COMPANIES will be able to access expert advice on how to better deal with their staff in a challenging labour market, thanks to a new deal signed yesterday.

The agreement between the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises (Asme) and the Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) will involve the institute assisting firms across the island.

This will take the form of helping bosses adopt flexible working arrangements, redesign jobs and employ older workers, among other initiatives.

Asme will also include the institute's members in its events and allow them to use its SME Centres, which are government-supported facilities that help firms.

The agreement will also "bring on more activities and partnerships" that benefit members of both organisations, they said in a joint statement.

Asme president Kurt Wee said the agreement was a timely collaboration that will achieve "greater synergies".

"This partnership will create more knowledge platforms to help companies keep abreast of HR development and extend their networks," added Mr Wee at the signing ceremony.

SHRI president Erman Tan noted: "The partnership will be a catalyst in our efforts to help SMEs enhance their HR practices."

Mr Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, reiterated that attracting and retaining talent is key to SMEs staying successful.

He said at yesterday's ceremony that "talent is scarce" and the operating environment for SMEs is not easy, highlighting rental and manpower issues as top concerns.

"To be an employer of choice, SMEs need to position yourselves as organisations with competitive HR practices that value, groom and reward talented people," Mr Teo added.

He also highlighted government efforts such as enterprise agency Spring Singapore's SME Talent Programme.

The initiative matches graduates from polytechnics or the Institute of Technical Education to SMEs.

Since its introduction last year, 400 graduates have been employed full-time or as interns.