Cooperatives remain relevant but face manpower and cost challenges, says national federation

SNCF has organised a new emerging leaders programme that starts from March 2023 and runs until July 2023. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Cooperatives have to improve on retaining talent and digital training to stay relevant while serving their social mission.

These were conclusions drawn from a discussion during the Service Sector Forum held by the Singapore National Co-operative Federation (SNCF) on Friday.

Mr Ang Hin Kee, SNCF chief executive officer, said that at a small scale, cooperatives struggle to attract and retain talent.

Employees care about salary and career progression, he added. But as cooperatives have limited resources, paying a good salary to attract talent is a short-term solution.

These are one of the challenges that cooperatives currently face.

To help address talent challenges, SNCF has organised a new emerging leaders programme that starts from March 2023 and runs until July 2023. It will be held yearly.

The programme aims to nurture future cooperative leaders through leadership camps, mentorship and fireside chats with experienced cooperators. Thirteen cooperatives are currently taking part in the programme, which aims to groom 100 cooperative leaders in the next five years.

Cooperatives started as enterprises that served various social purposes. For example, NTUC Income started as a cooperative to bring insurance to underserved lower income groups.

Another challenge that cooperatives face is that they are no longer the only entities that provide lower prices to consumers, which means that these cooperatives will have to adapt to changing community needs, said Mr Lim Boon Heng, chairman of NTUC Enterprise Co-operative, at the forum.

“Globalisation has led to the growth of large corporations which leverage on their scale to obtain the best prices for consumers... the rise of digital e-commerce platforms has enabled the consumer to source for the best prices anywhere in the world,” said Mr Lim.

Other challenges involve addressing changing consumer needs.

The pandemic led to consumers wanting the choice to make purchases online, said Mr Ang. Businesses pivoted online to cater to the new consumer preference. Likewise, cooperatives will have to digitalise to keep up with changing consumer demands.

To do so, cooperatives have to undergo training to digitalise. For example, there is a need to comply with the Personal Data Protection Act when collecting personal data from customers, said Mr Ang.

At a small scale, co-operatives struggle to attract and retain talent, said Mr Ang Hin Kee, SNCF chief executive officer. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Cyber security is also a concern in the digitalisation process, he added.

“If you don’t have cyber security, all your data can be hacked,” he said.

One cooperative facing financial and manpower challenges is E4PID, which aims to provide gainful employment to people with intellectual disabilities.

Set up in 2011, E4PID is in its second year of running a mushroom farm that hires people with special needs.

It currently hires five people with special needs and has volunteers who supervise the work process.

“We are unable to compete on pricing because larger farms overseas can provide lower prices due to their lower cost base. We place our value in that our mushrooms are fresh – they can be harvested in the morning and sold by the afternoon,” said Mr Ong Chin Wah, chairman of E4PID.

He added: “Very small cooperatives cannot afford to employ full-time staff... without volunteers, we would not be able to run this by ourselves.”

Singapore currently has 84 cooperatives.

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