AFTER years of helping workers find jobs, Community Development Councils (CDCs) are now giving a hand to the bosses.
The councils will be setting up offices this year to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) tap on government schemes to boost productivity. This follows a pilot centre at Northeast CDC that was set up last year.
Besides CDCs, some community clubs may also be getting similar centres but the details are still being worked out, sources said.
An official announcement by Spring Singapore - the statutory board that spearheads assistance schemes for SMEs - the CDCs and People's Association is expected next week.
Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck told The Straits Times that these new centres are part of a network of "satellite SME centres" to reach out to firms operating in residential suburbs.
"They will bring services closer to the SMEs, many of which are small businesses in heartland shops," said Mr Teo, who is also the mayor of Northeast CDC.
Business advisors at the centres will provide free advice to firms on how to apply for financial aid and restructure so as improve productivity.
Mr Teo dismissed the suggestion that helping bosses erodes the primary objective of CDCs to foster community bonding.
"These bosses are also residents. If their businesses expand, they can hire more residents, so helping workers and bosses are complementary and win-win for both," he said.
CDCs were first set up in 1997 to promote community bonding. They were consolidated in 2001 to form the five today - Central Singapore, Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. Their roles have also evolved when they took over the delivery of social services in 2000 and started job matching services a year later.
The pilot SME centre at Northeast CDC has been run by the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme).
Asme, the Singapore Manufacturing Federation and Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry have also been roped in to manage the new centres.
Asme president Chan Chong Beng said that such heartland centres are effective because of their accessibility: "The CDCs are closer to the SMEs, saving them time especially when they have to run their businesses nearby."
The centre at Northeast CDC had set a target of reaching 600 SMEs in a year, but it met over 1,000 in just 10 months, said Mr Chan.
The new SME centres will have their work cut out in having to face sceptical micro-SME bosses, noted Mr Chan.
"They will ask wu ya boh ("is it for real" in Hokkien)? Their perception is that when Government gives something, it will take something else back," he quipped.
"We have to persuade them to change their perception and improve their productivity."