How Temus is complementing human touch with the advances of AI and graph technology

How Temus is complementing human touch with the advances of AI and graph technology

This is critical to engage its 200+ strong team, even as it aims to grow the workforce five-fold, while developing Singapore's tech talent ecosystem, says Melissa Kee, Chief People Officer, Temus.

Temus was established by Temasek in partnership with UST, to provide digital transformation solutions for the private and public sectors in Singapore, where it is headquartered with about ~200 employees working across strategy, design, architecture, technology, data & AI. 

Melissa Kee (pictured above) is Chief People Officer at Temus, where she partners the executive team to champion and support tech professionals and tech-hopefuls in catalysing digital transformation for Temus’ clients. Prior to Temus, Melissa was most recently Chief Human Resources and Corporate Communications Officer at Kuok Singapore, where she was credited with unifying the talent agenda across all Group of companies globally in maritime and real estate sectors and building a robust global leadership talent pool.

Melissa has a consistent track record of building successful high-performance teams in culturally diverse organisations. She also brings almost 30 years of global HR experience in Fortune 100 companies and Asian conglomerates in a wide range of industries, of which 12 were spent in the tech industry working for Microsoft and Intel.

In this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, we find out about Melissa's growth aspirations for Temus' talent agenda, the interventions that have been put in place to further the nation's tech talent pipeline, and her vision of a tech-enabled HR function, and how it will empower employees.

Q Having had a career in HR spanning just over 30 years, what's the most special thing about being in this function, and how have you seen it evolve in the years gone by?

There is never a dull moment when dealing with people matters. Doing so requires a lot of passion to serve the best interest of the organisation and teams before oneself.

The HR function used to focus on the operational, policy and compliance aspects of all people matters. However, it has evolved to becoming a strategic partner to the business for impact on engagement and performance.

The recent workforce trends – some accelerated by the pandemic situation – have further widened the scope and complexity of how this function can continue to shape the workforce of the future. This includes hybrid and remote work, diversity, equity and inclusion, employee total wellbeing, realising strategic value from people data, job redesign and upskilling due to automation and digitalisation, and harnessing economic impact for the greater good.

Q You've taken on the role as Chief People Officer at Temus in July 2022 - what are your key priorities, in terms of building and executing the people strategy?

We are doubling down on a few key strategic people priorities as we scale up for growth. One involves cultivating an entrepreneurial mindset and collaborative culture across the enterprise that is key to unlocking innovation at Temus and with our customers. Another priority is in building a competitive workforce with digital transformation skills and empowering networks of teams to operate within an agile operating model.

Finally, we will live and breathe technology from within by focusing on enriching the employee experience in our very own digital talent marketplace where Temus talents can aspire to work on the most challenging and meaningful projects of our growing bench of future-forward customers both in government and large enterprises.

Q Temus has launched a training programme to develop Singapore’s tech talent workforce. How does Step IT Up x Temus differ from other reskilling/upskilling programmes out there?

Step IT Up x Temus is a hire, place, and train programme which secures trainees a tech role at Temus before they’re trained for it.

It crystalises our belief that people with the right learning agility, motivation, and passion can succeed at tech roles, even without prior tech training or backgrounds.

Through this initiative, we aim to be a part of the solution in Singapore’s bid to expand our total digital talent pool by broadening career opportunities for people who may not have started with a tech career in mind. Our CEO, KC Yeoh had previous written quite prolifically about Temus’ motivation for launching Step IT Up in Singapore to build the digital workforce that our Smart Nation needs.

Temus has committed to training 400 people by 2025 and started with a pilot for around 22 people in end-November 2022. Candidates will receive full sponsorship for a four-month training (which amounts to the cost of a degree programme), receive support for a monthly stipend of S$3,000 during the training period, receive the necessary coaching to succeed, and be guaranteed a full-time job as a tech developer when they graduate.

Q In your view, how should companies optimise the balance between attracting global talent to Singapore's shores and developing the local tech workforce?

It is important for Singapore to remain competitive in the global market. Thus, we need to attract top-tier tech talents from around the world to strengthen the depth and breadth of our talent pool. Singapore will see an increasing demand for tech talents in line with our Smart Nation and Digital Government initiatives as well as the country’s Industry Transformation Maps. Therefore, our local tech workforce has much to gain – and is in a prime position to seize these growth opportunities – when we enable them to remain connected to the broader tech ecosystem that may span beyond Singapore’s physical shores.

