Tan Toi Chia, Chief Corporate & Human Resources Officer, Certis

Headquartered in Singapore, with an international presence that extends to Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, and Qatar, Certis is ensuring that all support is extended to its multi-generational workforce as they adapt to digital tools.

Headquartered in Singapore, with an international presence that extends to Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, and Qatar, Certis has over 27,000 employees globally, of which 16,000 are based in Singapore.

A pioneer of security solutions in the region, the company has evolved its offerings, and thus its workforce skill sets, to combine its rich heritage in physical security with tech-enabled capabilities to help manage some of the most complex facilities around the world. This transformative journey has seen Certis evolve from a traditional, labour intensive and low-tech company to a digitally-advanced firm today.

What does this mean for the employee base? A focus on balancing the new terms of engagement with employees in a post-pandemic world, while ensuring the organisation remains well-resourced to excel, even as HR trends continue to evolve. 

In this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, Tan Toi Chia, Chief Corporate & Human Resources Officer, Certis talks about how the organisation's HR policies, employees, and potential talent are adapting quickly to the demands of the new normal, in part by embracing innovation and new technologies.


Sector spotlight: Security
Based in: Singapore (with a global remit)

Q What is the number one talent challenge this sector is facing?

The COVID-19 pandemic has permanently transformed the world and the way people work, and this has led to an evolution of talent needs and wants. As such, the nature of employee engagement has to evolve too.

The focus on retaining employees has shifted to elevating growth, flexibility, work-life integration, and prioritising employees’ wellbeing. The challenge faced by HR professionals today is how to successfully balance these new terms of engagement with employees so that organisations are better-resourced to excel even as HR trends continue to evolve.

The changing world has become increasingly digitalised because of the pandemic. As a result, human resource policies, our employees, and potential talent will need to adapt quickly to the demands of the new normal by adapting to new technologies and embracing innovation.

Q What are key developments (internal/external) that are intensifying this challenge?

Certis has over 27,000 employees globally, with 16,000 based in Singapore. We have a very diverse employee base in markets across Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, Macau, and Qatar. Spanning different demographics, experiences, cultural backgrounds, skill sets, and job scopes, can make the upgrading of skills – technological or otherwise – more complex.

For example, when we introduced internal apps automating certain tasks for front-liners, such as TITUS (automating timesheets) and MOZART (which syncs onsite operations to employee tasks via notifications), we also had to provide help to our seniors among them to learn and navigate these digital tools.

Externally, the labour market is generally tight, even more so for tech talent that is currently in much greater demand than supply – a trend that we are encountering all over the world. This is no doubt due to the significant shift towards digitalisation that has been accelerated by the pandemic.

Another key trend that has arisen from the pandemic is telecommuting, which is now more prevalent. With the adoption – and dare I say, popularity – of remote work, we have to put in more effort to help the organisation stay connected to our people, offering flexible working arrangements in the most efficient manner, even as we continue to compete for talent on a global scale.

Q What are the strategies that have failed, and that have worked in tackling this challenge?

Employee engagement remains a big factor in whether or not organisations succeed in retaining talent. Effective employee engagement forms the cornerstone of the culture of the organisation, and that is why it is a top priority for Certis.

As with many other things that have evolved in these unprecedented times, organisational and workplace culture need to be updated and to move with the times. We recognise that there are different environments and arrangements that help employees work more effectively.

Hence, Certis has recently reintroduced returning to the office once a week for Singapore employees. Staff members can connect and collaborate with team mates face-to-face on what is coined as ‘Team Day’, while still having the flexibility of working remotely for the rest of the week should they choose to.

This helps us to balance giving our people greater ownership over their work arrangements while ensuring that teamwork and communication between colleagues continue to be effective.

As an additional perk, on non-Team Days, staff members will also be able to choose to return to any of our three office locations – for their convenience or a sense of exploration – with our new hot-desking set-up introduced during the pandemic.

We help our employees grow and upgrade their skills through our in-house learning academy, the Certis Corporate University (CCU). It is the first of its kind for the security industry in Asia, established in 2019 to equip Certis employees with the relevant knowledge and skillsets to be future-ready. We leverage technology to better help employees learn specific skills needed in their roles and these include virtual reality training sessions for our frontline officers to conduct vehicle searches effectively. This was introduced when we recognised that the traditional way of training with the use of a physical vehicle meant that certain mistakes may not be picked up due to the confines of space.

Finally, I believe the mindset of HR professionals in coping with challenges should be that of flexibility and adaptability. These strategies are working well for us currently, but we will continue to keep an ear to the ground and fine-tune our policies and practices as the world evolves.

Q What is the next big priority for HR professionals in this sector?

First off, with the changing face of employee engagement, HR professionals need to start expanding their skill sets to build up capabilities in traditionally non-HR areas, such as effective communication and storytelling.

Secondly, HR professionals need to focus on recognising employees as individuals, and hence need to prioritise empathy and flexibility when caring for different employees, pandemic or otherwise.

At Certis, besides continuing to celebrate work milestones, we also celebrate and remind people managers of special moments in an employee’s personal life, such as birthdays. We will also be introducing a 'Pulse Survey', which is a simple way of asking after our employees and taking stock of how they feel on a daily basis.

As we continue to ride the digitalisation wave, the HR sector needs to adapt and continue to acquire new skills like automation and data. With the rise of cross-border teams, recruiters and talent acquisition specialists also need to be in touch with global work trends, think more globally, and be open to casting a wider net to bring in the best talent.

Q How are CHROs proactively preparing for the future workplace?

Over the last two years, the definition of ‘workplace’ has become fluid. CHROs need to consider and anticipate the role of physical workspaces, and what these physical spaces mean to employees and their organisation.

For the digital workspace, we want to explore the full potential of technological innovation – how it can be tapped to enhance the flexible work experience and best complement the physical workspace.

In terms of attracting talent and engaging employees, we need to recognise the impact a caring and inclusive workplace culture will have on different employees with various needs. Creating an empathetic workplace was central to our plans over the last two years when a lot of our diverse, international workforce transformed into frontliners, fighting the pandemic 24/7. Their varied work, time commitments and wellbeing needs meant we had to ensure they receive the resources they need to do their jobs, while staying well. We also saw the importance of extending, continuing that care to their families and communities.

While helping employees build the necessary hard skills, we need to proactively listen to what they want, and what 'softer' benefits would help support and care for them as individuals, not just as 'workers' in the organisation.

Q What is your biggest talent/leadership learning from the pandemic?

The pandemic has shown us how important it is for organisations to prioritise creating an environment and the opportunities to empower and nurture employees. We have had to re-examine the way we work and the types of outcomes we want to achieve for Certis and for our people.

Taking time to build trust and relationships within an organisation is necessary. In difficult circumstances like a pandemic, policies and practices need to come from a place of care. It is also in challenging times that the relationships built up will help employees trust that we are taking care of them.


Image / Provided (the interviewee, Tan Toi Chia)

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