SINGAPORE: Despite the perennial problem of manpower shortage, businesses here are still not giving enough attention and resources to training their employees, the results of an annual survey showed on Thursday (Jan 17).
Only 12 per cent invested in better training for their staff in 2018, according to the Singapore Business Federation’s (SBF) latest National Business Survey. The survey polled more than 700 companies across all major industries between Sep 19 and Dec 7 last year.
Over the last year, manpower challenges remained a bugbear for companies, with rising labour costs named as the top challenge by half of those surveyed.
Amid a push for innovation, finding workers with the relevant technology expertise was also a concern for 41 per cent of companies, while 29 per cent were worried about retraining their employees in digital capabilities.
Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are less inclined to invest in training, according to SBF’s chief executive Ho Meng Kit, possibly due to lower profit expectations among SME business owners.
“SMEs are thinly-resourced. Functions are done by the same team so sparing people for training is a challenge.”
There is also a lack of emphasis on training among C-level executives, said Mr Ho.
The “terrible” number on training investment suggests the need for a mindset change among all employers here, added Mr David Black, managing director of Blackbox research, which collaborated with SBF on the survey.
“You’ve got to change the mindset that training is something that will pay off in the long term. You’ve got short-term needs that you need to deal with as well, (with) accelerated training approaches among the solutions.”
To address labour challenges, the SBF survey showed that 36 per cent of businesses turn to the Government’s Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) for ways to improve their manpower needs and talent pipeline.
The ITMs are sector-specific roadmaps that were first announced in Budget 2016 as part of a S$4.5 billion industry transformation programme. All 23 roadmaps covering 80 per cent of the local economy have been rolled out as of March last year.
However, businesses of different sizes have varying expectations when it comes to how they can benefit from the ITMs.
For instance, large companies believe that the industry roadmaps can help them to be more efficient or productive through the deployment of technology, as well as improve their business models.
These goals were missing from the top priorities of SMEs, which saw ITMs as helping them to navigate complex schemes and grants related to business transformation, among other things.
Referring to the previous SBF survey which showed a sizeable number of businesses still knowing little about the ITMs, Mr Black said that awareness has become “a lot stronger” according to the latest findings, though SMEs continue to lag behind their bigger peers as they view ITMs “as vague or a bit generalised”.
This echoed the sentiments of industry leaders who, at a pre-Budget discussion last week, urged for more to be done to help SMEs comprehend the roadmaps aimed at transforming the Singapore economy.
According to Mr Ho, while ITMs serve well as an “overall architecture for industry transformations”, the way forward could be to dive into “specific sub-sectors” within an ITM to work on individual issues.
The yearly survey also found that 63 per cent of businesses hope that the upcoming Singapore Budget 2019 will offer more help in accessing new and critical technologies.
This comes as businesses here continue to pursue innovation, with slightly under two-fifth of respondents prioritising the development of digital capabilities in 2019, while 33 per cent are looking to review their business models.
Meanwhile, firm owners also hope for a review of foreign employee quotas (53 per cent), more support for digital adoption and transformation (49 per cent), foreign worker levies (45 per cent), as well as lower compliance costs and regulatory fees (42 per cent).
Overall, business sentiment remained largely neutral as nearly half of those polled expect the local economic climate to remain unchanged in 2019.
However, there was a sharp rise among those that expect conditions to deteriorate, from 21 per cent in 2017 to 38 per cent last year.
The biggest concerns include rising interest rates (65 per cent) and the ongoing trade spat between the United States and China (61 per cent).
When asked if Singapore businesses had concerns about the uncertainties surrounding Britain’s exit from the European Union, SBF chairman Teo SS said: “Now that Brexit is coming to the doorstep supposedly in March, there's still no solution,” he said. “Businessmen who have investments there are concerned (about) where the country is headed.”