ELECTRONICS firm Jason Marine Group's aim to match employees with their passions helped it to bag the SME Employer of the Year award in February - and sharply reduce staff turnover.
Founder Joseph Foo attributes the success to a revamped human resource programme that helped retain and attract talent and lift earnings.
Net profit for the six months to Sept 30 was $1.1 million, compared with a net loss of $1.9 million in the same period a year ago.
How did Jason Marine revamp its HR practices?
We started this HR initiative over the last two years, and (looked at) how the business strategy should be. With the help of external experts and facilitators, we came up with new directions.
Now we also use HR tools to help us in our selection process. We realise it's difficult to find talent in the market but we still go through profiling to identify people who have a better fit with the company.
That's why sometimes the interview process may be long but we do not want people who come and go. We want them to be able to understand us and think through carefully (about joining the company).
Right now, there's a war for talent. We make sure we've good retention policies, so there's always this feedback mechanism.
We introduced town hall meetings, departmental meetings and interest group meetings, which are very important.
The heads of department are also part of the HR team, as it's not just the HR team's job to take care of the people.
We are also learning all the time. Even I attend courses and go for seminars to learn about best practices, and we always encourage our people to join associations and different interest groups and come back together to throw in ideas in our ideas scheme.
What have you learnt about building employees' careers?
Everyone wants to be developed and trained, to continue to improve - not just training in terms of skill but also experience and exposure.
For example, they can be attached to our principals (manufacturers or brands that the firm represents) overseas, to get exposure on how the Europeans or Americans work.
As for the career path, everybody wants to know how far he can go from here.
Over the last two years, we have had a talent pipeline where we identify potential candidates who can grow with us and we groom them.
We do not promise (the job), because if it doesn't happen, it will have a negative effect. But we tell them if things go well, there is a path of moving upwards within the organisation.
In 2009, the financial crisis really hit our customers, who are the shipowners. This affected the shipbuilding industry, and over the last four years, many shipbuilders have folded. The picture is better today.
We realised that staff want to see prospects and growth. When we have better communication, better HR policies, they have this sense of belonging and are more motivated to work as a team. That will definitely help in improving business.
How do you hire and retain?
Besides the job description, we also talk about our values: for example, the 3Cs - character, competence and commitment.
We tell candidates what sort of expectations we have of them and make it very clear such that they know what we exactly like to have - so can they do the job?
For junior staff, we ask: "How much supervision do you require?" For managerial staff, we ask if they are able to be innovative, creative and not always doing things the same way but better.
We find out their passion and drive and tell potential candidates: "We must make sure you are doing what you are cut out for."
In the early days, staff turnover was bad. When the selective process was not stringent and the employees turned out to be not suitable, we'd rather let them go and say it would be better if they looked somewhere else.
Now we have improved because of the HR initiative. We have reduced staff turnover by half, from 2012 to last year.
How does the firm match employees with their passions?
We respected his wishes, so we agreed to let him continue and he became a senior service engineer.
We have some who are very good in technical skills, and suggested that maybe they could do sales. But sales and engineering are two different types of work.
If it's not suitable, we respect that. We should do what we are good at.