Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff: A renewed focus

Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff, renowned for its traditional delicacies, is determined not to fall prey to obsolete manpower practices. HRM Magazine finds out more.

Seng Hua Hng Foodstuff, the producer of the globally-established Camel brand of peanuts, has been flying under the radar ever since it began operations 43 years ago.

While its peanut offerings are distributed to more than 50 countries worldwide, the family-owned Singaporean company quietly goes about its business for its global consumer base.

Ironically, the organisation’s no-frills and low-key approach – which has been the backbone of its business success – is also its Achilles Heel when it comes to HR.

“One of the main challenges is that we’re moving from a traditional SME into an organisation that is trying to be more attractive to candidates and to external parties,” says Jan Goh, the company’s Group HR and Administration Manager. “We’re trying to revamp ourselves to not just be a good provider of snacks, but to also urge people to come work for us”.

Recruitment partnerships

Despite having grown from the humble beginnings of just seven employees in 1974 to a 160-strong workforce today, recruitment remains a major bugbear for the organisation.

“During our darkest period, we had no Singaporeans who were willing to join us,” Goh recalls.

She is candid enough to acknowledge there are several key recruitment obstacles.

“This isn’t a glamorous location and building,” says Goh, referring to the company’s factory and office headquarters anchored at the industrial site of Defu Lane in Singapore.

“If you’re a fresh graduate entering the workforce, and if your friends and parents ask where you have applied for jobs, it sounds so much better to say Google, Facebook or companies that are in the public eye.

“If you tell people it’s Seng Hua Hng, they will say ‘where’”?

Goh shares that uploading a job advert a few years ago would have garnered just two Singaporean candidates from a pool of 10 applicants, with the rest having hailed from neighbouring countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

In order to buck that trend, the company has been embarking on a vigorous social recruitment drive through Facebook. It aims to source talent for predominantly blue-collared positions.

According to Goh, response to the social recruitment drive has been positive.

“In the past, if we posted a job ad for a driver, we probably would have had a maximum of 30 applicants, and most of them wouldn’t have been relevant,” she says.

“Now, we have 20-25 applicants weekly through walk-ins and phone calls. We have also become better at screening candidates.”

The firm has also been working with Workforce Singapore and the national portal Jobs Bank to build a local core of talent.

Goh says these collaborations have led to the company appointing an entirely local senior management team.

The firm also partners with the Singapore Corporation of Rehabilitative Enterprises to hire ex-offenders, and has physically-disabled staff on its roster.

“If individuals want to work, we want to be there to offer them a job,” says Goh.

The company is now actively exploring opportunities to tap onto young talents.

For example, the firm’s youngest recruit is a graduate of the country’s SkillsFuture “Earn and Learn” initiative.

Under this scheme, fresh polytechnic graduates are placed with employers and learn through structured on-the-job training.

The young staffer, a Singapore Polytechnic graduate, has been employed fulltime by the company, including one day a week that is set aside for her ongoing study.

“This is a really good training plan because every quarter, we map out her lesson plan and the kind of training she must engage in,” says Goh.

Emphasis on training

In June last year, the firm embarked on a nine-month SME Mentors programme, which entailed a seasoned HR professional assessing the company’s HR framework and mentoring the organisation’s managers and supervisors.

One of the major areas of focus involved the company’s training blueprint; the firm has now drawn out specific on-the-job training plans for employees, particularly those who are involved in the production process.

“Employees know what they will be trained on every day and within a week, each will be ready for other roles, even though the roles do not differ drastically,” says Goh.

“We also map out training goals for younger employees on a weekly basis.”

The company has further partnered with national SME agency Spring Singapore to adopt machinery and technology into its daily production operations.

While the organisation’s manufacturing process is largely automated, Goh says automation does not eliminate aspects of the production process that requires human expertise.

“You can use an expensive machine but it will not check things correctly at a 100% level. It’s still best to get a veteran with 20 years in the job to check these aspects,” she adds.

An inclusive culture

With 43 employees above the age of 50 on its roster, Seng Hua Hng has a significant proportion of long-serving senior employees.

One of them is Vivien Ng, a payroll employee who joined the firm in 1980 after the completion of her studies.

“I have stayed here for such a long time because the boss is a very nice person,” she says. “I have learnt a lot in the 37 years I’ve been here.”

Ng’s longevity with the company epitomises the family-oriented nature of the organisation and its care for senior employees.

The firm conducts regular health talks, screenings, and coaching for staff above the age of 50.

Health and wellness is a key aspect of its engagement initiatives, with employees – both young and old – organising their own badminton, cycling, and jogging sessions with other staff.

“All these have been done to foster the sense that our work is not mundane,” says Goh.

“When you start thinking it’s mundane, you’re no longer interesting in growing, and you’re mindset becomes very fixed. Once that happens, there is no innovation and the company will be culturally dead.”

The company has further facilitated open engagement and dialogue with its older employees to discuss their performance and career goals.

“We’ve just closed our performance management process and a lot of our old-timers are very uneasy with the notion of sitting down with their manager and talking about how they’ve performed,” Goh explains.

“Most of our supervisors are the ones who are long-serving staff. If we don’t equip them, they are not able to catch up with the rest of the world.”

Read more about other SMEs striving to craft effective people practices in our SME Spotlight forum

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