Manpower needs of services industries need concerted action

Photo by Sam Lion

The Singapore Business Federation (SBF) published a manpower policy paper in May 2022 recommending nine action steps to support the manpower needs of the Lifestyle Services, Environmental Services, and Estate & Facilities Management (EFM) Services industries.

Titled, “The Human Touch: Balancing Manpower Resilience with Productivity for Transformation”, the policy paper outlines ways in which key stakeholders, including businesses, trade associations and chambers (TACs), government agencies, unions, and post-secondary educational institutions (PSEIs), can work together in partnership to address the manpower challenges faced by the Services industries.

The re-opening of borders and resumption of tourism, social, and business activities is an opportunity for companies in the Services industries to scale up and tap on the demand resurgence for growth.

Over the past two years, businesses in food services, retail, hotels, nightlife, waste management, cleaning, security, landscaping, and other facilities upkeep services have weathered the pandemic by pivoting their operations and pressing on with digitalisation and transformation efforts, and are positioned to emerge.

Developed in close consultation with TACs,  the policy paper underscores three critical success factors required for these sectors to achieve sustainable and inclusive economic growth: (A) Talent – a diverse pool of players and intentional line- up selection, (B) Teamwork – a synergistic effort to improve manpower utilisation and allocation, and (C) Rules – A more targeted and nuanced manpower policy.

Among the nine key actions detailed under the three critical success factors, SBF and the TACs are advocating for:

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Tripartite Partners to actively coordinate the redeployment of workforce from pandemic-related operations to Lifestyle Services 

As the demand for temporary jobs relating to the enforcement of Safe Management Measures tapers, there is scope for workers to be intentionally re-directed to the Lifestyle Services with close coordination between the agencies hiring these workers and NTUC’s e2i, and businesses tapping on various government schemes to offer good jobs in adjacent customer-facing.

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

The retail- logistics nexus is an opportunity for win-win arrangements to optimise manpower requirements for warehousing and fulfilment functions, as well as infrastructure requirements to facilitate the last-mile delivery.

This is a better use of resource as compared to every retailer attempting to recruit and manage its own in-house logistics team. Another opportunity area is the built environment-EFM nexus where tighter coordination of infrastructure design and planning can facilitate the automation of labour-intensive EFM tasks, thus streamlining the deployment of EFM staff.

Tripartite Partners to work together to review the broad classifications of business activity for the Services sector, expansion of Non-Traditional Source (NTS) Occupation List for Work Permit holders, and diversification of NTS countries 

With the shrinking pool of new entrant Singaporeans willing to work in these sectors every year, foreign manpower supplements are necessary to meet the demands for such services, even with ongoing efforts to transform the sectors and redesign jobs.

The current Services sector classification, which also includes knowledge-intensive sectors such as finance and insurance, ICT, and professional services, is too broad and does not reflect labour market dynamics faced by the various Services sub-sectors. A more nuanced classification of business activity, particularly for Services is required so that differentiated policy interventions can be applied to address specific manpower.

As the Singapore economy gains a firmer footing towards recovery and growth, stakeholders are aligned on the need to work together to position her businesses and economy to tap on the opportunities.

TACs in the Lifestyle Services, Environmental Services, and EFM Services are working closely with relevant Ministries and Agencies on targeted initiatives and policy enhancements to address the tight manpower situation, which has impacted operations, service levels and waiting times.

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

SBF CEO Mr Lam Yi Young said, “To maintain Singapore’s reputation as an efficient and vibrant business and leisure destination of choice, the Services industries need access to suitable and sufficient manpower to support their operations and Even as they double down on automating processes and redesigning jobs, businesses still need to be able to recruit and retain sufficient local and foreign manpower.”