Staff are unpolished diamonds to this firm

Yang Kee Logistics staff include (from far left) Mr Chen Zhirong, assistant manager of product innovation and implementation; Mr Ong Swee Keong, senior general manager for contract logistics and transport; Mr Chan Hsien Hung, general manager from the
Yang Kee Logistics staff include (from far left) Mr Chen Zhirong, assistant manager of product innovation and implementation; Mr Ong Swee Keong, senior general manager for contract logistics and transport; Mr Chan Hsien Hung, general manager from the management office; and Ms Tan Ming Hui, officer of product innovation and implementation.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Xin Yun talks to Yang Kee Logistics in the second of a four-part series brought to you by the Ministry of Manpower that spotlights the progressive human resource practices companies have put in place that value every employee.

Talent management is not about finding only the most brilliant people. Global supply chain logistics company Yang Kee Logistics is all about polishing the diamonds in the rough.

Mr Ong Swee Keong, Yang Kee's senior general manager for contract logistics and transport, said: "Let's get real, there can't be talent all over the firm. Some are more able, others less. But if you think about how each person has abilities, it's your job as an employer, boss and immediate superior - especially the immediate superior - to create opportunities to use someone's abilities, and then he becomes a talent for you. You don't have to find the most gifted chap."


He points out how a then junior named Gary, who was an executive doing customer service in transport, was given the chance to work in the Shanghai warehouse for six months, and has since signed a new contract to be based there.

Mr Ong says: "Gary's like any one of us. In him we found the enthusiasm and attitude, and gave him the platform to shine, and we do that with many others here."

However, he stresses that such moves are deliberate and "employers need to make the effort".

"If you just say you have a talent programme and leave it to the human resources team, it will stay as a programme. It's an entire journey, not another strategy out of the management textbook. Every leader or immediate superior needs to create opportunities for his staff. Only then are you really talent managing so that your business will grow on a stronger footing."


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Institute of Human Resource Professionals chief executive Mayank Parekh agrees: "Skills-based hiring leads to better hiring decisions and, ultimately, superior business outcomes. It also widens the pool of candidates in this manpower-lean economy."

Mr Ong notes how several employees have gone beyond their comfort zones and taken risks to join Yang Kee, which also takes in new hires.

Such moves exemplify how Yang Kee treasures skills. The firm was founded by lorry driver Koh Yang Kee in 1990 with just two trucks, and has grown across 11 countries with aims to go public by 2020.

Another employee was from hospitality and joined customer service, while a former food and beverage (F&B) manager started at Yang Kee as an executive, and has since risen to become an assistant manager.

Mr Chan Hsien Hung, Yang Kee's general manager from the management office, says being a manager showed she was a leader and knows how to plan and organise. She was lacking only domain knowledge, and all that can be learnt on the job.

Mr Chan adds: "This was even before the professional conversion programmes came along. If those were set up earlier, she would have benefited."


Mr Ong adds that he tends to be "a bit more radical" when it comes to educational requirements.

"I told my HR team, for hiring under operations, I do not need educational qualifications. It's not necessary. Whether you have a diploma or are a university graduate, (if) you read the job description and are attracted, you turn up for the interview and we'll take it from there.

"I'll tell interviewees: 'I'm taking a risk with you, as much as you are taking a risk with us.' One interview is never going to cut it; (not) even if there were several rounds."

Yang Kee, with 300 employees here, and more than 650 globally, is looking for problem solvers, and paper qualifications do not prove that a person has that capability, says Mr Ong.

The firm also helped Mr Yeo Eng Tin, 51, who was a truck driver for about 20 years - some 14 years with Yang Kee - transform his career path. He was promoted to be a transport supervisor, "creating a role to bridge the gap between management and drivers".

Mr Ong adds: "We need to solve logistical problems, and it often boils down to a mathematical problem - how to put the maximum number of pellets in the truck, warehouse, and move them in the fastest way, for instance. So we need logical, mathematical, analytical people... and the talent is all there. What we see are business needs and how to solve them from within."

He also notes that job seekers have to articulate and sell their skills and experiences well to employers, too, rather than focus on the past, like their degrees or prior industries.

"The HR practitioners and even owners of the company also need to change their mindset. If you don't open up and always go by checklists, then you'll always get candidates who just fulfil the checklist and filter out a lot of fellows out there. What have you just done?"

Mr Parekh says that is why it is important for HR professionals to advocate such progressive hiring practices within their organisations "and to work hand-in-hand with managers towards a fair and unbiased selection process".

Yang Kee also understands how HR teams face challenges, such as having a small pool of labour and having to compete with several third-party logistics giants in Singapore for that.

Mr Chan notes: "Hiring managers themselves typically often hope to find someone more experienced and from the same industry, but our competitors are going for the same pool of people. There are potential jobs for people to convert to here. It's a myth that they can't."


Mr Chan, a staff member for the past 15 years since he graduated, has seen how the firm has transformed its story to attract talent.

The firm teamed up with LinkedIn last year to "reach out and use LinkedIn to improve our branding, as we asked ourselves, 'How do we attract good people, with our vision to grow globally?' ".

It developed content for a greater audience to learn about Yang Kee's company culture, but also for staff to stay connected and as a platform to recruit talent.

Mr Chan says: "We also used Linkedin to profile our staff. Many of them were not aware of Linkedin in the past, or didn't know how to brand themselves. We brought LinkedIn down, explained how to set up a proper profile, and even catered photoshoots for employees. Over three to six months, the company's profile was raised."

It also helped the firm attract foreign talent from a large IT company. Mr Chan says: "Of all the companies in Singapore, Britta found Yang Kee from Germany. She is now a system integration specialist, and her rich experience has helped to expedite our growth."

Mr Ong says it is all about how a small and medium-sized firm like Yang Kee can "compete with the DHLs who can offer a new guy an overseas job after one year anytime". He notes: " Our story-telling has to be coherent and the whole business must be attractive, as well as (able to) take risks."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Staff are unpolished diamonds to this firm'. Print Edition | Subscribe