Optimising talent flow

Flexible work schedules, employee training programmes, and an open and collaborative work culture have helped Fast Flow become an employer of choice in the SME space.

“It is the quality of people that the company employs that will determine its success,” says Karen Fan, Group HR and Administration Manager at drainage specialist Fast Flow Systems.

“SMEs face tremendous competition in hiring local talent. This will continue to be one of the biggest challenges we face,” she says.

According to Fan, budget constraints make it harder for SMEs to attract and compete with multinationals (MNCs) when it comes to salary and benefits. “The pace and rate of change in an SME can be visibly faster and often different in nature to that of an MNC. Employees sometimes find this different work culture difficult to accept and adapt to,” she says.

Such manpower constraints can be a key factor hindering an SME’s capacity to actively grow the top line amidst expansion and development opportunities, says Fan.

Setting the tone

Realising these challenges, Fast Flow adopts a multi-pronged approach to attract the best talent through its doors. Some of its recruitment methods include job portals, referral programmes, direct invitations to passive job seekers to apply for vacancies, as well as headhunting through external sources.

The company, which has a current workforce of 184, also actively participates in trade fairs related to the industry and offers internships to students from Singapore’s educational institutions.

However, Fan feels that it is the engagement that takes place during the actual candidate interview that is the crucial differentiator. “This is the time when we are able to showcase our company to candidates and alleviate any negative assumptions about SMEs,” she says. “As such, HR’s interview competencies are most important in attracting and inspiring candidates to see the opportunities within SMEs.”

“This process is sometimes underestimated by SMEs.”

According to Fan, an interview must be interesting and positive for both candidates and the company. It is important to prepare well for the interview and ensure that there is a potential fit for the role, she says.

“We outline the role and the challenges that are involved, and link the candidate’s experience and aspirations to the role. It also helps to show the progress of the company as an SME and share our future plans,” Fan says.

Helping talent flourish

Fast Flow strongly believes that employee training and development initiatives are a key driver of retention. It has been stepping up its efforts in this area since January last year.

The company now offers an in-house training programme that was developed and introduced for all grades of employees, including assistant pipe fitters, pipe fitters and supervisors. Conducted by the company’s project managers, the programme has been successful for both the workers and company, helping boost productivity. Some 25 employees have also gained a formal CoreTrade qualification (see: boxout).

“These initiatives not only help workers in developing self confidence and upgrading their skill levels, but each worker’s potential is identified and the person becomes motivated to work not only for the company but for themselves as well,” says Fan.

The company is currently creating its own in-house training videos for staff. These will cover common work processes, such as the basics of pipe installation.

Fast Flow also sponsors the education of promising employees who are keen to pursue a degree, diploma or other trade qualification.

The company introduced its first six-monthly performance review programme earlier this year. “This will facilitate better communication and regular work feedback between employees and their managers and supervisors. It also allows for quicker corrective action and better work management,” says Fan.

The performance review is part of the company’s Performance Incentive Programme. “The programme is based on performance targets that are set for each employee. These are linked and interrelated to company goals, which also facilitate working teams and individuals to be better connected on shared work plans and problem solving,” says Fan.

Company culture

Fast Flow offers its employees an open and collaborative work culture and this is reflected in its management style. In its open-plan office, most managers sit with their teams. “Our CEO and senior managers invite staff to meet and speak to them at anytime,” says Fan.

Fostering such a work culture is not just about communication and keeping everyone updated, says Fan. “It is about giving people the space and opportunity to develop their work areas and jobs. If they can handle the responsibility and deliver the required performance, they are empowered with more,” she elaborates.

“This is the greatest opportunity in an SME. If an employee can demonstrate their ability to be responsible, accountable and diligent in their work, they will be given more space to develop.”

Employees at Fast Flow also receive some flexibility in terms of work hours. They can choose to work from 8am to 5.30pm, 8.30am to 6pm or from 9am to 6.30pm. On Fridays, employees end work 30 minutes earlier. Some others have special individual arrangements. “For example, we have an employee who needs to pick up her son after work every day. She has an early start and ends early instead of following the department’s working hours. Being able to work at their own pace permits staff to take care of all their obligations (both at home and at the office),” says Fan.

“Reward and remuneration is another key aspect of HR that we need to deal with effectively.” Fast Flow offers a permanent pay raise based on past performance, flexible time, long service leave for employees who have been with the company for more than five years, as well as incentive awards. The company introduced its Employee of the Month Award in April 2014, and some 25 employees have been recognised to date.

Fast Flow also organises activities such as bowling sessions, BBQ nights and teambuilding sessions for its employees. Sports equipment is available at all its dormitories and the company encourages staff to take part in competitions, particularly cricket and volleyball.

“Both of our cricket teams, Fast Flow Tigers and Fast Flow Lions entered the Huawei Cricket tournament in December 2015 and the MoneyGram Cricket Ke Badshah competition in February this year. They will also be involved in the MoneyGram cricket knock-out tournament which will be held in June this year,” shares Fan.

The company also has a winning team in Kabaddi, a contact sport of Indian origin. “This was totally organised by the site workers staying at the Soon Lee dormitory,” says Fan.

CoreTrade: Building competencies in the construction industry

The CoreTrade national learning and development scheme was introduced to allow the construction industry to build up its core group of competent workers in key construction trades who will serve to anchor and lead the construction workforce, and raise its quality and productivity levels.

CoreTrade provides a platform to retain the better and more experienced workers by providing a clear career progression path and giving them due recognition. It allows one to move from a basic skilled worker, to a registered CoreTrade tradesman specialising in specific trades, and then progress to become a registered CoreTrade trade foreman, and, eventually, a CoreTrade Supervisor.


Analysing the Workday advantage

Sandeep Aggarwal, Chief Financial Officer of Aon-Hewitt Asia-Pacific, shares his thoughts on the Workday finance and HR analytics platform. He says the cloud-based system is intuitive and easy-to-use, but still provides powerful insights across the functions.

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