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Genomics firm pins future on millennial talent

From paid time off to do volunteer work to equity compensation, Illumina's benefits and perks are aimed at attracting and retaining a young workforce

Ms Gerlyn Cheah, one of Illumina Singapore’s millennial staff, appreciates how the company’s annual volunteer leave lets her pursue her passion for conservation. PHOTO: ILLUMINA SINGAPORE

Genome-sequencing company IIlumina Singapore believes millennials are the leaders of tomorrow.

This group makes up 64 per cent of its 1,700 employees. 

The biotech company researches genetic material for medical purposes. For instance, genome sequencing data is used in the fight against Covid-19, cancer research and to detect genetic anomalies during pregnancy. 

To attract talent, Illumina’s benefits and perks are targeted at addressing the need for work-life balance among those aged between 26 and 41.

It offers flexible and hybrid working arrangements for employees who are PMETs (professionals, managers, executives and technicians) – who, depending on their role, can decide if they prefer working in-office or remotely.

There are wellness benefits, such as an on-site gym and yoga studio in its Woodlands facility for staff to keep fit, and a yearly US$500 (S$680) lifestyle allowance for all employees to spend on their health.

Illumina’s manufacturing facility at Woodlands. PHOTO: ILLUMINA SINGAPORE

The company also gives its employees two days of paid time off annually to do volunteer work, with more than 100 employees tapping this opportunity in 2021.

It is a perk that environment, health and safety coordinator Gerlyn Cheah, 28, particularly appreciates.

She is a volunteer at Waterway Watch Society, which helps ensure Singapore’s waterways are kept litter-free so local wildlife, such as otters, can thrive.

“The volunteer time-off gives me the chance to advocate for sustainability and environmental health, without needing to take days off from my annual leave,” she says.

All these efforts by IIlumina to appeal to millennial talent have seen it named as one of Singapore's best employers in 2022, according to a ranking compiled by The Straits Times and global research firm Statista. 

It is the top firm in the health care equipment & services category, and 17th overall.

A stake in the future

Apart from volunteering, Ms Cheah aims to bring her passion for environmental conservation to work by implementing closed loop recycling across Illumina’s Singapore office to reduce the amount of disposable waste generated. 

Perspectives like hers are what the firm is hoping to bring together to shape its future, with new ideas and fresh talent from an array of backgrounds essential to Illumina’s long-term growth, says Ms Dorothy Wong, Asia Pacific head of human resources.

“As a global genomics company, our work must reflect the world around us,” she adds. “Inclusion is essential for the work we do and for the communities we serve.”

Half of Illumina’s employees are Singapore citizens or permanent residents, with the remainder from as many as 20 nationalities across the world. Women make up 45 per cent of its staff.

A yoga class in Illumina’s gym, housed in its Woodlands facility. PHOTO: ILLUMINA SINGAPORE

And to motivate these future leaders to grow with the company, it is one of the few firms that offer almost all PMET staff, including new hires and fresh graduates, equity as part of their annual compensation plan.

In addition, staff can buy the firm’s NASDAQ-listed shares at a 15-per-cent discount.

“We believe that by giving every professional a stake in the company, this will build their long term investment, and they will grow with us,” says Ms Wong.

Another way it keeps millennial employees engaged and invested is via a quarterly performance enablement programme. Instead of annual performance reviews, managers check in on staff quarterly to better track their teams’ performance and help those with high potential secure promotions quicker.

“The majority of our younger leaders are millennials and already in leadership positions,” Ms Wong adds. “They look forward to career progression with the company, and therefore the natural path forward for them is to fill the shoes of the current generation of leaders.”

Illumina’s many benefits

  • Illumina subscribes to LifeWorks - a mental well-being counselling service - for all its employees. Usage surged during the two years of the pandemic.
  • It provides six weeks of paid paternity leave to new fathers for baby bonding. This is above the market practice of two weeks in  Singapore, and more than 100 employees have used it annually.
  • It has a reproductive health programme that sponsors a non-invasive pre-natal test for mothers-to-be.
  • Illumina arranged for accommodation and meals for its production staff, who were unable to commute back to Malaysia due to the pandemic. “We checked on their well-being and made sure they were able to contact their families regularly,” says Ms Wong.

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