Absolute Kinetics Consultancy has been looking to grow its business and the new job flexibility scheme was the green light it had been waiting for.

The local training and safety consultancy firm will be able to hire foreign workers to do more than one job starting next Monday.

"This scheme is long overdue," said the firm's executive chairman Fang Koh Look yesterday. "When we expand, we want to hire workers who can multitask and fit across the various businesses in the firm."

Most of the 10 employers interviewed by The Straits Times said the new programme will open the door for them to make better use of existing workers, although some remained unsure of its impact despite details announced by the Manpower Ministry on Monday.

The change, first announced in February, was introduced to help firms cope with higher levies and smaller foreign worker quotas in the services sector. It will allow firms to increase their workers' productivity by having them do more than one job. Some 209,500 foreign work permit holders stand to benefit from it.

Mr Raj Kumar, managing director of travel agency International Paradise Connexions, said that it will provide leeway for his firm to add new job functions without increasing headcount.

He cited an example of how a Vietnamese-speaking sales staff in his firm can also be trained to serve inbound tourists from Vietnam, arranging hotels and tours for the visitors.

Mr Fang agreed. He said that he will now be on the lookout for workers who can not only work in the training arm of his business, but also in medical and telecommunication equipment sales. About 20 per cent of his 120 staff are foreign workers.

But Ice Cube Cafe managing director Philip Wong felt that small firms will not benefit much from the scheme because they do not have as wide a range of jobs as bigger companies.

"For example, there may not be (financial) accounts work for service staff to handle," he said.

Besides size, the specialised nature of some jobs can be an obstacle too, said Mr Nazarisham Mohd Isa, director of security firm Jasa Investigation and Security Services, which hires work permit holders from Malaysia.

"We hire guards and provide security services, and it is not feasible for guards to do other work when there is already a shortage of guards," he said.

For the scheme to work, the key is finding workers willing to multitask, said most firms. Ms Mimi Yii, a general worker at home-grown coffee and toast chain Ya Kun, agrees. The 30- year-old Malaysian work permit holder was hired to clean and wait on tables six years ago, but she has since been trained to toast bread, cook and brew coffee.

Her monthly pay rose from $900 to $1,400 as her responsibilities grew.

But she admitted to being apprehensive initially over whether she could do so many jobs and if she would be paid fairly.

"At the end of the day, there has to be trust between employer and employee," she said in Mandarin.