Friday 24 April 2015

Business advisers and HR services to help SMEs

Minister gives details of support schemes small firms have access to
By Stephanie Heng, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2015

MORE details on the assistance schemes that smaller businesses have access to as they tackle the challenges of a volatile and uncertain global economy were unveiled yesterday.

Mr Teo Ser Luck, the Minister of State for Trade and Industry, shed more light on the various Budget support programmes in a speech at the SME Centre Conference at Max Atria, Singapore Expo yesterday.

The Workforce Development Agency (WDA) will provide each of the five main SME Centres with a business adviser from next month.

The advisers will give specialised guidance on staff development as well as more information about WDA manpower development schemes.

They are expected to help around 700 SMEs over the next two years.

SPRING Singapore has also appointed 11 human resource service providers to offer companies shared access to systems and other services as part of the HR Shared Services initiative, which will be available from May 1.

The services include outsourcing administrative work such as payroll and claims processing, reorganising HR structures, and adopting an information system to complement existing HR processes.

SPRING will provide SMEs with funding support of up to 70 per cent of qualifying costs, including a one-time set-up expense and up to 12 months of subscription costs.

Mr Teo told the 850 people at the conference that micro and small enterprises often do not have the scale to have a specialised unit to support their HR needs, so the SPRING initiative will allow them to focus on their core business.

Ms Judy Yeong, owner of software development firm xEdge Consultancy, said day-to-day operations get "quite busy", leaving little time for small businesses to invest in HR operations.

Mr William Thien, EON Consulting and Training's principal consultant, noted that smaller organisations with fewer than 50 employees often cannot manage their HR operations effectively.

EON Consulting and Training is one of the 11 HR firms that will offer their services under the HR Shared Services initiative.

However, Ms Sharon Ng, owner of Pastry Mart, a distributor of confectionery and baking supplies, said that "small companies can't spend too much, especially in the current economy".

This may inhibit micro SMEs from outsourcing their HR operations.

Mr Louis Tan, manager of business development at TLG Technology, mentioned that "implementation may be difficult" as the firm would need to work with an external agency.

A panel discussion was held at the conference to discuss concerns that SMEs may have in developing their staff.

Panellists such as Mr Joseph Foo, founder and executive chairman of Jason Marine Group, emphasised the importance of treating employees like "family" and recognising the potential in each individual, but participants raised concerns about the labour crunch, with firms unable to attract Singaporeans.

While there was no clear solution, the panellists said there was a need to build a strong employer branding.

Panellist Edward Chua, co-founder and managing director of music and lifestyle company Timbre Group, said that a "sense of fulfilment", not high pay, is the main priority of the younger generation.

Constant innovation is an option for firms as it will contribute to better branding and attract more individuals keen to participate in this development process, Mr Chua added.

Policies such as SPRING's SME Talent Programme will support this by promoting internships in SMEs, exposing students to the work environment and offering incentives to join the companies after graduation.

The one-day conference was hosted by the SME Centre@Singapore Manufacturing Federation.

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