Good middle managers needed to engage workforce

A commentary on July 20 ("Being productive with fewer workers") stated that "at the heart of (productivity growth) is an increased use of technology to automate processes on one hand and investments in upgrading human capital on the other".

The Government has stated that the target growth should be around 2 per cent to 3 per cent a year by 2019, and has backed up its stated intention with measures such as setting up a national framework for upgrading human capital via the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) in 2004, as well as introducing the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme in 2010.

Indeed, the WDA trained its millionth Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) trainee in 2013. With 1.7 million Singaporeans in the workforce in 2010, technically, this means more than half of Singaporeans should have received WSQ-accredited training by 2013.

Also, the PIC scheme has contributed to part of the $7.5 billion disbursed by the Government over three years under the Transition Support Package.

Despite these resources and efforts, productivity growth in Singapore shrank by 0.8 per cent last year.

I offer another perspective to this issue - the role of middle managers in engaging the workforce for greater productivity.

While the productivity drive can be top-down (from government initiatives such as PIC) as well as bottom-up (sending individual workers for WSQ programmes to up-skill and improve themselves), the Singapore Institute of Management SME Productivity Survey conducted in 2013 pointed out that "changing the mindset of management and workers" is the second-most-important approach to productivity improvement.

Indeed, this seems to corroborate the survey by Robert Half last year, where more than half of Singapore chief financial officers surveyed pointed out that motivation is more important than innovation in raising productivity.

As yet another survey by Gallup has revealed, only 9 per cent of workers in Singapore are engaged at work.

Between the sustained government/organisational push and the individual efforts towards productivity, maybe there is much ground for us all to cover in developing managers to better engage their teams, and facilitate better outcomes in this productivity drive.

Lee Wee Leong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2015, with the headline 'Good middle managers needed to engage workforce'. Print Edition | Subscribe