THE Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is taking the unusual step of sending its middle managers back to the classroom, for specialised training in communication.
MOM is looking for trainers to tailor a course for its deputy and senior assistant directors on how to conduct effective conversations, a move prompted by the need to explain policies clearly and simply, and higher public expectations.
When contacted, MOM confirmed the course, but declined to elaborate. Its spokesman would only say: "Equipping our officers with effective communication and engagement skills is an integral part of MOM's training roadmap."
The ministry wants its staff to be able to coax "stakeholders to share facts, feelings, ideas and opinions candidly", and "to be able to spot warning signs when the conversation is going negative and to restore it back to a healthy dialogue".
The move has drawn support from some.
Mr Zainudin Nordin, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Manpower, said the training can help MOM staff gather views before policies are made.
"It also helps policy implementation when these MOM officers explain policies to those who are affected," he added.
Singapore Human Resources Institute president Erman Tan noted that some civil servants can be bureaucratic when they deal with external parties.
"They may not even be aware (that they are bureaucratic) and the training can help them be more self-aware of the impression they give others," said Mr Tan.
And Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said the move signals a shift towards an emphasis on softer, personal skills which are needed for civil servants to engage the public.
The ministry started looking for trainers earlier this month.
The Straits Times saw a letter to interested firms in which the ministry said: "Given the current socio-political reality, there are rapidly growing expectations (for the ministry) to engage stakeholders in effective dialogues to seek inputs and buy-in for various policies and initiatives."
The training will help give middle managers the confidence to start and manage difficult conversations with both internal and external parties, the ministry added.
The training will include classroom lessons on conversational techniques as well as "scenario- based exercises" where the MOM officials practise what they learn.
Each session lasts two days, and the ministry is likely to send between 15 and 25 middle managers to the first class next month.
While the programme is a good start, Mr Leong suggested that it be widened to cover staff members at lower levels.
"It can also include front-line staff because they are the ones who come into most contact with companies and members of the public," he said.
Three months ago, MOM started training for some of its officers to help them communicate better with foreign workers.