Companies can fully maximise their capabilities in harnessing a healthy diversity of talent, both global and local, to achieve greater impact and relevance within the context of their own marketplaces in Singapore and beyond. The talent convergence will create learning opportunities, a transfer of skills and best practices through cross-pollination of ideas, tools, techniques and co-create new innovations and experiences for a win-win outcome for everyone involved.

Digital trends and emerging technologies are evolving rapidly, and talent in Singapore will need to stay ahead of the curve. Certain jobs will be in high demand such as cloud architects due to the significance and growth of cloud computing. The artificial intelligence domain is also growing at an astounding rate, therefore contributing to a higher demand for AI and data science jobs.

Q Shaping digital transformation requires digital-savvy talent, which we know is in short supply in Singapore and our Southeast Asian neighbours. How are you overcoming this talent shortage (apart from grooming them in-house as shared in the above programme)?

We’ve seen how many enterprises have accelerated their digital transformation efforts against the backdrop of safe distancing measures amid the pandemic. These changes have ushered new realities and expectations of what the future of work ought to be.

Today, hybrid working has become more prevalent. For Temus, this has given us the opportunity to strengthen our Singapore core of talents with like-minded professionals beyond our shores to bring greater value to our customers – particularly when we’re also faced with a shortage of tech talent in niche domains here.

For companies that are more circumspect in navigating today’s high interest, high inflationary, and slow-growing environment, the global freelance talent pool may be another marketplace to explore tapping into.

According to Upwork, the data science and analytics sector experienced the highest year-over-year growth in freelancer spend from 2019 to 2020, at 115%. In addition, 50% of global freelance workers are already providing skilled work like computer programming, counselling, IT work, or marketing – demonstrating the viability of such flexible working arrangements.

Q Digital transformation has been one of the biggest keywords of 2022. What are some future trends you foresee in the space when it comes to recruitment, employee engagement, and talent development?

In my view, digital transformation is about solving real world problems, reimagining new ways of working, and building competitive operating models enabled by technology. There are many innovative HR tech solutions now which have transformed the user experience, improved efficiency, and enabled data analytics in verticals such as application tracking system, online learning platforms, digital skills assessment, and employee engagement tools.

There is vast potential for HR teams when we connect the dots across these verticals, arrive at a whole-of-enterprise perspective, and harness these insights to solve real business challenges. At Temus, we are embarking on a graph-based AI digital talent management platform to elevate the career experience of our talents and optimise workforce management for the company. A platform like this may empower us to give our talents an even greater say in the projects they take on, with a clear view of how these projects will potentially contribute to their professional development and growth at Temus.

Putting talent at the heart of our company means involving them in decisions that impact their career experiences, progression, and development journey. For these reasons and more, I believe the future of HR can be transformed using graph technology and data analytics. Furthermore, we will be able to embark on a data-guided approach to addressing skills gaps and learning opportunities, while combining these insights with other data points shared by our talents, ranging from engagement, growth, and even staff departures, to predict and prepare for future permutations of talent retention and progression. 

Q Temus expects to grow by five-fold by 2025. How will the company retain its agility and competitiveness as a 200-person firm, when it becomes a 1000-strong workforce?

Even as a 200+ strong team, I must admit that it is challenging to engage each employee individually. However, by complementing our human touch with the advances of AI and graph technology, we stand a great chance of being able to involve our people and take important decisions on hiring, resource reallocation and talent development, at scale.

Imagine how we’d be able to view and map each employee’s workload and career aspirations at a macro level, while building on our institutional knowledge across multiple locations and entities, as our workforce expands in Singapore and beyond. This approach will help us stay agile, allocating resources where they are most needed, while empowering employees to take charge of their own career paths and professional development. 

Q Finally, in a tech-driven world, what do you find most difficult to adapt to you, and how do you side-step that challenge ?

The pace of change and technology adoption in the tech industry is happening at a much faster rate than others. So, it can be quite challenging to keep up. A continuous learning mindset, curiosity about everything, and constantly seeking to improve oneself, are some of the principles I have embraced to keep abreast of these changes and enable the office of the CPO to remain a strategic partner to our leadership team at Temus.

Image / Provided (Interview: Melissa Kee)

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