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SMRT, Tower Transit, and SBS Transit on the PCP and the industry's talent challenges

At the Adapt and Grow Career Fair held at Kallang Community Club on Tuesday, Human Resources spoke with some of the employers present to find out more about their views on the three new Professional Conversion Programmes (PCPs) as well as their attraction and retention strategies in this manpower-short industry.

Q: How will the PCP programme benefit employers and job seekers?

Ian Tan Yong Hou, senior manager of talent acquisition, human resources, SMRT: Some job seekers may be afraid that they might not be able to perform in their new role due to the lack of training or experience. With the PCP in place, this will help reassure them that the company is committed to training them to perform in the role.

Our partnership with WSG will give the programme added publicity and this will go a long way to attract job seekers and inform them of the opportunities in the market.

Q: From an employer’s point of view, what skills or attributes do you look for when recruiting people outside the industry?

Glenn Lim, group communications director, Tower Transit Group: Tower Transit is very open to receiving people from outside the industry. As much as relevant experience is valued, we also look beyond, to aptitudes and attitudes. We’ve hired interior designers, IT consultants and fresh graduates and they’ve brought a fresh perspective to the business.

For example, when we began our Singapore recruitment campaign, before hitting the roads in May last year, we found that one of the hardest roles to fill was the vehicle technician (VT). Of those that interviewed with us, many had narrow skill sets, but little knowledge outside their specialisations. Where those skills were lacking, we went and hired attitudes instead.

We found a few of the brightest, most eager candidates and gave them the best training possible. To do this effectively, we’ve begun to set up an engineering ‘centre of excellence’ here in Singapore. We’ve put together a top-flight, international engineering leadership team to train our local VTs according to our progressive learning and development programme, so throughout their careers, they are constantly being upskilled. We’ve also made each VT a member of the Institute of Road Transport Engineers, the leading UK professional body, which keeps them abreast of the latest developments in the industry.

The aim is to nurture highly-skilled vehicle technicians with a superior breadth of knowledge, so they are well-rounded, and can move from one aspect of a vehicle to another with ease. It also makes them more valuable to the industry and helps to raise overall engineering standards.

Q: What talent challenges is the industry facing?

Glenn Lim: We’ve been very fortunate to have built a team that combines the experience of industry veterans and the enthusiasm of new comers. We’ve also manged to retain a high percentage of our staff, in particular experienced bus captains, and every day, we receive applications from people who are very interested in working for us.

Still, the industry has its challenges. Retention and engagement are perhaps chief among them, and because we invest a fair amount of time and effort in training, we want our staff to stay with us and to walk into work every day feeling that they want to be there. Easy right?

Of course not, and so we continue to work at keeping our employees engaged. We have an employee engagement plan that covers events, activities and recognition schemes. We held our first employee satisfaction survey in September last year, three months after operations began, and that’s been valuable in helping us feel the ground and to give our staff a voice.

Q: What attraction and retention strategies does your organisation have in place?

Grace Wu, vice president, corporate communications, SBS Transit: As part of our efforts in attracting and retaining engineering talent, we encourage our rail engineers to develop their professional competency and keep pace with technology improvements by being accredited as Chartered Engineers with the Institution of Engineers Singapore.

We also offer sponsorship to our engineering staff to attend diploma programmes that will enhance their learning and help them keep abreast in their skills and technical knowledge to stay relevant to the changing industry needs.

When it comes to career development, we invest in training to ensure that our rail engineers are systematically equipped in other key areas of rail engineering, people management, business management and safety and security leadership as part of their holistic competency development. They can then pursue either an engineering or a management track as they advance.

SBS Transit adopts a Progressive Wage Model (PWM) where bus captains who perform well will enjoy career progression. From bus captains, they can progress to become senior bus captains and then chief bus captains, which is the highest grade, drawing a monthly gross salary of about $5,500 or more. Bus captains can also progress to non-driving roles to assume executive and managerial roles in interchange and depot operations and management, the bus operations control centres, and training. Under the PWM, bus captains can expect to continually upgrade their skills, boost their productivity, and enjoy career progression with increases to their salaries.

In our on-going efforts, we also offer internship opportunities for work-based training to students from the polytechnics and the ITE through several programmes such as the Enhanced Internship and SkillsFuture Earn and Learn Programmes. We continue to do more to attract, recruit, retain and groom our talents.

Glenn Lim: I think in fact we’ve had the benefit of starting from scratch and being deliberate about a lot of what we do. It’s allowed us to be creative about how we engage with our staff and attract talents, and many people have found that to be a breath of fresh air.

Not long ago in December, at our inaugural Awards Night, we honoured a veteran bus captain who received over 60 compliments from the public in the 6 months we’ve been operational. For his exceptional customer service, we gave him a return trip for two to London plus five nights’ accommodation worth $4,500. He’s driven for 16 years and it’s the first time he been rewarded like this. He was very touched.

This was part of a monthly recognition scheme we call Tower Transit Star Awards where we honour 10 bus captains for the public commendations they receive. They each get rewarded with cash vouchers and the best among them goes into the running for the annual grand prize. So there is a monthly and annual recognition, and along the way we have activities and events to keep our people engaged.

I think one of the key things for bus captains is being heard and knowing they have a voice in the organisation. We try to keep these communication channels open. Tower Transit is a very flat organisation with an open, informal culture, so our staff feel very comfortable speaking to management or even dropping by our MD’s office to say hi or have a chat.

It helps that we eat in the same canteen and relax in the same areas. We have pool tables and ping pong tables, and a lot of interaction happens over a game. All this goes into the building of a Tower Transit culture which is the heart of the company. My MD likes to say that the money is the ticket to the game, but it’s culture that will make people stay, so we invest a lot in that culture.

When it comes to attraction, I think we’ve demonstrated that even a bus captain can have career progression. Since we started, we have promoted over 20 bus captains into supervisory positions. A few are veterans who’ve been in the industry for as many as 15 years and joined us not expecting to have a career change. We’ve recognised their abilities and promoted them. That’s been very fulfilling to them.

Sugumar, for example, has been driving for 14 years. He joined us looking for a change of scenery and during training, we found that he was very willing to pass on his knowledge and help younger colleagues, so we promoted him to the role of associate trainer. Now he’s got a completely unexpected second wind in his career, and he’s impacting many more people by passing on his wisdom.

There are other bus captains whom we have promoted to interchange supervisor and service controller. The result is a supervisory grade of staff who understand the challenges of being a bus captain and are better able to manage and interact with them. That’s also helped to strengthen day-to-day working relationships and increase the effectiveness of our supervisors.

Photo / iStock

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