8 ways to grow human capital

At a time of slower workforce growth and disruption, it is crucial for bosses to develop local staff, and for workers to plan their own careers. A panel at a roundtable organised by The Straits Times last week discussed ideas on how this can be done. Here are eight takeaways from the session.

As Singapore transforms into a digital economy, panellists at a roundtable say it is important for employers to develop the capabilities of their staff, and for employees to plan their own careers to stay competitive.
Members of the panel which discussed how companies can develop the local workforce, and ways in which employees themselves can step up to the plate.
Members of the panel which discussed how companies can develop the local workforce, and ways in which employees themselves can step up to the plate.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM


Various training programmes and funding schemes are available. For example, professional conversion programmes train resident workers switching job scopes or careers, and subsidise course fees as well as salaries or allowances.

Companies can also be part of the Human Capital Partnership Programme to get support for developing the capabilities of their Singaporean staff.

Mr Kenneth Wong, director of the creative and professional services division at Workforce Singapore (WSG), said support for employers encourages them to take on the responsibility of grooming the workforce.

"This is a very direct and practical way for us to help workers because employers will be able to build the talent they need for the industry based on the changing economy, while workers will also be able to acquire the skills that are aligned to what the employers need and therefore stay employable," he said.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) is also working to customise training programmes in digital skills for different industries - part of a national push for digital literacy similar to efforts in the 1980s to build competency in English and mathematics, noted its assistant secretary-general Cham Hui Fong.



    (From left in photo) 

    - Mr Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times manpower correspondent (moderator)

    - Ms Selena Huynh, deputy chief executive of the Institute for Human Resource Professionals

    - Ms Merle Chen, chief talent officer at hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group

    - Mr Kenneth Wong, director of Workforce Singapore's creative and professional services division

    - Mr Russell Tham, regional president of semiconductor equipment manufacturer Applied Materials South-east Asia

    - Ms Cham Hui Fong, National Trades Union Congress assistant secretary-general

    - Ms Julia Yeo, MasterCard's vice- president for Asia-Pacific franchise development

    - Mr Rajan Krishnakumar, MasterCard's Asia-Pacific vice-president for talent

Skills, mobility and ownership were highlighted by Mr Russell Tham, regional president of semiconductor equipment manufacturer Applied Materials South-east Asia, as three talent development principles his company follows.

Firstly, content is provided for staff to build skills, including courses by internal experts. Staff have individual development plans, taking into account their current needs and interest in future roles. Secondly, Applied Materials encourages performing employees to move between roles within the company, in Singapore or overseas. The third key is for supervisors and managers to support staff ownership of career development.


One way for companies to equip local staff with more technical knowledge or managerial experience is through overseas stints to learn from their foreign counterparts.

At MasterCard, global leadership programmes and rotations between departments are options available to staff, said Mr Rajan Krishnakumar, its Asia-Pacific vice-president for talent. This helps prepare them for regional or global roles, he said. Although such training programmes do take up resources, investing in people development must be part of the company culture, and not something that is done just once or twice a year, he added.


With innovative ideas, smaller companies can also make training accessible to employees.

Hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group provides staff with allowances to spend on experiences like meals overseas, for them to be inspired by "best in class" outlets. This helps to create a common understanding of what it means to be "world class" in the local and international scene, said its chief talent officer Merle Chen.

The home-grown company, which runs The Warehouse Hotel as well as restaurants and bars such as Odette and Loof, also uses "snackable" courses like short orientation programmes which are conducted for staff in their own outlets.



Developing human capital makes business sense because business thrives on the productivity of the workforce, said Ms Selena Huynh, deputy chief executive of the Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP).

Equipping workers ensures they are engaged and have the necessary skills to do their jobs, both now and in the future. "If you don't invest in developing skills in your workforce, as technology changes and disrupts your business, you don't have that skill set to meet your business needs... It's about business continuity," she said.

And Mr Rajan said that when a leader shows interest in developing his or her staff, it creates a "followership", where people want to work with that person.


Human resource (HR) professionals have a role in business strategy as well, and need to work with business leaders to plan human capital development, said Ms Huynh. It is then up to the HR team to bring those plans to fruition.

HR staff also need to take the lead on their own professional development, such as through getting certified by the IHRP, she added.

Mr Wong of WSG said the HR team can help create awareness of training and development options, so that business leaders look beyond hiring for the short term - of "plug and play" workers - and instead plan for the long term.


For workers, talking to career coaches can be a useful way to understand their strengths and the career paths they can explore.

Besides the guidance provided at WSG's Careers Connect centres, the agency is also expanding its network of coaches to include advisers from industry associations such as those in the computer and early childhood sectors.

NTUC's Ms Cham said firms should share information with workers about how the business will transform over the next few years, what projects are in the pipeline, what skills will be needed and how they can train for this. This inspires confidence among workers that they are cared for, and they will want to grow their careers with the company.

"If I want to stay on, I will want to remain relevant. If I want to remain relevant, I will have to make sure that I know what are the new skill sets (needed), what training is available," she said.


With the fast pace of disruption, employers may not know granular details of how each job will evolve, but they can help workers develop the ability to keep learning, so that when the new skill set they need becomes apparent they can rapidly adjust, said Applied Materials' Mr Tham.

For workers, he suggested: "Try and carve out 20 per cent of your time... take on a specific area that you have no idea how to do. That trains your mind to look at things from a different perspective."

Ms Julia Yeo, MasterCard's vice-president for Asia-Pacific franchise development, agreed on the need for staff to stay nimble.

"You don't sit there and wait for things to happen, you have to grow with the company, change with the company, think about what's the next thing the company needs, and put yourself in the shoes of the company," she said. "That's to make you a valuable employee."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2017, with the headline '8 ways to grow human capital'. Subscribe