Jenny Wong, head of group human resources at UOB, shares how the company embraces lifelong learning to empower its workers (young and old) to stay relevant amid global competition.

While training and education have always been at the heart of Singapore’s drive to maintain its competitive edge, lifelong learning is vital in empowering workers, especially more mature ones, to stay relevant amid rapid technological change and increasing global competition.

Given an ageing society, tight labour market and longer life expectancies in Singapore, it is important that we keep more mature employees in the workforce. Furthermore, people who work past retirement age tend to be healthier mentally and physically, and be more financially secure.

At UOB, it is important that our employees not only have the right skills, but also uphold the values that build the trust we have earned from our customers. Guided by our values of being honourable, enterprising, united and committed, we treat our employees with care and respect so as to nurture them to act in the best interests of our customers. By living these values, we continue to make UOB relevant to our customers and distinctive in the banking industry.

One way we demonstrate our care and respect for our employees is our commitment to develop them at every step of their career, regardless of age. We also believe that harnessing the skills and talents of a diverse workforce, including those of our older employees, will give us a competitive edge.

Like other large companies, UOB provides both formal and on-the-job training including mentoring. Some initiatives are, however, unique to the bank.

Last year, UOB was the first bank in Singapore to launch an employee development initiative tied to the government’s Wage Credit Scheme. Grants from the scheme are ploughed back into our career and personal development courses, so that employees benefit from having more funds for training. We currently offer more than 5,000 training places on courses, such as innovation, productivity, service excellence and IT skills.

One way we demonstrate our care and respect for our employees is our commitment to develop them at every step of their career, regardless of age.
Recently, we enhanced the scheme so that training credits given under the Wage Credit Scheme can be used for the national SkillsFuture programme. Between January and July this year, almost 15 per cent of our employees aged 50 and above benefited from this scheme.

Another way we promote a culture of continuous learning across the bank is through our strategise, engage, execute and develop (SEED) foundation programme. This equips employees with the competencies they need to keep themselves abreast with the latest skillsets needed to continue being relevant at the bank. In 2015, about 10 per cent of the employees who underwent the programme to boost their effectiveness, interpersonal and managerial skills were over 50 years old.

Leadership training also plays an important part in UOB’s training programmes. Potential leaders, identified at annual performance reviews, undergo mentoring, as well as leadership skills training at the UOB leadership academy. These potential leaders are also rotated through different areas of work, as well as in different countries, to prepare them for the demands of senior management.

As our values give us a shared sense of identity and belonging, last year, across the UOB Group, we helped our employees to appreciate the importance of living the UOB values in their daily interactions with each other and with our customers. We ran training programmes and workshops structured on this theme across the organisation.

These were complemented with additional programme content, which was made available through employee communication channels such as our intranet, a microsite and mobile app. To reinforce the importance of living our values, a significant values component was added to the performance assessment structure for senior executives in 2015. This model will be applied across all levels in 2016.

Case study: How matured workers like Nancy Tan, 57 can add value to the business

Rather than ask his loan manager to process his loan, the first person the UOB customer thought of was Nancy Tan. Tan isn’t a loan manager. She heads a team of administrators supporting the credit analyst division in the bank’s commercial banking department, which provides companies with financial solutions and advice to help them grow their business.

Tan could have turned the customer down, but it was difficult to ignore her well-honed commitment to customer service, let alone a 20-year-old business relationship. The two first met when she was the manager of the UOB branch at Upper Serangoon where he banked at. Tan not only agreed to his request, but also went out of her way to explain the intricacies of the loan to him at his wet market stall, in his dialect, Teochew.

Tan is the kind of employee that UOB values because she brings to the job experience, skills, industry knowledge and deep customer relationships. These qualities are not easily learnt but are developed through many years of service with UOB.

The 57-year-old joined then-Lee Wah Bank, now part of UOB, in 1978. Just as the bank has grown in the 38 years since, so has Tan. She has worked as a teller, customer service manager and branch manager before taking on her current role. Key to her success was the on-the-job training provided by the bank, which helped her adapt and take on each new job with confidence.

Today, she is not only an inspiration to her younger colleagues, but also a fount of knowledge in all things UOB. Friendly, humble and caring, the well-respected veteran was the regional winner of UOB’s inaugural Customer Commitments Awards 2016 held earlier this year. The award recognises employees who demonstrate the UOB values in their daily decisions and actions.

Nancy Tan_Regional winner of UOBs inaugural Customer Commitments Awards 2016 Nancy Tan_Regional winner of UOBs inaugural Customer Commitments Awards 2016

Photo / United Overseas Bank