As at the end of 2020, Singapore has about 280,000 SMEs (small and mid-sized enterprises), based on government data. They account for 70 per cent of employment and represent 99 per cent of all enterprises in 2020. Yet one of the most common challenges they face is the limited pool of local and highly skilled employees, many of whom prefer to work with multinational companies (MNCs).
In SMEs, every employee needs to be a multi-tasker, often taking on more than what their role entails and leaving no room for appropriate training at all. This is not the case in MNCs where everyone has their own specialty and works within their individual role functions. Furthermore, there are frequent training sessions and career development opportunities available besides an attractive pay package.
Therefore, It is no surprise that in Singapore’s tight labour market, SMEs find it difficult to hire the right talents and/ or retain them. Does it mean that SMEs will always get the short end of the stick? Not necessarily. As with every situation, there are pros and cons. In this case, it is a matter of planning, training and implementation. Tweaking the strategies and doing the right thing at the right time. So how do SMEs hire and retain talents?
Here are 4 proven and tested ways.
1. Set up a career development plan
A career development plan is a good start for employers and employees as it shows the latter that the company cares for their professional growth. When employees can feel that your company genuinely cares about their future and career goals, they will be motivated to work for your company and are more likely to stay longer.
A career development plan is a written list of short and long term goals with a specific time frame, pertaining to their professional and personal growth and progression. It is highly recommended that managers of different departments meet up with their team members regularly to discuss their career development plans and goals, how they would like to see their careers progress and which areas do they need help in.
Once the plan has been laid out and acknowledged by both the manager and team member, it should be handed over to the HR department so that there is a record and it can be reviewed at a later stage, say every quarter or over a six month period.
2. Provide continual and relevant training
In order to remain relevant in the market today, companies not only need to improve their product and/ or service offerings but also provide continual and appropriate training to employees to ensure business longevity. SMEs can encourage employees to sign up for workshops, conferences and seminars, tapping on some government funding for training and upgrading of skills.
SMEs can also encourage self-organised groups within different teams to share new skills such as social media marketing or pool information on new tech solutions in the marketplace. Additionally, in-house training sessions can be held on a regular basis to ensure that employees stay up to date with the latest trends and developments in the industry. These sessions can also open up informal conversations about common challenges, new ideas and solutions etc.
3. Put in place mentoring and support for new hires
Many SMEs may not have a formal mentorship programme but it does not mean that the individual employee cannot learn new things. Mentoring can come in many forms – books, manuals, courses and shadowing a colleague from within the company to learn from their experience etc.
Most SMEs usually have a probation period of 3 months and it is an unspoken time frame for new hires to get the hang of their jobs within this period. The company can arrange for different colleagues to mentor the new hire so he/ she gets to learn different working styles or approaches to the job. Depending on the industry and nature of the job, some roles will require a test to appraise how much the new hire has actually learnt.
Eg. In the case of a pest technician, the new hire will need to go through training and pass an appraisal after one or two months before being allowed to go into the field alone. The company may send the new hire for relevant workshops and do a follow up performance review after 3 or 6 months.
4. Create a vibrant work culture
While SMEs might lack the brand awareness and resources that MNCs use during recruitment drives, one way to attract new hires and keep existing employees happy is to create a culture that stands out. By building around the company’s core values and mission, you can create a culture that resonates with employees.
Eg. Implementing a family-oriented team that focuses on personal growth, encouraging mentorship and career advancement opportunities, fostering open communication and feedback as well as offering unique employee benefits such as letting people leave work at 4pm every Friday or supporting flexible working hours including remote work.
Other approaches may consist of serving a simple weekly lunch or fitness classes once a month. Such activities are generally popular with employees, especially fresh graduates and millennials. Employee birthday celebrations can be held every month and various bonding sessions such as bowling help to foster meaningful relationships outside work hours.
In conclusion, when the company shows that they care about their employees’ professional growth and overall well being, potential hires will feel more compelled to join the company as it makes them feel valued and inspired to perform well.