Learning & Development Asia 2024
Attract, engage, retain: How HR leaders are overcoming the struggle of gaining top talent

Attract, engage, retain: How HR leaders are overcoming the struggle of gaining top talent

Sarah Gideon uncovers how leaders from GroupM, L'Oreal, and SATS are navigating the ongoing talent shortage amid tightening foreign labour laws across Singapore and Malaysia.

A recent survey has revealed that failure to attract or retain top talent is the fourth biggest risk facing companies globally – indicating that human capital issues are no longer just a 'people problem’, but a key business risk.

It falls into a varied list of the top 10 global risks that organisations are currently affecting businesses, including in cyber security front and supply chain:

  1. Cyber-attack or data breach
  2. Business interruption
  3. Economic slowdown or slow recovery
  4. Failure to attract or retain top talent
  5. Regulatory or legislative changes
  6. Supply chain or distribution failure
  7. Commodity price risk or scarcity of materials
  8. Damage to brand or reputation
  9. Failure to innovate or meet customer needs
  10. Increasing competition

No doubt, companies that fail to consistently attract and retain these employees can struggle to maintain their overall business performance. 

In addition, the survey highlighted two key trends that have had a massive impact on talent strategy: pay & inflation, and employee experience.

With businesses in Singapore already combatting the ongoing talent shortage amid tightening foreign labour laws, how then, can leaders continue to attract and retain top talent in overcoming this risk? Sarah Gideon finds out in interviews with leaders from GroupM, L'Oreal, and SATS

What this risk means for organisations in different industries

Rashi Kalucha, APAC Chief People Officer, GroupM Nexus reflects that this risk significantly influences a company's capacity to innovate and remain competitive in the industry.

"In the context of advertising/media, this challenge is heightened due to the ongoing rapid digital transformation.

"Our industry is constantly evolving with changing technologies, a growing focus on digital content and online platforms, shifts toward new formats & channels and an increased emphasis on content personalisation. These disruptive changes necessitate even more specialised skillsets than ever before," she points out.

Across the border in Malaysia, Shazli Ghani, Cluster Human Resources Director, L’oreal Malaysia & Singapore appreciates that the risk being recognised underscores the critical role of not just HR, but also those at the managerial position.

“While this is not new to people in the HR field, attraction and retention has often been seen as a HR challenge, and not a business one.

“This is further amplified for our industry as we are globally the biggest cosmetics firm and naturally a key poaching ground as our talents are highly sought after,” he adds.

Coming to a point on the common struggles leaders face when it comes to attracting high-calibre, both leaders cite similar challenges — with Rashi noting a lack of comprehensive understanding of employee needs, and Shazli noting misconceptions about the brand or relatable skills.

Elaborating, Rashi highlights the criticality surrounding the nuances of what employees value and prioritise, including:

  • meaningful work.
  • clear career advancement paths.
  • an innovative & inclusive culture.
  • flexible work arrangements. and
  • access to learning & development opportunities,

“Addressing these challenges requires a holistic approach to comprehend and fulfil the diverse needs and expectations of potential and current employees," she shares. 

Adding his views from his personal experience, Shazli tells us: "I often get the comment from men that they would feel [an] 'imposter syndrome’, as they do not use or know many of the products.

"However, just like any other industry, you need not be a consumer yourself to know how to market the product, forecast demand, ensure strong distribution, create digital solutions or platforms, draw up legal contracts, etc."

In that vein, he believes that employers should be transparent in informing potential hires of the creation of new roles with an entirely new skillset. He explains: "Most people would not think that a beauty company would be the first place to apply for data-and-analytics-type roles, but we have recently set up this team and are looking to hire.

"Knowledge is key – people must know what they can expect from your company or what type of jobs exist."

Staying competitive to continue attracting & retaining the best talent

Keeping the above in mind, the teams at both GroupM and L'Oreal have been taking steps to assess and adapt their talent acquisition strategies to stay on top of their game — with GroupM adopting a data-driven approach to understand the market dynamic, and L'Oreal ensuring it taps on the right platforms.

In particular, Rashi shares, GroupM's talent acquisition teams are regularly mapping the market to stay informed about industry trends, emerging skills, and shifts in candidate preferences.

"The same data-based approach is also used assess our employer brand, both internally and externally. Our job descriptions are regularly updated to ensure they accurately reflect the unique aspects of the roles and our company," she adds.

Beyond that, the organisation runs targeted early careers programmes to ensure it has a steady pipeline that supports the specialised skillset required in the industry. 

These aside, the team also looks inward — coming up with initiatives to continually engage its current employees and reduce turnover. Rashi shares: "To attract digital talent better and stem unwanted attrition, we tailored our talent strategy to ensure that career development takes centerstage. This began with implementation of a dual-path approach to career pathways – one with people leadership and another parallel with professional expert paths."

GroupM also launched Career Navigator – an internal career & skill management framework, that created opportunities to grow within and beyond each role backed by a clear model for upskilling capabilities through continuous trainings.

Rashi continues: "There were other engagement factors that were quite pertinent to our employees which became evident through our employee pulse surveys and feedback mechanisms. So we started addressing those in parallel. Through various connects and forums, we are now constantly communicating to our teams on how their work contributes to the overall business. Bringing in this level of transparency & communication, provides clarity and makes work more meaningful."

Given the growing focus on wellbeing post pandemic, the team also decided to introduce its 'Mental health allies' programme, reinforce its ongoing employee assistance programme, and, more importantly, train its managers to become better role models for balancing work and personal responsibilities.

