academy (CA). Since then, it has evolved into being an approved training organisation for security under the WDA framework.

The ISO 9001:2008 and on-the-job CA conducts a comprehensive range of security education and training courses for auxiliary police officers, protection officers, security managers, maritime and aviation security personnel and non-security personnel.

“Curriculums are specifically designed and structured to guide participants through systematic training paths to develop their security competencies,” Low says.

These courses – constantly revised to cater to the changing needs of the industry – include leadership, coaching and customer service delivery, focusing on the leadership and functional skills essential to developing employees’ careers.

“Annually, employees from all levels are required to attend and complete the stipulated number of core programmes in the form of classroom settings or e-learning.”

As part of the company’s commitment towards continuous learning, more than three years ago CA implemented a Certis-wide learning management system and knowledge sharing platform – “Certis Share” – to bring learning to the next level.

“Using LMS as a learning tool, our courses have evolved from instructor-led classroom learning to blended learning, which combines technology with traditional classroom methods,” Low says. “With this, participants are able to embark on self-directed learning anywhere and anytime using their smartphones, tablets and other electronic devices.”

Studying while enjoying full-time benefits

Additionally, Certis CISCO has sponsored more than 60 security personnel to attend courses related to their specialised fields under two schemes – the work study scheme (WSS) and the part-time diploma scheme. Introduced in 2016, the WSS is a fully sponsored diploma, in partnership with Republic Polytechnic, which allows participants to study while working as auxiliary police officers – enjoying the benefits of full-time staff.

The scheme is not only open to existing employees who are looking to further their studies, but also for young graduates as well as mid-career switchers. Those under this scheme are allowed to pursue diplomas in subjects such as hospitality and engineering which will open up opportunities for them to develop their career in security through career progression, overseas exposure and job rotation in other positions within the Certis group.

The first cohort commenced on 5 October 2016, while the sign-up is on for the next intake in October 2017.

“Through this scheme, Certis CISCO aims to attract, retain and inspire young and middle-aged people to work in the auxiliary police force and make a difference to the security industry.”

Curriculums are specifically designed and structured to guide participants through systematic training paths to develop their security competencies.
- Daniel Low, vice-president and deputy head of group human resources, Certis Group
Under the part-time diploma scheme, employees have the opportunity to attend diploma courses at Temasek Polytechnic – one of Certis CISCO’s strategic partners in training for more than 10 years – for a diploma in police and security studies; and a diploma in security and fire safety studies.

Only security officers who have been with Certis CISCO for at least two years are eligible for this – selected based on recommendations and work performance.

Elaborating on the curriculum of providers, Low says: “When we work with external partners, the programmes are customised based on our organisation’s needs. Stakeholders are consulted to ensure the programmes are relevant and kept up to date. Th e senior executives are also involved in conducting the programmes so they can share their personal experiences with the employees.”

Flexibility to overcome challenges

A key challenge faced by Certis CISCO when implementing these programmes is scheduling the employees to attend the courses as some employees might not be able to attend courses because of operational exigencies.

To overcome this challenge for internally conducted courses, Low says: “Group HR and Certis CISCO Academy work closely with the business units and corporate functions on tailoring the schedules of the employees to ensure they are able to attend the courses.”

When it comes to external programmes – for example, the WSS – employees have a flexible work schedule to manage their work and study during the school term. Auxiliary police officers on the work study scheme will have a reduced work commitment – three or four days, instead of their normal work commitment of at least five days per week, while being committed to studying two days per week. This schedule depends on their respective site requirements.

At the same time, instead of attending courses at night, under this partnership, the courses are conducted in the morning.

When it comes to measuring the ROI of these programmes, Low says: “Our measurement of ROI is in how our employees are able to apply what they have learned in managing their daily work assignments.” He notes employees are better able to provide excellent service to Certis CISCO’s internal and external stakeholders – demonstrated in the awards and compliments that employees and the company have received from clients and members of the public.

In conclusion, Low says: “Through our efforts, our employees are empowered to pursue their aspirations to achieve vertical and lateral career progression with the Certis Group.”

Case 3: Line of sight to career paths

For OWNDAYS, the leading Japanese eyewear brand, training and developing employees is ranked as “very important”.

Massa Mizoguchi, director of OWNDAYS Singapore, business development, who also oversees HR, says: “We have a specific way of guiding our staff on how they should attend to customers. We call this the ‘OWNDAYS Standard’, and this is imparted to staff across the globe for consistency. With a good understanding of company culture and philosophy, employees are more likely to be aligned with the company’s goals, and motivated at work.”

All new employees at OWNDAYS undergo a training framework segmented into three main categories – company culture (for all staff ); customer service and sales (for all retail staff ); and opticianry knowledge and skills (for opticians). Employees will also go through a refresher training course on the above annually.

Held in the head office, each employee gets the OWNDAYS bible which documents the company’s philosophy, values and culture.

The training takes place through small group discussions with 15 to 25 employees per session, where they can share their background, values and thoughts about the company. These sessions are held every month during work hours with each session taking about six hours.

“Our training framework has been designed to equip our staff with essential skills and knowledge to be able to provide customers with only the most professional top-notch service.”

Opening up new doors through certification

In line with the company’s mission “to help people open up new doors and have a fresh start each and every day”, in 2014, after receiving feedback that there were sales staff who were keen to become certified opticians, OWNDAYS implemented a programme which partially sponsors part-time optician courses for interested retail staff .

In order to become certified opticians, two courses have to be completed – a dispensing course, and a refraction course, which take 12 months and six months respectively. The total course fees adds up to about S$7,500, whereby the company sponsors 50% of the full course fees for confirmed, full-time staff . Additionally, during the time in which employees are undergoing the course, they are given the flexibility to arrange their work schedules to accommodate their curriculum.

“We have four different nine-hour shifts for our retail staff . The earliest shift starts from 10:30am and the latest shift starts from 1:30pm. On days when staff have to attend classes, which is usually from 8am to 11am, they would be assigned to a later shift.”

After completing the course, employees are required to serve a one-year bond period.

The programme is currently owned by OWNDAYS’ optician trainers who send out a memo to invite staff to apply for the courses every year during the enrolment period. The opportunity is also communicated during the job interview process, as well as in-stores, where store managers remind their teams.

“We believe in giving our staff opportunities to grow and we invest in their success. We provide our retail staff the opportunity to become certified opticians because we are confident they have the potential to be even more successful in their roles if given the opportunity to upskill – especially since they already have existing brand knowledge and are familiar with the company culture.”

We see this as a part of staff development so we do not put a dollar value on it. We believe the company grows when the staff grow.
- Massa Mizoguchi, director of OWNDAYS Singapore
The company grows when the staff grow

Since its implementation in 2014, the company has sponsored a total of 10 employees to date.

On the impact of the programme, Mizoguchi says: “Firstly, the programme has improved job quality and desirability – it has helped us attract very driven candidates who see the value in upskilling and lifelong learning.”

In addition, the programme has helped improve staff retention. “All the staff who have taken up the programme are still with the company even after their bonds have ended,” he says.

“Our employees see and value our commitment to them, and they in turn have a stronger affinity with OWNDAYS, and are more motivated to excel with us.”

Believing the company grows when the staff grows, OWNDAYS does not place a monetary value on the ROI of the programme.

“We see this as a part of staff development so we do not put a dollar value on it. We believe the company grows when the staff grow.”

This is perhaps why since venturing out of Japan in 2013 and opening its first store in Singapore, OWNDAYS has, in less than four years, grown its presence across 10 countries, with a total of 187 stores, including 23 in Singapore, and three in Malaysia.

Photo / 123RF

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