Singapore's Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has launched the Lean Enterprise Development (LED) Scheme to support SMEs in creating growth, and better jobs and careers for Singaporeans.
LED will be piloted for two years, effective October 1, 2015, with three key initiatives.
The scheme will apply to SMEs that display commitment to become manpower-lean, build a stronger Singaporean core, and develop better quality workers.
To tide over the tight labour market and current manpower policies, LED will enable firms to apply for temporary manpower policy adjustment during the period of transition.
SMEs that propose to undertake "transformational projects" may be entitled to measures like:
- Cutting down on the number of Work Permit Holders without affecting existing S Pass quotas,
- Having temporary foreign workers while recruiting and training locals to take on better jobs,
- Pooling foreign sources of expertise, at the industry level, to transfer know-how to local workforce.
Finally, a cross-agency taskforce led by SPRING and WDA, will integrate efforts of existing assistance schemes to help SMEs in a more coordinated manner.
Human Resources spoke to industry experts for further insights on the talent issue.
Sandra Christie David, font's Singapore country manager, noted the focus on a "Singaporean core" was not something new, but is something businesses are still trying to manage.
Taking the example of the marketing, digital and creative sector, she found skill gaps in niche roles, particularly within digital, saying the best way to combat is for firms to embrace lifelong learning internally.
She cautioned: "However, training and development won't change the competency level of the local workforce overnight. For Singapore to remain competitive as a business centre, some skills may need to be imported."
This, she explained, is true when other markets adopt new technologies or processes before Singapore, meaning the only way to bring that skill set to the market may be to import talent.
Dilys Boey, advisory partner at EY in Singapore, added: "Where there are jobs, especially PMET positions, currently held by foreign manpower, employers must remain committed to training the local workforce to build up relevant skills to eventually take on those positions."
Joseph Barratt, MD of Mutant Communications, offered an SME employer's take.
"Mutant Communications has an even split between Singaporeans and foreigners, which is something we have been conscious of as we have grown. While we would love to lift this ratio, our priority is hiring the best fit for a role."
Even so, in his experience, it can be difficult to find local talent with the skills for the creative industry, with technical skills "often" there, although soft skills are lacking.
The solution, he says, is in working even harder on the firm's employer branding, to show top talent that they can learn a huge amount in a short period of time.
Robert Walters, for example, has set out a campaign targeted at pursuing Singaporeans abroad to return home, given that job opportunities will continue to rise and businesses are likely to see challenges in filling the skill gaps, as more multinationals enter Singapore.
Toby Fowlston, managing director of Robert Walters Southeast Asia, said: "To address this, there is currently a big push from Robert Walters Singapore via our Balik Kampung campaign to attract overseas Singaporeans and inform them of the job opportunities back home."
"These professionals typically have the necessary international exposure and additional niche skills to develop the Singaporean workforce."
Cynthia Stuckey, MD Asia–Pacific Singapore at The Forum Corporation, pointed out that companies cannot solely rely on external hires to address core workforce rates set by MOM.
Instead, she recommends business leaders to invest in learning & development, competency mapping and structured career pathways to grow a strong talent pool from within.
"A focus on building internally, along with provision of attractive graduate programmes and external hiring, will all assist in reaching MOM’s two-third Singapore core workforce," she said.