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Singapore’s Rising Gig Economy Presents New Workforce Challenges

February 28, 2017

In light of Singapore’s current economic restructuring and the advent of the global digital economy, employers in Singapore need fresh approaches to overcome the challenges of attracting and retaining top talent, according to two major studies conducted by Willis Towers Watson, a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

The Willis Towers Watson 2016 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study, of more than 2,000 companies globally found that employers in Singapore are struggling to attract and retain top talent.

While 43 percent of the organizations here report that their hiring activity was unchanged over the last 12 months, the demand for key talent is increasing in response to the changing business landscape. Furthermore, organizations expect to see 3 percent drop in the proportion of full-time employees over the next three years.

With the rise of the “gig economy” and a shift towards hiring contingent workers, made easier with advances in workplace technology, we anticipate this to be a sustained trend.

Some key findings from the Global Talent Management and Rewards Study and Global Workforce study are:

  • Singapore is expecting a 59% growth in share of contingent workers over the next three years
  • More than 65% of employers reported they were struggling to attract employees
  • One in four (28%) employers reported challenges in retaining critical skills employees
  • One-quarter (25%) of employees in Singapore are highly engaged
  • Singapore employees are much more disengaged at 34%
  • Almost half (48%) of employees felt they needed to change jobs in order to advance in their career

“The recently launched plans by Singapore’s Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) highlight the need for businesses to be innovative, adopt stronger technological capabilities and integrate fresh approaches to respond to the changing business landscape. As the Republic continues its economic transformation, workplaces are experiencing a shift in how work gets done,” said Darryl Parrant, Country Leader, Talent & Rewards, Singapore, Willis Towers Watson.

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“The trend is towards more mobile and virtual workforce and the freelance or ‘contingent’ worker will continue to be an important component of effectively integrated workforce strategies.”

Overcoming Singapore’s Attraction and Retention Challenges

As a result of Singapore’s transformation, the Global Talent Management and Rewards Study found that more than 65 percent of employers reported, they were struggling to attract critical skill (66%), high-potential (69%) and top-performing (74%) employees.

One in four employers also reported challenges in retaining critical skills employees (28%), and more than 50 percent reported difficulties in retaining high potential (52%) and top-performing (56%) employees. “One way to overcome these challenges for employers is to explore new approaches and ways of attracting and retaining talent of today.”

“While employers and employees agree that career advancement opportunities are a key driver for attraction, it is worrying to see that many employees feel they are not being supported by their immediate supervisors. Our Global Workforce Study also found that almost half, 48 percent of employees felt they needed to change jobs in order to advance in their career,” shared Parrant.

Another key driver of attraction and retention is job security. Employees should set their sights on their long-term work opportunities and career. In a volatile business environment with rapid disruption of existing business models, employees need to focus on career security, rather than just job security.

The implication is that employees need to take ownership of their lifelong learning and career development and employers need to support them in this journey. However, with the shift towards hiring more contingent workers come new challenges that companies need to overcome.

One of the main challenges is finding employees who are engaged and interested in the organization’s overall corporate culture and goals. As such, in addition to ensuring they understand their drivers of engagement; companies need to engage effectively with these contingent worker communities.

See: What has the Gig Economy to Offer Professionals in Asia?

They should be effective in recruiting and on-boarding them and manage their performance to ensure corporate reputation, quality, regulatory and policy alignment.

Technology Shaping the Workforce

Technology and the digitisation of the economy are one of the catalysts driving Singaporean organizations to change their workforce activities and prepare for hiring more contingent workers now or over the next three years, said 61 percent of the surveyed respondents.

When it comes to critical skills in demand, Willis Towers Watson’s study found that Information Technology, Engineering and Sales & Marketing are key talent segments, many of which provide critical support to Singapore’s growth as a hub for digital and FinTech businesses.

While more regional employers are already managing contractors and contingent workers, Singapore is expecting a larger growth in share of contingent workers over the next three years at 59 percent, compared to 29 percent regionally.

“There are strengths and weaknesses to these employment arrangements and organizations need to think carefully about how they engage, manage, reward and motivate these talents. Some of the advantages that come along with these types of workers are specific sought-after skills, flexibility, cost savings and increased productivity. By understanding the key drivers of their diverse talent pool, businesses put themselves in a better position to execute their growth strategies,” said Parrant.

Engaging Employees in Singapore

The Willis Towers Watson Global Workforce Study, a survey of 31,000 employees worldwide, revealed some insight into why Singapore employers are struggling not only to attract but also to retain their staff. The results showed a worrying disconnect between employer and employees’ views when it comes to employee engagement, resulting in low engagement rates in Singapore.

Just one-quarter (25 percent) of employees in Singapore are highly engaged, significantly lower than regional (39 percent) and global (37 percent) levels. The study also revealed that Singapore employees are much more disengaged compared to the regional findings, at 34 percent and 26 percent respectively.

“We know from our research that the top five drivers of sustainable engagement in Singapore are senior leadership, supervision, image and integrity, workload and flexibility, and communication,” said Parrant.

“Yet only 39 percent of employees feel their senior leadership has a sincere interest in their wellbeing, and a mere 38 percent of employees feel that their immediate supervisors help them with their career development and advancement.”

The Global Workforce Study also found that Singapore employees place greater importance on workload and flexibility when it comes to employee engagement. According to the study, employees with flexible and alternative work arrangements were more highly engaged (48% versus 18% disengaged) and less likely to leave their employers.

Also read: Top 5 Considerations for Businesses Hiring Freelancers in the Gig Economy

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