SME Spotlight

Manpower-lean approach 'the way for firms to grow'

At the roundtable yesterday were (from left) ST business editor Lee Su Shyan, who was the moderator; Ms Julia Ng Lee Hoon, co-chair of the LED task force; Association of Early Childhood and Training Services chairman Robert Leong; La Belle Couture ma
At the roundtable yesterday were (from left) ST business editor Lee Su Shyan, who was the moderator; Ms Julia Ng Lee Hoon, co-chair of the LED task force; Association of Early Childhood and Training Services chairman Robert Leong; La Belle Couture managing director Teo Peiru; and Markono Print Media managing director Edwin Ng.

Panel urges less labour reliance while raising productivity; help available from LED scheme

Given Singapore's open economy and the highly competitive business environment, enterprises have no choice but to become manpower-lean and raise their productivity, business leaders and experts said at a Straits Times roundtable held at the Lifelong Learning Institute yesterday.

In this effort, help is available from the Government's Lean Enterprise Development (LED) scheme, which was launched in 2015 to help transform enterprises and grow a more manpower-lean landscape, by building a stronger Singapore core and a higher quality workforce.

With strong support across various government agencies to help enterprises to become less reliant on labour, the LED scheme has already achieved a take-up rate of 6,700, said panellist Ms Julia Ng Lee Hoon, co-chair of the LED task force. She is group director of the Enterprise Development Group at Workforce Singapore (WSG).

While about 2,000 businesses took advantage of the LED scheme in its first year, the figure rose three-fold in the second year.

"But this is not enough, as we would like more companies to take up the benefits available under this scheme," said Ms Ng.

She added: "There are employers who want to transform their business but do not know where to start.

"The LED scheme is a one-stop point for them, rather than going to various government agencies. Last year, we did 30 outreach programmes and this year, we will do even more as we step up our efforts to go beyond enterprises to the industry level."

The ST Roundtable on Lean Enterprise Development and Productivity, which is now focused on taking lean transformation beyond enterprises to the industry level, was moderated by ST business editor Lee Su Shyan.

Mr Robert Leong, chairman of the Association of Early Childhood and Training Services, reported early success from the adoption of the LED scheme.

Faced with manpower issues, the association last year started two centralised kitchens to prepare healthy food and already 400 children in pre-schools are benefiting from the project.

WSG and the Media Development Agency have developed a smart solution for pre-schools, where a lot of routine work is labour-intensive.

The online solution tracks the time from when a parent makes an inquiry to the child's successful enrolment in the pre-school. Teachers send e-reports to parents to keep them informed about their child's progress and well-being.

Panellist Teo Peiru, managing director of La Belle Couture, which is in the bridal business, where there is much competition, said that enterprises can start tapping the LED scheme with small projects. A grant from the scheme helped her business get its first iPad.

The staff used it to learn to plan their workload better, handle problems and enhance the customer experience, leading to better deployment of staff and helping to raise productivity.

At Markono Print Media, the ongoing focus has been on automation and adding more value to its services, said panellist Mr Edwin Ng, managing director of the company.

Moving to a new factory a year ago gave the company a good opportunity to aim for more automation. It tapped the LED scheme to adopt an automated storage and retrieval system, as it was looking for ways to boost its business without having to hire more people.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2018, with the headline 'Manpower-lean approach 'the way for firms to grow''. Print Edition | Subscribe