Upskilling your staff

Employers need to rethink what work means and create not just a learning strategy, but also a growth strategy. Here’s a handy guide.

This article is brought to you by SkillsFuture Singapore.

We all know that someone. The person who has been comfortable doing the same old job, clocking in the same old tasks, the same old routine – day after day until the days turn to years. And their ability to do something different, learn something new turns to inertia. These are the workers who have been the most impacted by recent global developments, be it the shift to digitalisation, the healthcare crisis, or the global phenomenon known as the ‘Great Resignation.’

“Employees generally see that upskilling and reskilling is important for their own growth and development. However, often they may not see the urgency of it until their jobs are threatened or they are confronted with career decisions,” says Chelvin Loh, Director, Jobs-Skills Insight Division, SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG).

“And because skills take time to build, this stifles business growth when businesses don’t have the ready skills amongst their employees to take on new projects that can bring about top-line growth. It also hurts employee growth, because employees may find their peers are more ready to access new projects or assignments that they have always wanted, be it within the company or outside.”

Indeed, inertia cannot bode well for an industrialised economy like Singapore, which is poised to support high-growth industries through solid physical infrastructure and a supportive business environment – but what about the talent infrastructure?

Today's job content is rapidly changing. New jobs that we have not seen in the last 10 years have emerged. So let’s look at the state of the current skilling landscape and understand how employers and learning leaders can better prepare for the future economy. 

Developing your fullest potential, together

According to a report, more than eight in 10 (81%) Singaporeans wished their employers placed higher importance on job-related learning and upskilling. On top of that, many felt there was insufficient support provided by employers to undertake learning necessary or relevant to their role.

Loh breaks down this phenomenon: “Employees tend to see upskilling and reskilling as the employer’s responsibilities – ‘you tell me what is needed and you send me for the training that the company needs’.

“To help employees take ownership of upskilling to better their career growth and mobility, it is important for employers to proactively signal the skills needs of the workplace and develop, and use, the skills of their employees.”

Evidently, the communication about the how, why, and benefits of upskilling is critical. Stephen Koss, EY Asia-Pacific Workforce Advisory Leader, adds to the conversation: “In my experience employees see their personal growth as important when they can see how this links their role and career path.

“Without clear guidance about their role and the business imperatives they may be unaware of where they need to develop further. This is one of the dangers in allowing employees to purely self-direct their own learning as it may not help to drive improved organisational performance.”

The experts agree that upskilling, in fact, must be owned by the employer, employee, and most critically, their line manager – for a business to truly survive and thrive.

A 2021 study by SSG and the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry showed that businesses that invested in reskilling and training for their workers reaped higher revenue and productivity benefits each year for up to three years after training. On the workforce front – upskilling and reskilling is a key talent attraction and retention strategy, and having the right skills development environment is essential for the incumbent workforce. It also helps build goodwill amongst employees, showing that organisations care about their longer-term personal growth and development.

Loh affirms: “The global talent shortages have made retention a new priority for many organisations, regardless of size.”

Upskilling tenets for maximum impact

Gone are the days when learning focused solely on technical skills and competencies needed for the current job. Today, it has become far more important to make sure the workforce has the right mindsets and soft skills to manage change and plan their own career-learning GPS.

In 2020, SSG launched 16 Critical Core Skills (CCS) in consultation with close to 80 companies across 28 sectors. Grouped into three clusters, namely, ‘thinking critically’, ‘interacting with others’, and ‘staying relevant’; these are soft skills that are highly transferable across sectors and job roles. But as Loh reminds us, “Employers have a big role to play in this, as the development and usage of CCS is highly dependent on work requirements and conducive workplace learning environments.”

An environment conducive for learning is high on EY’s Koss’ priority list as well. “The organisations that will come out on top will take ownership for helping to guide the employees through learning pathways towards recognisable micro credentials while providing the right learning culture to reinforce these behaviours and mindsets. Organisations with ineffective upskilling or reskilling programmes will find this hinders their efforts to transform.”

To add a more focused approach to the learning practitioner’s checklist, there are three domains, specific to Singapore, where an increasing demand for skills is projected: in the digital, green and care economies.

As shared by SSG’s Chief Executive, Tan Kok Yam, areas where employers can target their efforts in each include:

1. Digital skills: Demand will rise for both people who can build software-based solutions; and people who can help their organisation be smart users of technology. The latter requirement will affect roles across the board, ranging from marketing professionals to data analysts.

2. Green skills: Such demand will be cross sectoral – almost all companies, regardless of what they sell, will need some capability to account, report and reduce their carbon footprint. Some other skills will be more specialised, such as those related to how to maintain a fleet of green electric buses, how to trade in carbon credits, etc. The need for such skills may not all be evident today, but will intensify as technology and international markets mature.

3. Care skills: This demand is driven by the demographics of an ageing population. The response has to go beyond raising the supply of healthcare and community care workers to learning skills that harness collaboration with multi-disciplinary professions, caregivers, and the community. Every Singaporean will need some care skills, to manage physical and mental health, to look after members of the family and community, and support adoption of adult learning.

Don’t walk the journey alone

The importance of upskilling is never more critical than now – but this does not mean employers have to go at it alone. There is plenty of support available for L&D practitioners to maximise their time, investment, and resources in uplifting Singapore’s talent landscape.

As a statutory board under the Ministry of Education, SSG has been driving the national skills movement by strengthened the ecosystem of quality education and training in Singapore. For employers – big and small – this means support is available to develop human capital, recruit talent, upgrade skills, redesign jobs, and learn at the workplace.

Given the current economic climate, the time is ripe to stabilise our businesses and break away from the threat of stagflation. A good one-stop resource to start businesses on this path, is the Enterprise Portal for Jobs & Skills, which supports the needs of employers and HR leaders across the nation, and provides the tools for them to take affirmative action.

Of particular interest is the SkillsFuture Enterprise Credit (SFEC), a S$10,000 credit provided to encourage enterprises to embark on business and workforce transformation. Eligible enterprises will benefit from an additional 90% funding support for their out-of-pocket expenses when they take up relevant initiatives for business and/or workforce transformation. This includes programmes that support enterprise transformation, job redesign initiatives, and curated training programmes such as courses aligned to the Skills Frameworks and other sector-specific programmes.

Key takeaways

Economists will argue on the variety of ways to pull economies out of recessions and stagflation events, and this typically requires a complicated mix of consumer sentiment and spending patterns, government policy, and geo-politics. That being said, having people more productive, and aligned to the current and emerging needs of customers is a fundamental tenant of strong economic performance.

Koss summarises: “Improved productivity and output would clearly help in times of a recession, to help raise GDP of those countries in a recession.

“I do believe reskilling/upskilling will help during times of recession – both at a whole of economy level and for individual organisations that need to better match their workforce to changing market demands.”

SSG’s Tan adds: “Labour shortages can be due to various reasons, but if we can deal with shortages resulting from skills mismatches well, we may not solve all shortages; however, we will maximise the potential of the individual, raise the productivity growth of companies, and enable the economy to take on new opportunities.”


Grow your business and keep your staff at their best with the right training at www.enterprisejobskills.gov.sg/therealcost


Image / Shutterstock

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!