Over at L'Oreal, Shazli affirms the need to ensure the right knowledge is broadcasted through the right platforms. To give an example, he shares: "Jobstreet used to be the only go-to provider for job searches and job posts. But you could also only search for jobs and nothing else. In the last few years, TikTok has not only surged as the go-to micro content provider, but also has an online shop, and according to a recent article on CNA, 40% of youngsters favour TikTok as their search engine over Google.

"If companies have not learnt to adapt to these platforms, they will lose out a significant competitive edge," he cautions.

Moving to a point on engaging the current workforce, he shares that for starters, the company has in place a yearly global engagement survey that helps the team track and decide on measures it can implement. In specifics, it has also rolled out what is called the 'Share & care' programme which has four pillars: Protection, health, balance, and worklplace. "This ensures that we look at the 360-degree experience of an employee at work, focusing on topics such as protection for their families, physical and mental health, ensuring a good balance of time off and mental wellness vs work, and offering a high-quality workplace experience to allow them to contribute at their highest level," Shazli notes.

"We also ensure that the senior leaders receive feedback and are easily accessible, so we also run a yearly global leadership survey to collect 180-degree feedback on company directors to evaluate how well they communicate strategy, give and receive feedback, develop their teams, and prioritise employees."

These sharing bring us to a key question: How are our leaders tackling any candidate shortage for critical roles — or at least avoiding such situations?

For Rashi and team, it involves a holistic succession management and talent management approach, and regular upskilling of employees to fill any critical gaps.

"Having said that, we are in a very dynamic industry and the external talent pools are fairly limited so our TA teams have to be quite proactive in mapping the market and exploring alternative/adjacent pools. We also leverage social media for more targeted recruitment marketing strategies," she explains.

Over at L'Oreal, Shazli stresses the importance of understanding the challenge first, and always thinking of different ways to solve it. For instance, for its frontliners in Malaysia, the Beauty Advisors in the stores, L'Oreal signed an MOU with the Ministry of Education to hire TVET (technical and vocational education and training) graduates of their cosmetology course and also offer the chance to advise on their curriculum. Similarly, for its Hair Educators, which is a very niche role, the team taps into communities, with Shazli pointing out that this "is a very heavy word-of-mouth sector." 

Communicating the employer value proposition

Rashi says: “Each stage of the recruitment process is an opportunity to communicate the employer value proposition (EVP).

“Building a talent community is integral, incorporating both future prospective candidates and past alumni too,” she adds.

Rashi also highlights that regardless of the strategy, being authentic, considering what matters most to the candidate and most importantly, delivering on the promises made to them.

On L'Oreal's end, Shazli believes the right EVP requires creating frequent and varied touchpoints with potential hires. In 2023, the organisation participated for the first time in the UK Graduan Career Fair to seek returning Malaysian graduates, while also kicking off its ‘L’Oreal Youth Trendsetter (LYT)’ Programme — a Campus ambassadorship where students in the university are partnered with L’oreal, to help promote youth programmes that the company runs. In return, the students will have the inside scoop on news, updates and chances for placements as an intern or management trainee with us.

“Nobody does it better than the students themselves,” Shazli affirms.

To conclude, it is evident that despite being hundreds of kilometres away, organisations in both Singapore and Malaysia believe that tapping into social media is a more forward-looking strategy to attract top talent.

Concurrently, both GroupM and L’oreal believe that to retain top talent, ensuring the wellbeing of employees should be at the forefront.

Work-life balance and mental health have become the focus of many employees, and such, employers need to take that into consideration and ensure that balance of R&R versus work.

Taking care of employees will therefore ensure a sustainable attraction and retention cycle.


Case study: SATS 
Interviewee: 
Tan Chee Wei, SATS Chief Human Capital Officer and IHRP-MP

Before we leave you, let us delve into a case study to have a look at how SATS’ initiatives to attract & retain top talent have allowed a 60% rise in new hires.

SATS has embarked on a variety of initiatives to build its Singapore core. This includes enhancing branding and outreach via existing and new channels and collaborating with partners such as the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the National Trades Union Congress to create higher value jobs for locals through the design and implementation of progressive wage models and career pathways, as well as leveraging automation and technology for job redesign.

Other initiatives include bolstering the organisation's foundations with institutes of higher education as the pillars for establishing long-term and sustainable local talent pipelines.

“This builds upon the MOU signed with all five Polytechnics in February 2023, which aims to cultivate a larger pool of work-ready graduates and facilitate knowledge sharing in the areas of internships, post-internship skills-based career pathways, continuing education, industry and career talks, amongst other initiatives,” Tan shares.

"We are on track to surpass and expand our number of internships in this and future years, and we have increased our participation in Work Study Programmes to provide educational and career advancement opportunities for new hires," she added.

Today, SATS participates in six Work Study Programmes with ITE in 2023 (up from one previously), and has seen a 60% increase in new hires via this route compared to 2022. "We intend to capitalise on this trend further in the future years," Tan affirms.

To retain top talent, SATS provides its employees with job mobility, desirable to many, especially tech-savvy young people.

In addition to its current expatriation programmes, SATS also introduced ‘ELEVATE’, a global talent experience programme to give corporate employees an opportunity to undertake short-term cross-geography assignments with a specific business goal or outcome, in December 2023.

“We believe that this allows best practices across SATS to be transferred to other locations. At the same time, it provides talent development opportunities by leveraging SATS’ expanded footprint. These internal assignments are short-term international assignments of less than a year, depending on the project scope and other factors,” Tan notes.

This approach that SATS has taken to resource and retain their top talent has therefore proven successful for the organisation, Tan believes, with the company employing more than 45,000 employees across more than 210 locations in 27 countries, with presence in the Americas, Europe & Asia.


Photo: 123RF

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