Workplace needs have evolved rapidly ever since globalisation allowed capital, jobs, talent, business opportunities and customers to move freely across national boundaries. This has led to intensifying market competition across all economic sectors. With the emergence of a knowledge-based global economy, companies need to embrace skills upgrading so that employees can stay relevant amid a fast-changing business landscape and contribute to business productivity.

To remain a step ahead in today's competitive marketplace, it is absolutely imperative to have skilled workers who are adaptable to change, competent to work with colleagues from diverse backgrounds and comfortable with handling customers with varying demands. In fact, according to research findings by McKinsey & Company, companies around the world spend up to US$100 billion a year in skills upgrading programmes to improve overall workforce performance.

It doesn't come as a surprise that forward-looking companies invest in specialised job training programmes with an aim to build their own skilled workforce. These organisations tend to do so via in-house training programmes, external training providers or a combination of both.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that skills upgrading tends to rank lowly on a company's list of priorities. In other words, workforce development sometimes takes a back seat relative to other organisational goals, which is regrettable. Companies must realise that workforce development allows them to realise product or service innovation, boost workplace productivity as well as increase employee retention - all of which are compelling business goals.

Skills upgrading is an on-going process which should comprise everything such as keeping on par with industry-related developments, acquiring in-depth product knowledge, formulating business strategies and raising service standards. In view of Singapore's ageing workforce and tightened foreign labour supply, local employers need to embrace skills upgrading in order to achieve sustainable, productivity-led growth for themselves and the economy.

Take for instance, the rapidly changing retail landscape in Singapore, which is constantly being assessed by international and domestic players for its growth and investment potential. Taking into consideration the increasing customer sophistication and consumer complexity in the retail sector, there is a genuine requirement for industry players to engage advanced software systems. Such systems can facilitate e-collaboration between retailers and their suppliers and drive productivity.

Local retailers also have to contend with issues such as stiffer competition, rising costs and a tight labour market, all of which need to be ironed out urgently. To stay competitive, there is a pressing need for the retail industry in Singapore to address the issue of low productivity, which lags far behind that of other global cities.

Recently, The Business Times ran a story in which a spokesman for the Singapore Retailers Association highlighted the adverse repercussions of the ongoing labour shortage. Yet, perhaps the issue lies not only with the labour shortage, but also with the way in which manpower resources are being developed by the retail sector.

Labour shortage

Despite raising wages, retailers still face a labour crunch, affecting productivity and in turn increasing overall costs. Such labour shortages derail retailers' business goals. Therefore, it is pertinent to change retailers' mindsets on workforce training and make them understand the rationale behind up-skilling their workforce through Continuing Education and Training (CET).

The national CET landscape comprises numerous programmes for employers and workers to upgrade their skills in sector-specific disciplines (such as retail), as well as cross-sectoral ones such as basic literacy, numeracy or IT knowledge. Many CET programmes are also accredited with nationally recognised Singapore Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ). Essentially, WSQ programmes have been developed by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) in partnership with industry players, which ensure that the training has been validated by employers as being relevant for workplace needs.

Triumph has embraced CET by sending employees for WSQ skills upgrading training modules in areas such as Service Excellence and Retail. This has allowed us to transform our customers' retail experience, resulting in increased productivity, enlarged market share and heightened brand awareness.

Innovation and productivity at work not only brings about better performance but equally as important, a more motivated workforce. It is little wonder that effective workforce development is rapidly becoming a prerequisite to a company's Triumph.