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Trade associations appeal for support to address manpower challenges in policy paper

SINGAPORE: Business associations in the services industries have banded together to appeal for a concerted effort to tackle the manpower crunch they face in a policy paper published on Thursday (May 12).

The paper, published by the Singapore Business Federation (SBF), represent various sectors including lifestyle services, environmental services, and estate & facilities management services.

It outlines ways in which businesses, trade associations and chambers, government agencies, unions and educational institutions can work together to address manpower challenges faced by the industries, said the SBF in a press release.

SBF said that the reopening of borders and resumption of activities are opportunities for companies in the services industries to grow. Nine key actions have been developed in consultation with eight trade associations and chambers.

They are the Environmental Management Association of Singapore (EMAS), Landscape Industry Association (Singapore) (LIAS), Restaurant Association of Singapore (RAS), Security Association Singapore (SAS), Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), Singapore Nightlife Business Association (SNBA), Singapore Retailers Association (SRA), and Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore (WMRAS).

They called for a range of actions to be taken, such as for tripartite partners to actively coordinate the redeployment of workforce from pandemic-related operations to lifestyle services.

"As the demand for temporary jobs relating to the enforcement of safe management measures tapers, there is scope for workers to be intentionally redirected to the lifestyle services with close coordination between the agencies hiring these workers and NTUC’s e2i, and businesses tapping on various government schemes to offer good jobs in adjacent customer-facing roles," said SBF in the media release.

The associations and chambers also suggested better cross-sector collaboration to "achieve higher operational efficiency and better resource allocation".

For example, having "win-win arrangements" to optimise manpower requirements for warehousing and delivery, instead of every retailer trying to recruit and manage its own in-house logistics team.

“Strengthening cross-sector collaboration and optimising resource utilisation will allow businesses in the retail sector to respond to the changes in consumption and purchasing patterns, and transform for growth,” said SRA president Ernie Koh.

The policy paper also suggests that tripartite partners review the broad classifications of business activity for the services sector, and expand the Non-Traditional Source (NTS) Occupation List for work permit holders, as well as diversify the NTS countries.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) had earlier announced that companies will be able to hire workers for occupations on this list on work permits instead of S Passes. Workers on S Passes have a higher minimum qualifying salary.

"With the shrinking pool of new entrant Singaporeans willing to work in these sectors every year, foreign manpower supplements are necessary to meet the demands for such services, even with ongoing efforts to transform the sectors and redesign jobs," said SBF.

The current services sector classification, which also includes knowledge-intensive sectors such as finance and insurance, ICT, and professional services, does not reflect labour market dynamics faced by the various services sub-sectors, it said.

"A more nuanced classification of business activity, particularly for services is required so that differentiated policy interventions can be applied to address specific manpower challenges."

It added that trade associations and chambers are already working closely with the various government bodies on initiatives and policy enhancements to address the tight manpower situation.

But there is an "urgent need to recalibrate manpower supply" in the services industries to enable companies to operate at optimal capacity and deliver good service, and to help companies to plan ahead for growth and transformation," said SBF.

SBF CEO Mr Lam Yi Young said: “To maintain Singapore’s reputation as an efficient and vibrant business and leisure destination of choice, the services industries need access to suitable and sufficient manpower to support their operations and growth.

"Even as they double down on automating processes and redesigning jobs, businesses still need to be able to recruit and retain sufficient local and foreign manpower."

SHA president Kwee Wei-Lin said that as inbound travel recovers, the hospitality sector has been "relentless in improving productivity whilst supporting the quarantine needs of the nation".

She said: "The industry needs quality manpower to maintain the best service standards and experiences for Singapore to remain a destination of choice."

Nine key actions suggested by trade associations and chambers (TACs)

1. Tripartite Partners to actively coordinate the redeployment of workforce from pandemic-related operations to Lifestyle Services

2. Businesses to enhance the value proposition of jobs in Lifestyle Services, Environmental Services, and Estate & Facilities Management (EFM) Services

3. Businesses and TACs to work with NTUC and post-secondary educational institutions (PSEIs) to strengthen workplace training and upskilling efforts

4. TACs to facilitate cross-sector collaboration to achieve higher operational efficiency and better resource allocation

5. Businesses to step up as Queen Bees to build up value chain capabilities

6. Businesses to optimise EFM resource requirements through an outcome-based approach

7. Tripartite Partners to work together to review the broad classifications of business activity, in particular for Services, for purposes of manpower policies

8. Tripartite Partners to work together to review expansion of Non-Traditional Source (NTS) Occupation List and diversification of NTS countries

9. Government to support access to international students and recent graduates enrolled in training programmes related to the Lifestyle Services, Environmental Services, and EFM Services


NTUC Assistant Secretary-General Desmond Choo said that the union will need to further study the recommendations in the paper with the tripartite partners.

"We appreciate the effort by SBF to address the manpower crunch and agree that more can be done to ensure that this crunch does not affect business and service delivery," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"At NTUC, we believe that addressing manpower issues must first start with the effort to strengthen our Singaporean Core to help our workers reskill and upskill so that they remain relevant and productive."

Responding to CNA's queries, an MOM spokesperson said that the ministry recognises that some segments of the economy may find it challenging to fill job vacancies amid the tight labour market.

"We agree with the SBF report’s emphasis on the need for our industries to transform," said the spokesperson in an email reply on Friday.

The ministry highlighted that some F&B companies are investing in automation to transform.

An example is restaurant chain Dian Xiao Er, which tapped on ESG’s Enterprise Development Grant, to install an automated duck conveyor system in April last year, MOM said. 

Before that, eight staff members were needed to prepare 1,500 ducks daily. The system cuts down the preparation time for 1,500 ducks by one-third.

"With the conveyor system, the company was able to re-train its manpower and redeploy them to other job roles," said the spokesperson.

MOM said that government agencies are also working closely with industry and unions to promote good jobs and "ramp up" local hiring.

In the short-term as the economy reopens, MOM is working closely with the tourism and aviation sector agencies to provide "targeted support" with additional foreign worker quotas for a time, to ensure that they can quickly rebound and capture the opportunities, it said.

"We strongly encourage employers facing manpower shortages to utilise all the available support to press on with efforts to transform and become more manpower-lean, while tapping on available sources of local workers, to build up their local manpower core," the spokesperson said.

Source: CNA/hm(rw)


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