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Tackling the gaps in digital competence

Workforce transformation is a major undertaking that requires close collaboration among industry stakeholders, educational institutions and TACs.

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As Singapore positions itself to tap the vast opportunities in the future economy where digitalisation holds the key to unlock much of the productivity and innovation potential of businesses, the local workforce too must evolve to acquire, deepen and accelerate the right digital skillsets and mindsets.

WITH the launch of the national SkillsFuture movement in Singapore four years ago and the subsequent introduction of the first wave of the Industry Transformation Maps (ITMs) for 23 sectors and Skills Frameworks for 33 different sectors, the momentum for workforce transformation is well set into pace.

As Singapore positions itself to tap the vast opportunities in the future economy where digitalisation holds the key to unlock much of the productivity and innovation potential of businesses, the local workforce too must evolve to acquire, deepen and accelerate the right digital skillsets and mindsets.

Workforce transformation is a major change undertaking. Whether the country succeeds in doing so will depend on the close collaboration among industry stakeholders, educational institutions, trade associations and chambers (TACs), as well as commitment from individual businesses and individuals to drive progress.

What more can be done to provide greater impetus, clarity and support to enable our businesses and workforce to grow their digital competence?

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Develop sector-specific digital guides

From an industry perspective, the job roles highlighted in the Skills Framework are both present and evolving, and so are the required skills.

Developing sector-specific digital guides as part of the Skills Framework can help organisations and individuals to clearly identify the relevant digital skills that are required for different worker profiles, and conduct a skills gap assessment to determine how future-ready their workforce is. Such guides should contain pertinent information on the digital skills required in the sector and the available training and interventions to address the skills gaps.

Creating such digital guides can also help the government to map, correlate and understand the pain points of organisations in achieving a digital-first state, and provide the necessary resources to support businesses.

Empower trade associations and chambers to lead

Creating a digitally ready organisation is a change management exercise on its own. TACs are often seen by businesses as a key resource for growth and development.

Having said that, TACs are limited in scope and ability. They too need to be given the resources and authority to act as drivers of change.

By involving TACs early in the development of digital interventions, they are then equipped with the necessary skills, frameworks and toolkits to help champion change among their member organisations, or facilitate closer collaboration to enable businesses to leverage and scale digital initiatives.

Support SMEs in maturing HR function

People remain the most important lever for growth in any business.

Yet, the maturity levels of the human resources (HR) function remains rudimentary in many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), given that investments are often focused more on other functions that drive profitability.

Many of these HR functions continue to be burdened by legacy processes that do not reflect the needs and expectations of current and future talent, including paying inadequate emphasis on the learning and development requirements of a digital-first organisation.

It would be beneficial if the government, in working with the industry, develops toolkits that can help SMEs perform a self-diagnosis, such as a simple health check on their HR processes to identify their weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.

The government can also consider complementing the above with an incentive or grant aimed at helping SMEs to develop HR capabilities to address the identified weaknesses. Currently, the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG), which offsets up to 70 per cent of project costs for capability development initiatives, is available to SMEs.

However, the EDG has a broad focus where HR is one of 10 qualifying capabilities. A fiscal measure that is targeted specifically at supporting SMEs to professionalise or digitalise their HR function in SMEs will be highly useful.

Enhance strategic workforce planning capabilities

The rise of the contingent workforce, partly catalysed by the rise of digital, is both an opportunity for organisations to harness new sources of talent, and a challenge in managing the evolving talent mix.

Having contingent workers in the mix calls for new ways of working and aligning talent with the needs of the organisation. To that end, strategic workforce planning plays a crucial role: it helps organisations understand where their manpower gaps lie from a demand and supply perspective, and whether to build, buy or outsource their talent to address these gaps.

The reality is that many organisations are not well equipped to embark on strategic workforce planning exercises, owing to insufficient understanding of the subject and a lack of inhouse capabilities to lead the effort. Access to inexpensive learning on this front will be welcomed. For example, the government can consider creating easy-to-access micro-learning content or work with education service providers to develop industry-specific workshops on strategic workforce planning that are tailored for SMEs.

Promote more collaboration between SMEs

and startups Singapore's startup scene has grown tremendously in the last five years, positioning itself as a hub to incubate and grow entrepreneurial talent. Startups are etching a growing foothold within the SME segment. Many of these startups are also inherently digital.

According to the EY Growth Barometer 2018, Singapore business leaders had a clear idea of the optimum skill sets. For more than half of them, the ideal organisation is one that attracts younger, digitally native talent. This is perhaps indicative of the digital transformation that they are undertaking or envisage happening in the near future. In that light, creating platforms to facilitate the exchange of ideas and experiences between startups and the rest of the SME segment may see beneficial synergies and partnerships forming as a result.

  • The writers are respectively partner and director in People Advisory Services at Ernst & Young Solutions LLP.
    The views are those of the writers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the global EY organisation or its member firms.