Singapore Prison Service was determined to improve its employer brand and attract the best talent. Sabrina Zolkifi reports.

The thought of working in a prison may not have broad appeal, and that was exactly what Singapore Prison Services’ (SPS) senior assistant director of recruitment, Angeline Chua, set out to change.

In its pursuit to be positioned as an employer of choice in Singapore, Chua said SPS leveraged on the belief that “the work of a prison officer is a very meaningful one, as we are able to touch lives”.

“The SPS has harnessed this strategic position to highlight to our prospective recruits that they belong to a highly trained and motivated team, which plays a pivotal role in steering and helping ex-offenders reintegrate into society,” says Chua.

The prison’s Yellow Ribbon Project (YRP) has also gone a long way in helping craft a better employer brand.

The YRP, which was launched in 2004, aims at providing support to deserving ex-offenders and their family. Chua said the prison’s “Captain of Lives” tagline is very much aligned to the YRP’s goal of providing a second chance to ex-offenders.

Many of the job applicants are supporters of the YRP and they will be able to amplify the positive impact that they can make on inmates and their family members when they become prison officers.
A bump in the road

SPS hit a slight hiccup after its inception, as the YRP gained more popularity because of misinformation portrayed in the media through things like television drama serials.

“Common myths that a member of the public has about prison officers’ jobs is that it is dangerous and the working environment is depressing or dark,” says Chua.

To combat those misconceptions, SPS conducted Learning Journeys to a targeted group of potential employees, which allowed them to have a first-hand experience of the daily work of prison officers.

Chua says their efforts eventually paid off when they were recognised as one of the top best employers in Singapore in 2007, 2009 and 2011 through a survey conducted by Aon Hewitt. In addition, they also won the Aon Hewitt Best Employers Award in Asia Pacific in 2011.

Aside from championing the rehabilitation of inmates, SPS is also determined to provide staff with professional and personal growth opportunities. This is considered one of the pillars of the organisation’s employer brand proposition.

Championing their values

Chua believes positioning the prison as an employer of choice that provides “extensive opportunities to advance his or her career in operations work or specialist functions” has also helped attract candidates.

These values are constantly communicated to the public via various channels, including advertorials and career fairs, and are clearly put across to prospective employees.

“The consistent message has created a lasting impact on job seekers and it is easy to remember, which sums up the significance of our job,” says Chua.

Another avenue SPS leverages on to build a stronger employer brand is social media.

While other organisations may have used Facebook as a marketing and publicity tool, SPS created its online presence with the sole intention of reaching out to potential hires.

Chua says online networks such as Facebook have helped the prison increase its reach and clarify queries from the public. It is also a more engaging and effective form of communication between the prison and candidates, and builds a relationship Chua believes could have never been achieved through traditional mediums.

One way SPS did this was by posting ‘Captain of Lives’ stories, which detailed meaningful encounters by staff and provided the public with further understanding and insight into the job scope of a prison officer.

Online mediums allow us to engage potential candidates in two-way communication and they create opportunities for us to interest these people further.
More than meets the eye

In building its employer brand, SPS also wanted to ensure potential employees viewed it as an organisation capable of providing career advancement and development opportunities. It was through this that the Leadership Development Roadmap (LDR) was born.

The roadmap provides a framework to monitor and track the leadership journey of prison officers and senior prison officers.

“We aligned our SPS’ leadership development training to the Leadership and People Management Workforce Skills Qualifications (LPM WSQ) framework under the Workforce Development Agency (WDA), so as to benefit from high standards of training documentation and delivery, as well as having a ready pool of approved training organisations accredited to conduct training,” says Chua.

A lot of emphasis is placed on making sure the employer brand ties back to the prison’s recruitment effort, because “we need to bring in people with the right aptitude and competencies to carry out the mission of SPS”.

“We have incorporated all the required non-trainable traits that include our core values into our interview evaluation form to sieve out the right candidates during the interview.”