Help is on its way for small and medium-sized enterprises in the retail and food service sectors looking to raise productivity - but which have no idea how.

The setting-up of the Singapore Productivity Centre was announced yesterday by the Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development, Mr Lee Yi Shyan.

It will offer sector-specific expertise and provide training programmes,workshops and consultancy services. Companies will be able to approach the centre in HDB Toa Payoh Hub about projects to improve productivity.

Run by the Singapore Productivity Association and Nanyang Polytechnic and funded by government agency Spring Singapore, the centre will start operations on Oct 1.

With a budget of $10 million over the next three years, it is expected to benefit over 2,000 companies and train 50 consultants.

"Experiences in Japan, Korea and Taiwan have shown that experienced productivity consultants can help companies accelerate their understanding of the whats and hows in improving their productivity," said Mr Lee. "This is why we need to expand our pool of qualified consultants."

Productivity levels of the two sectors lag behind that of other service sectors in Singapore. Measured by the value added per worker, they stand at $44,000 for retail and $26,000 for food - below the overall services sector's average of $97,000.

Mr Lee was speaking at the inaugural graduation ceremony for a training programme to develop local productivity consultants in the two sectors.

Eighteen consultants graduated from the nine-month programme, launched by Spring and funded by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. Future programmes will be run by the productivity centre.

One graduate was Ms Ng Quee Kee, a director at Nexus Quest who was trained on the job with restaurant chain Han's. Her team of six conducted in-depth analysis of the company and came up with a strategy to identify the main items it sold. Han's cut its menu by 30 per cent from June.

"For the time spent on kitchen processes, we save about 50 hours a week," said Han's general manager Gan Yee Chin. "It also cuts down the time customers spend thinking of what to order."