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Smart Work 

First published in the SME Magazine July/August issue

In job restructuring, companies can leverage innovation and the greater use of technology to make a difference in their business.
The advent of technology, changes in service delivery models moving in tandem with changing consumer preferences have brought about unprecedented shifts in the way work gets done.

As the global marketplace becomes more borderless, businesses find themselves competing in an increasing complex environment where change is a constant.

Yet, Singapore finds itself facing this brave new world with an aging and shrinking workforce. To prepare for this eventuality, our economy has been undertaking various economic restructuring initiatives, challenging our companies to re-imagine how they deliver on their brand promise.

With the local push to increase productivity in Singapore’s economy, how can companies leverage innovation and the greater use of technology to make a difference in their business?

Restructuring is painful, but unavoidable

The median age of Singapore’s labour force has shifted from 39 years old in 2002 to 42 years old in 2012. This stresses the urgent need for local enterprises, especially small and medium ones (SMEs) to redesign jobs to ensure continued productivity and competitiveness with less manpower.

At the same time, recent legislative changes in foreign worker policies have discouraged any increase in the use of such workers as costs for these resources escalate.

Many industry sectors have seen how major advances in technology can play a role in helping them cope in a time of economic restructuring.

Yet, it is also important to realise that tasks today often include complex, non-routine work. Any attempt to redesign jobs would mean supporting the employee in learning the new knowledge and skill required, and change will only come gradually.

The issue of staff attrition rate also comes to the fore as Ministry of Manpower (MOM) figures show that the tenure of an average employee is falling. Reasons cited include lack of career progression and challenge on the job.

Enhancing workforce effectiveness through job redesign

Both restructuring jobs and employing more productive ways of managing workers could be the answer to successful employee engagement, and a happier and more productive workforce.

Redesigning jobs primarily means restructuring the responsibilities and functions of a job so as to make it more satisfying or interesting to the employee. The main objective of job redesign is to ensure the right person undertakes the right job, as this would eventually translate to increased productivity and employee satisfaction.

In my experience, there are many different ways of redesigning a job. Some examples include:

  • Job rotation assigns various jobs to workers on a short-term or temporary basis. Rotation adds variety to the workplace and generates healthy interest in employees
  • Horizontal job enlargement increases the number of tasks for any given role to enhance workforce flexibility and prevent monotony.
  • Vertical job enlargement is more about job enrichment, which means enhancing the quality of a job to increase employee satisfaction. It motivates employees by providing meaningful work that helps them grow in their career.

Benefits of job redesign (Employer) Benefits of job redesign (Employee)
  • Greater employee engagement
  • Reduced cost due to lesser manpower
  • Increased productivity
  • Higher revenue
  • Better quality of work life
  • Greater job satisfaction/fulfillment
  • Increased learning and growth
  • Higher productivity
Source: KPMG in Singapore

Redesigning jobs successfully

One example of a successful job redesign was that undertaken by the Jumbo Group of Restaurants. Despite a shortage of manpower across its 15 outlets in Singapore, it managed to increase competitiveness which resulted in time and cost savings.

Besides a rise in profitability, Jumbo also managed to bring about higher morale and greater motivation amongst its service staff because of its ability to pay them higher wages. Jumbo’s customers also benefited from the reduced waiting time that this has succeeded in bringing about.

Prior to this, Jumbo had used a three-step process for order-taking. This involved keying the customer’s order into the system and passing order chits to different kitchen sections.

Jumbo introduced the use of tablets such as iPads and PDAs to reduce the number of steps needed in the ordering process. Its customers or staff are just required to key in their orders directly into their devices, which transmit the orders to the Point-of-Sales (POS) system and kitchen instantaneously.

Since the introduction of the new system, customer waiting time has been reduced by about 50 percent. Technology saved Jumbo about eight man-hours per day in order taking.

The company also adopted innovative changes through the set-up of a Central Kitchen at their corporate headquarters. Time spent in food preparation was reduced by 67 percent, as individual outlets no longer needed to make common items at their respective premises.

Overall, these efforts improved the consistency of food quality, helped achieve economies of scale in food production and reduced manpower reliance across many of their outlets.

Job redesign also increased staff morale. By defining career prospects more clearly, remuneration increased by 10 percent per worker across 90 percent of its service staff.

Jumbo also introduced a programme that grooms ground-level staff to become mid-managers within a year instead of the previous two and half years. A career progression path is mapped out for every employee, and service staff receive a wage increase upon completion of every stage of the programme.

Another good example is that of Aquacultural Fame (S) Pte Ltd.

The company initially utilised a manual system to keep track of their inventory of fish. There was no systematic tagging of the location of the fish tanks. This meant that the workers relied on their memory when carrying out daily operations.

Without proper documentation, staff turnover was a problem as processes became more complex over time and difficult for staff to comprehend.

The company now uses the bar-coding technology inventory system to reduce errors caused by work undertaken through knowledge of individual workers and made operating procedures more structured to train new hires better.

The way ahead

Singapore will see more focus on education and training, and more graduates will start work with increased emphasis on multiple roles that they will need to undertake in various industries and sectors throughout their career. Redesigning of roles will play an important part in engaging these employees so as to raise job satisfaction and improve staff retention.

According to Singapore’s Population White Paper released in 2012, total workforce growth will slow to about 1 percent to 2 percent per year over this decade. This is half of the 3.3 percent average per year recorded over the past 30 years.

Beyond 2020, workforce growth will slow down further to about 1 percent per year as the population ages and the Singaporean workforce starts to plateau. This underlines job redesign as one of the more sustainable ways to increase productivity for economic growth.

Singapore will also see a significant upgrading of the workforce towards Professional, Managerial, Executive and Technical (PMET) jobs. By 2030, the number of Singaporeans in PMET jobs is expected to rise by nearly 50 percent to about 1.25 million compared to 850,000 today.

The number in non-PMET jobs is expected to fall by over 20 percent to 650,000 compared to 850,000 today. Two-thirds of Singaporeans will hold PMET jobs in 2030 compared to about half today.

The way ahead is to maximise the use of our human resources so as to be more productive with less manpower. Restructuring roles by rendering their requirements high on knowledge and skills is likely to add more significance and meaning to jobs and in doing so enhance employee satisfaction.

Thus, greater contribution, productivity and rewards can be linked through effective job redesign. This will become increasingly important as we move towards a future that seems increasingly dependent on how we use our human resources.

This article is contributed by Miranda Lee, Director of Management Consulting at KPMG in Singapore. The views expressed are her own.
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