Budget debate: New framework being planned to upgrade trade associations and chambers, says Low Yen Ling

Upgrading the TACs will be an important plank for the Government's strategy to uplift SMEs. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore will embark on establishing the first of its kind competency framework to upgrade the core capabilities of trade associations and chambers (TACs) which in turn will support industry transformation and business growth, Minister of State for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling said on Tuesday (March 2).

The TAC Competency Framework will be developed by the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI), with support from Singapore Business Federation (SBF), Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG). The framework is expected to be ready in the July-September quarter of this year.

"This is the first time a competency framework is being created for TACs," Ms Low said.

"Developed in consultation with the TACs, the framework will identify existing gaps and relevant skills required by TAC secretariats and their leaders. Suitable programmes will then be developed to upgrade and build the skillssets of the TAC sector."

Upgrading the TACs will be an important plank for the Government's strategy to uplift small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from the depths of the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Low said SMEs make up 99 per cent of our companies and contribute 72 per cent of employment, which underscores the pivotal role they will play in the recovery of the economy.

"This is the time when TACS are most needed to help their members overcome difficulties and capture new opportunities," she said.

An example of how collaboration between TACs can uplift the industry is the Beauty Services Alliances (BSA), which brings together five trade associations in the beauty and wellness sector that has enabled companies to identify suitable training programmes to upskill their workers, leading to better service and higher customer retention.

Meanwhile, she said the Government will continue to assist the transformation of SMEs through schemes like the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG), which will have its enhanced maximum support level of up to 80 per cent extended to March 31, 2022.

PSG has since 2018 helped more than 19,000 SMEs adopt IT solutions and equipment. The top sectors for PSG adoption include retail, building and construction, wholesale trade and food services.

An example is Bee Sim Foods, an established company making pau and dim sum for nearly 50 years, which was helped under the scheme and managed to cater directly to individual consumers when its business-to-business sales were affected by Covid-19. Bee Sim adopted the use of an automated tray sealer and vacuum packaging, leading to the doubling of its monthly B2C sales.

In response to points raised by Mr Shawn Huang (Jurong GRC) and Ms Jessica Tan (East Coast GRC) on the need to boost support for digitalisation of SMEs, Ms Low said some 200 digital ambassadors and business advisers have been reaching out to some 20,000 heartland enterprises to help them adopt e-payment and digital commerce solutions.

The initiative - led by the Heartland Digitalisation and Revitalisation Committee (HDRC) - informs shopkeepers about the benefits of the Go Digital Programme and provides step-by-step guidance on how to go digital. As of February, more than 85 per cent of heartland shops have been engaged, said Ms Low.

"Interestingly, we are seeing more second- and third-generation family heartland businesses leveraging on available government programmes to transform their business by going digital," Ms Low said.

For example, Petite Blooms, run by a mother-and-on pair, recently made the leap to e-payments under the Heartlands Go Digital programme. The florist in Teck Whye wanted to capture the growing number of e-savvy customers, and thanks to the Heartlands Go Digital Programme, it has scaled up to 25 per cent its sales via e-payments. Revenue has gone up by 10 per cent in the first three months of adopting e-payment.

In addition, the Government is also encouraging shops in precincts like Little India to get on board the digital marketplace.

For example, the Little India Digitalisation Project has helped Jothi's Traditional Charm, a beauty and wellness salon, expand its customer reach by at least 10 per cent. With a loyalty programme and e-payment options in place, Jothi's is now able to better engage younger clients. The salon has also received help from SME Centre @ Little India to adopt a solution that provides real-time sales data, saving it much time and manpower.

In response to Mr Desmond Choo (Tampines GRC) question on support to micro and small businesses Ms Low gave the example of the Food Delivery Booster Package that has supported more than 10,000 food and beverage (F&B) outlets to diversify their operations by pivoting online and offering food delivery, especially during the circuit breaker last year.

Similarly, the E-Commerce Booster Package has helped more than 3,500 brick-and mortar retailers, including heartland shops, go online.

The 11 dedicated SME Centres islandwide will also begin piloting specialised advisory services to support enterprises in specific areas such as digitalisation and financing, added Ms Low.

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