9 key actions proposed in policy paper to transform service sector and address manpower crunch

Talent, teamwork and rules are three critical factors needed to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Addressing the dire manpower crunch in the service sector and the need to transform it and promote sustainable growth, the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) has proposed several actions in a policy paper published on Thursday (May 12).

These include reviewing the foreign workforce quota in the service sector and collaborative efforts to allow firms access to a diverse pool of workers from various backgrounds who may be keen on service roles, such as current safe distancing ambassadors.

Talent, teamwork and rules are three critical factors needed to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth in the service sector, the policy paper said.

Nine key actions - three under each factor - to tackle the present and future manpower needs of the sector can be undertaken by businesses, trade associations and chambers, government agencies, unions, and post-secondary educational institutions collaboratively.

Specific policy suggestions under each action include moves frequently mooted by businesses, such as different methods of deriving a foreign workforce quota compared with manufacturing and construction.

Other suggestions include stepping up existing government policies, such as encouraging more local and international firms at the forefront of their industries to become "queen bees" that advise small and medium-sized enterprises on the skills needed for business transformation - a scheme already put in place by SkillsFuture Singapore.

Elaborating on what each factor means, SBF said talent refers to allowing access to a diverse pool of workers from various backgrounds that firms can select from, while teamwork entails a synergistic effort to improve manpower utilisation and allocation, and rules mean a more targeted and nuanced manpower policy approach.

The paper, titled The Human Touch: Balancing Manpower Resilience With Productivity For Transformation, was developed in close consultation with eight trade associations, said SBF in a statement on Thursday.

The actions needed relate to the present and future manpower needs of the lifestyle, environmental, and estate and facilities management services industries that the eight trade associations represent.

These include the retail, hotel, waste management and recycling, as well as landscaping sectors, among others.

"The reopening of borders and resumption of tourism, social, and business activities is an opportunity for companies in the service industries to scale up and tap the demand resurgence for growth," said SBF.

However, the tight manpower situation, a perennial struggle of the industry now magnified by pent-up demand outpacing how fast businesses can get back in gear as restrictions ease, has impacted operations, service levels and waiting times.

SBF added: "There is an urgent need to recalibrate manpower supply in the services industries to enable companies to operate at optimal capacity, so as to deliver the level of service that Singaporeans and (foreign) visitors expect.

"Addressing the manpower crunch will also help companies to plan ahead for growth and transformation."

In the paper, the SBF noted that although the reopening of borders will facilitate the inflow of foreign labour to support burgeoning demand, the ability to take on foreign manpower is constrained by the ability to grow the local workforce.

For instance, The Straits Times reported early last month that some food and beverage outlets could not find sufficient local workers, which then affected the number of foreign workers they could hire.

"Many businesses in lifestyle services are currently operating below capacity, and will not be able to move to full capacity without the requisite manpower, such as wait staff to support longer opening hours or hospitality attendants to turn over rooms expediently," said the SBF.

Restaurant Association of Singapore president Andrew Kwan said: "In the longer-term, manpower policies will need to reflect the changing structure of the resident labour force with the growing affluence of households and higher educational qualifications of the younger workforce."

Overcoming perennial manpower crunch


The policy paper published by the Singapore Business Federation on Thursday covered sectors within the service industry that have faced a manpower crunch even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eight trade associations worked closely with the federation on the paper.

The associations are:

- Environmental Management Association of Singapore

- Landscape Industry Association (Singapore)

- Restaurant Association of Singapore

- Security Association Singapore

- Singapore Hotel Association

- Singapore Nightlife Business Association

- Singapore Retailers Association

- Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore 

9 actions proposed

The paper proposed three actions for each critical success factor - talent, teamwork and rules - to overcome transient and perennial challenges.

Talent: A diverse pool of players for firms to select from

- The tripartite partners - the Government, unions and employers - to actively coordinate the redeployment of workforce from pandemic-related operations to lifestyle services.

- Businesses to enhance the attractiveness of jobs in lifestyle services, environmental services, and estate and facilities management services.

- Businesses and trade associations and chambers (TACs) to work with the National Trades Union Congress and post-secondary education institutions to strengthen workplace training and upskilling efforts

Teamwork: A synergistic effort to improve manpower utilisation and allocation

- TACs to facilitate cross-sector collaboration to achieve higher operational efficiency and better resource allocation.

- Businesses to step up as "queen bees" to advise small and medium enterprises on the skills needed for business transformation, such as in branding, internationalisation and digitalisation.

- Businesses to optimise estate and facilities management resources through contracts with measurable performance outcomes.

Rules: A more targeted and nuanced manpower policy approach

- Tripartite partners to work together to review the broad classifications of business activity, in particular for services, for purposes of manpower policies.

- Tripartite partners to work together to review expansion of the list of occupations that can draw foreign workers from non-traditional source countries, as well as diversifying the list of non-traditional source countries.

- The Government to support access to international students and recent graduates enrolled in training programmes related to the lifestyle, environmental, and estates and facilities management services.

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