Employees undergo reskilling for better jobs amid slowdown

After working in the travel industry for more than two decades, operation assistant Janet Tan finds it a breeze to handle tasks such as booking flights and hotel stays, issuing air tickets and arranging incentive trips.

But with travel in the doldrums because of Covid-19 restrictions, Ms Tan, 53, was asked by her boss to learn something completely new this year: digital marketing.

After 12 full days of classes, which she found “extremely challenging”, she is now able to update the company’s Facebook page and create other social media posts. She will get a pay rise for taking on additional responsibilities.

“I may feel stressed if my job responsibility changes completely. But I will take it in my stride and grow with the company,” said Ms Tan, who works at travel agency Sita World Travel.

She and her boss, Sita’s executive director James Tang, both attended the Digital Marketing Place-and-Train Programme for the Mice (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions), attractions, and tour and travel sectors. It comprised classroom and virtual sessions from March to May.

Mr Tang, 49, said the firm, which was set up in 1961, did not have any online presence and that it registered Facebook and LinkedIn accounts only after a restructuring exercise in 2018.

“That’s why this course comes at the right time,” he said, adding that the agency will look at implementing more online tools such as an online booking platform.

Although business during the circuit breaker was more than 90 per cent lower compared with January, the company retained its five employees including Mr Tang, although they took a pay cut.

Amid the business slowdown, more than 1,700 workers are being trained and redeployed to new or higher-value roles, through five reskilling programmes launched or enhanced in this year’s Budget, said Workforce Singapore (WSG), the government agency that runs the programmes.

Besides the digital marketing scheme, the other schemes are for the hotel, retail and food service sectors, as well as for air transport coordinators.

TAKING CHANGES IN STRIDE

I may feel stressed if my job responsibility changes completely. But I will take it in my stride and grow with the company.

OPERATION ASSISTANT JANET TAN

EQUIPPED FOR DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

Most of our operations employees are not so well versed in digital technology so there is a lot of hand-holding. (The WSG programme) has helped us sharpen and structure our job redesign and training programme to get staff on board the digital transformation.

MR FRANK LAU, founder and chief executive of home-grown restaurant chain Gratify Group.

The air transport programme is still accepting applications.

A WSG spokesman said: “These efforts aim to minimise potential retrenchment, and support employers in capitalising on the downtime to transform their business, redesign jobs and reskill their employees. It ensures that these sectors will have the skilled manpower they need to meet business demand when it returns.”

The programmes subsidise up to 70 per cent of trainees’ monthly salaries, or up to 90 per cent for Singaporean trainees aged 40 and up.

The salary support period is four months for the digital marketing programme and six months for the others.

Merlin Entertainments Singapore, which runs the Madame Tussauds attraction in Sentosa, also enrolled two employees in the digital marketing programme, which is facilitated by Nanyang Polytechnic.

One of them, Ms Bebe Juhairi, 23, started out as a guest services host but now spends two days a week supporting the marketing team as a graphic designer.

Her salary will be raised after the course, said human resources manager Yasmin Taylor-Tuma.

Most of Merlin’s 80 employees here are in guest-facing roles, such as facilitating the Marvel 4D cinema show or operating the boat ride. As the attraction had to close during the circuit breaker, a short-term wage cut was made across all roles in the business, said Ms Taylor-Tuma.

The firm started a home-based training and activity schedule for all front-line employees, and reduced non-labour-related operating costs such as for advertising campaigns, sales initiatives and capital investment.

But eventually some roles had to be made redundant, said Ms Taylor-Tuma. “We are continuing to provide outplacement support to all affected employees to assist with their transition to other employment opportunities.”

Meanwhile, home-grown restaurant chain Gratify Group, which runs the Seoul Yummy, Omoomo and Pizza Maru eateries, tapped the food services scheme.

Its founder and chief executive Frank Lau said group revenue fell by more than 50 per cent during the circuit breaker, and cost-cutting measures were carried out, such as reducing working days for employees at outlets that were hard hit.

The firm, which retained its 85 full-time staff, helped some local employees to find part-time jobs in essential services, such as supermarkets and food catering for dormitories. At the same time, it shifted to takeaways and deliveries, introduced a virtual fried chicken brand, and implemented digital solutions such as e-procurement, e-ordering, e-payment and data analytics to improve efficiency.

Now that its physical outlets have reopened, it is using e-ordering and e-payments at all outlets. Customers can scan a QR code on each table to access the ordering website and pay online. The order will be sent digitally to the cashier and kitchen. “This reduces close physical interaction and the demand for physical menus, which in turn improves the safety of our employees and customers by reducing the risk of infection,” said Mr Lau.

He added that the firm has been trying to help employees understand the importance of digital skills and be confident in the new systems so that they will believe in and implement its digital transformation plan.

“Most of our operations employees are not so well versed in digital technology so there is a lot of hand-holding,” he said.

“(The WSG programme) has helped us sharpen and structure our job redesign and training programme to get staff on board the digital transformation.”

Senior service crew member Tan Tock Peng, 61, said the new system has shortened the time he spends on order taking. “Now, I can be more focused on improving my customer service,” he said.

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